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.
HISTORICAL RELIC OF TREASON
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,
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).