Edward Baptist, author of the superb The Half Has Never Been Told, had a series of tweets yesterday (usefully compiled here) laying out the history of the Confederacy and the Confederate flag. As I said yesterday, the Confederate flag “originated as a symbol of treason in defense of slavery that was repurposed as a defense of apartheid during the massive resistance to Brown v Board of Education.” It’s really not terribly complicated.
Which won’t stop people from trying! Given its history, you will not be surprised that the National Review stepped up to the plate, with Ian Tuttle sniffing that “It’s not a straightforward topic, whatever Vox may say.” So what, exactly, is the difficulty?
But with respect to Ms. Kendall, this hateful man’s use of a slogan is no proof that the slogan itself is hateful. Elected leaders make this distinction constantly when it comes to Islamic terrorism, after all: The teachings of Muhammad, the Koran, the black flag with the Shahada (the flag of ISIS) — they have been “hijacked” and “perverted.” Why hasn’t Dylann Roof merely “hijacked” or “perverted” the main symbol of the Confederacy?
Well, yes, in itself the fact a white supremacist killer found the Confederacy an attractive symbol does not prove that the Confederate flag is a white supremacist symbol. What makes the Confederate a white supremacist symbol is that the Confederacy was explicitly founded to protect slavery, and the Confederate flag was then revived as a symbol supporting private and state violence to maintain white supremacy in the South during the Civil Rights era. It’s pretty hard to argue that someone engaging in white supremacist violence is “hijacking” or “perverting” the “main symbol of the Confederacy” when white supremacist violence is what the Confederacy and its main symbol are all about. (This defense is made even more ridiculous when you find out that Tuttle is willing to suggest that Muslims do bear responsibility for Islamic terrorism.)
To that the obvious answer would be, Because the flag in question is the symbol of a cause rooted in hatred and racial oppression. But it is exactly that point on which persons of good faith can — and do — disagree. One does not need to think the Civil War was the “War of Northern Aggression” to think that the “Blood-Stained Banner” represents something more than visceral racial hatred.
At this point, one might expect some kind of argument for what the Confederate flag represents other than a commitment to white supremacy defended through violence, given its unambiguous history of association with white supremacy defended through violence. But there isn’t one. Tuttle doesn’t explain what the Confederacy stands for other than white supremacy; he has no explanation for why the Confederate flag was revived as a symbol when it was. There’s nothing but bare assertion.
Amazingly, it gets worse:
Yet much of the reason the Confederate flag is so contentious is because objections to it are not raised in good faith. Many opponents of Confederate symbols demonstrate not to promote the reduction of racial tensions and the advancement of a shared good, but out of a desire to impose their own moral outlook on dissenters — because it suits their present-day interests. Racial identity and the interests of one’s own racial group are of outsize importance in leftwing politics. Those interests are furthered when history can be invoked in one’s favor; thus today’s “racial activists” are keen to cast the the Civil War as a simple contest of Good-versus-Evil — even though it is obvious that, pace Ta-Nehisi Coates, the American South was not analogous to Nazi Germany, and the Confederate flag is not the Third Reich’s swastika. Arguments to the contrary have in mind not a proper interpretation of past events, but the manipulation of those events to bolster a present-day agenda.
So we have some vacuous blah-blah-blahing about “identity politics” — something certainly not practiced by White Southerners who proudly display white supremacist symbols, but only by people who opposed them. And then we have a bare assertion, making not the slightest attempt to engage with the historical record, that the Confederate flag is not analogous to the swasitka, with no argument beyond “it is obvious.” It is not!
Presumably, they’re drawing straws at the NRO to determine who will get to argue that Roof is an agent provocateur acting on behalf of ACORN and the Black Panthers.