Walking the Plank, as it were, reminds me what a magnificent resources the blogosphere has in Tapped, a group of excellent writers with serious things to say about policy. The Plank is by no means as bad as The Corner, but lord, it’s not good. Today, Jason Zengerle allows that while John McCain may be beset by both sides of the evil blogosphere, at least he has the mainstream media in his corner, and that counts for something. We then find that those who thought Stephen Colbert was funny on Saturday night hold to a Stalinist aesthetic. Adam Kushner suggests that liberals were willing to tolerate Saddam Hussein, without pointing out that, before 1990, conservatives were so tolerant of him that they were willing to sell him weapons, give him advice on how to use his chemical munitions, and ignore his attack on the USS Stark. All fine and committed wankery, but I’d like to turn your attention to this post by Jason Zengerle.
I actually have a fair amount of sympathy for some Southerners who love the Confederate flag. I even once wrote a piece about them. For these people, the flag really is a representation of their heritage; perhaps more importantly, it may be the only thing in their lives that actually transcends their daily existence. Put it this way: if you’re a guy whiling away your days in Scotland Neck, North Carolina, the fact that your great-great-grandfather fought at Gettysburg–the only thing connected to your life that you ever actually read about in a history book–is a real source of pride. Therefore, it’s perfectly understandable that you’d express that pride by flying a Confederate flag, or putting a sticker of it on your car. And there’s nothing more unfair than being branded a racist for doing so.
I mean, it’s not as if anyone from the South fought in the Revolutionary War, or that there were any critical battles fought against the British in, say, Virginia. No Southerners fought in the War of 1812, or the Mexican American War, or really participated in any other event of historical consequence prior to 1861. The Spanish-American War was conducted entirely with troops from New England, and Southerners were banned from participation in the Army in World War I. And the school year always ends before you get to World War II, so it’s not as if anyone can be blamed for not feeling a connection to it. Was there a Southerner in Saving Private Ryan? I don’t recall…
So, while the South has been a part of the United States for 230 years, the only time worthy of historical note is the period between 1861 and 1865, where the slaveholding elite dragged the rest of the South into a war of treason in defense of slavery. If you wish to have pride in the South, it’s rather too troublesome to think of the Battle of Yorktown, or the Battle of New Orleans, or of the Southerners that fought in the Battle of Belleau Wood, or in the Battle of the Bulge, or at the Chosin Reservoir, or at Khe San. This is not even to mention the tremendous difficulty of developing a regional identity based around cultural and artistic contribution, rather than around war. How could pride in William Faulkner ever hold a candle to pride in your great-great-granddaddy’s experience at Gettysburg?
No, really the only option for Southern pride is attachment to the Confederate flag and its unfortunate connections with treason, rebellion, slavery, racism, and white supremacy. Pity the Ohio native whose great-great-grandfather fought on the Union side at Gettysburg; the only flag he can fly is the Stars and Stripes, and this clearly isn’t good enough.
Finally, while I allow the possibility that the fetishization of the Civil War in the South has meant that our hypothetical North Carolinian may know more about Gettysburg than any other event in US history, this is rather part of the problem, and not an excuse.