‘Calvinizing’ the Confederate flag

    Remember the cartoon of Calvin urinating on what he didn’t like? It spread like wildfire in the 1990s to hundreds of thousands of car bumpers and rear windows with the cartoon character marking everything from the Chevrolet logo to Green Bay Packer cheeseheads.
    The other day, I wanted to be that cartoon character.
    The feeling overwhelmed me, most appropriately, when I walked into the restroom of one of my clients. But rather than take aim on the brand new Kohler porcelain commode, I wanted to redirect my fire mission at their shower curtain. Why? Because it wasn’t a cute plastic sheet with mermaids, shining suns or some other innocuous decorator design, but rather, a full-blown, stinkin’ Confederate Naval Jack!
    Like many Americans, I have grown to despise the Confederate Naval Jack and its sister banner, the Confederate battle flag. I don’t loathe the original flags carried by southern soldiers or flown by Rebel sailors who took up arms against the Federal government in the 1860s nor even those waved by crackers to justify their Nascar-loving, trailer-dwelling, knuckle-dragging, “South’s gonna do it again”, slack-jawed behavior. But rather, I despise the banner stolen by racists in the late 20th Century to symbolize their twisted beliefs.
    Like Americans since the end of the Civil War, I haven’t always despised the silken symbol of the Confederacy. In fact, I can remember a fight with a playmate when I was only five years old because we agreed to play “Civil War” that resulted when but I insisted on being Confederate. “Because,” as I shouted at him between little fist blows, “They have the best flag!” All through my childhood and young adolescence, I doodled thirteen stars on St. Andrew’s cross. The crown of the first felt kepi that my folks bought for me when I was 10 years old was adorned with a Confederate battle flag sticker. I sure didn’t “hate” that cap. I wore it every day until it completely disintegrated around my ears.
    Like it did to so many Americans in the 1960s and 1970s, the flag of my youth symbolized the Confederacy…an underdog’s attempt to free itself from the grasp of the Man. It wasn’t until a decade later that racists seized the flag and waved it as a weapon of hatred and intimidation. Unfortunately for the flag, that stain won’t wash out anytime soon.

    I do not advocate removing the Confederate battle flag from display within the context of the history that it represents. It most certainly has a place in historical exhibits, reenactments or in any venue that talks about the history of 13 southern states leaving the Union and establishing their own nation.
    But public display, I am afraid, has become inappropriate—no fault of the banner or the men who fought for it nearly 150 years ago. But since the moment when the last one dipped in surrender in 1865, the Confederate battle flag has continued to fly, meaning something different to each person who unfurls it: Southern pride, independent spirit and racial hatred being the top three reasons.
    The groups that have adopted the flag for their own personal agendas only pay superficial tribute to those who actually fought for the right to fly it. They are too wrapped up in their own causes to consider that it is a sacred relic of a short-lived nation.
    Say what you want about the Confederate Naval Jack or battle flag, it has been tainted by the racists who have adopted it as their banner. Like the swimming pool little Calvin peed in, “Once it’s in there, ya ain’t ever gonna be able to call it clean again”.
    We don’t get to pick and choose the history we like. One can’t say, “Oh, I don’t agree with the racists thing, my great grand-daddy served with the uptyteenth Alabama Yankee Slayers” and fly their battle flag from their car radio antenna. Why not? Because someone else will see the flag as a symbol of it’s later cause of racial purity.
    It may not seem right, but history is history. We don’t get to ignore one segment to celebrate another. (Gee, sound familiar? Ever hear a collector say, “Those Nazis had a good plan, it just got out of hand with that whole Jewish thing”. I have. Shockingly, at nearly every relic show I attend.)
    So, give it up crackers. It doesn’t matter if the “South’s gonna do it agin”. Even if they do, they are smart enough to know they won’t do it under the old Confederate battle flag. It was once a symbol of thirteen states who, ironically, banded together so that they could institute “states rights”. Many perished in the attempt to establish that reality. When racists picked up the banner to further their own beliefs, they “peed in the pool”. They have tainted the flag with a meaning that can’t be ignored.
    Perhaps, one day, the flag won’t symbolize hatred, racial purity or segregation, but until that day, fold up your battle flag. Bad-asses and “down with the government” rebels may want to look for a symbol that is untainted by reprehensible beliefs…like a possum on a stick.

Honor those who served,
John Adams-Graf
Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

P.S. For an interesting treatise on the emerging and many different meanings of the  Confederate flag, I strongly recommend  The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem by John M. Coski (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005).

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9 thoughts on “‘Calvinizing’ the Confederate flag

  1. Nice post, John. Definitely a difficult subject to tackle. I agree with you 100%.

    Not to long ago I decided to strike up a conversation about Civil War with a fellow at a bar who had a rebel flag patch sewn to his jacket. He said something to the effect of "It ain’t over yet". Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to recollect the dates the conflict occurred, and didn’t believe me when I told him that Arlington Cemetery was built in Lee’s front yard.

    I think to sport that flag, and not be familiar with the Civil War history behind it, is a disgrace to the Confederate soldiers who served.

  2. Ron Clayton on said:

    Do you ever see the Union Jack displyed nowdays? Do people remember what the British did in history? Do we hold that against them? They still display thier flag today so why should we not show the Confederate flag! Should we hold onto the past indifference or be proud of what our soldiers fought,died and believed in.There was no freedom of speech back then, but last time I checked, we still do at the present time. I fly my "DON"T TREAD ON ME" flag every day.

  3. Chris Clements on said:

    It makes sense that a bunch of JAs from Massachusetts, Harvard, and Wisconsin would come-up with this ridiculous, politically correct screed against the Confederate flag; aside from the dumbed-down sports drunk masses, these are the only other people who still believe the grade school version of Civil War history and then apply a patronizing, condescending expression of respect to the South. It is also typical of the first group to think of and refer to anyone other than a Northern, upper-middle class, suburbanite WASP as a cracker. Arguably –and I realize this is the internet- this is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read.

  4. John Kountz on said:

    Ron and Chris ,
    Thank you for showing the other side of reason . The only Knuckle-dragger I see here is the moron that wrote " The Jag File " ! Too bad I have to share the same name . The only true Racist is the fool that closes his eyes to other opinions and uses Racial slures like " Crackers " Do the world a favor and stick your head back in the sand . We will let you know if we want to here your crap !

  5. Zack Magnusson on said:

    First, for those out there that will say otherwise, I judge men on actions, not race.

    This is the most ridiculous piece I’ve read in recent memory. Sadly, I find it on par with an increasingly common trend in this country: broad condemnation of the acts and/or restriction of the rights of good men based on the actions of a small, foolish, ignorant minority of bad men. I can’t carry a pocket knife or a tube of tooth paste on an airplane because some idiot hijacked one with a boxcutter and our representatives in the federal government seek to restrict my right to own a firearm because bad men with guns kill people.

    You call the Confederate Battle Flag a “historical relic of treason”. The people of Great Britain may rightly say the same of the Stars and Stripes. Ask the red man if our beloved Stars and Stripes is untainted in his eyes, and for that matter, the black man. In your own words, “we don’t get to pick and choose the history we like.” Will you now condemn the Stars and Stripes in like manner? I’m almost certain that every fool in a white pointed hat I’ve ever seen with the Rebel flag in one hand had the Stars and Stripes in the other.

    If you find a symbol that is "untainted by reprehensible beliefs" I want to know about it, excepting of course your ‘possum on a stick. But tread lightly sir, the ‘possum population of the world is watching.

  6. The Confederate Battle Flag was just that, a battle flag,it was not ment to be flowen from a building etc. It was surrendered at the end of the war. It should be displayed only for reenactments and over the soldiers that died for it. I like to display the Confederate Flag on Confederate Memorial Day. So as not to offend modern sensiblitys I fly the Confederate First National Flag. All three of the Confederate National Flags are still considered legal National Flags. The civilian government of the Confederacy never surrendered.

  7. Dob Wallace on said:

    Dear Editor,

    Previously I’ve appreciated your editorial comments and, even when I disagreed with you, I thought your viewpoints were well presented. That is not the case this time. It may come as a surprise to you, but a significant portion of the population finds the image of a kid peeing on icons of American culture crude and tasteless, and never cute. Even more disturbing is the continuing surrender of freedom of expression to political correctness, which your column seems to support. Several of my ancestors fought for their state in the “War Between the States,” and never accepted the term “rebel.” I, for one, refuse to allow a handful of racist extremists to hijack the symbol of their honorable sacrifice. By extension, we should we apologize for our religious faith when the KKK burns a cross on a tragic victim’s lawn. Or when radicals distort the foundations of our religious beliefs to fit their perverse agendas. Or maybe we should let isolated atrocities committed by individuals cause us to forget the great and historical generosity of our nation and the incredible sacrifices of our Armed Forces. Klansman and neo-nazis do not represent my views, nor those of the vast majority of Americans, and I will not turn over our traditional symbols to them.

    Dob Wallace

  8. Curtis J Quickel on said:

    I am sorry, I thought I had subscribed to a Militaria Magazine, not "Mad Magazine." I out grew that in the 1960s. My mistake. The sight of a cartoon urinating on the Confederate flag is totally inappropriate and offensive. What’s next, the American flag or even the Cross? Why would some idiot publish this? To get some attention? He got it! I am a recent subscriber and have looked forward to receiving your newsletter and magazine. You have a 100% guarantee. That’s good because I am 100% dissatisfied! Please cancel my subscription and refund what is left on my annual payment.

  9. James A. McCauley on said:

    Wow. I got on here to complain about your "’Calvinizing’ the Confederate flag" article. I see my complaint was clearly represented by my fellow posters.

    I too will be canceling my subscription. I’m not buying Military Trader to get lessons in political correctness.

    James A. McCauley

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