As I have always said history is very seldom black and white and the American Civil War and events after it are no exception. However there are some facts that can't be ignored.
- At the time the USA was a country were it was legal for one human being to own another human being in some states.
- The northern states were largely anti slavery and the south pro slavery.
- The South seceded from the Union on the rights of states to govern their own internal affairs
- The main topic in these affairs was slavery, but also things like trade restriction and territorial disputes.
- Sizeable number of Confederate soldiers, possibly the majority did not own a slave
- To begin with the Federal cause was salvation of the Union, President Lincoln had no policy to end slavery were it existed until 1863, Two years after the war began.
- The Confederacy surrendered, US Territorial integrity was maintained and slavery was abolished.
Perhaps, but perhaps not as the US did eventually move to eradicate slavery, and address racial inequality (all be it relatively recent for the latter), There are two sides to every coin and we must ask ourselves tough questions like this before making decisions about the flag.
Perhaps my opinion is based on my experience of living in Northern Ireland, were a flag is a patriotic and sacred symbol to one group and the opposite of those things to the other group. Similarly the Confederate flag is a symbol of "Southern Pride" and heritage to some and hate, oppression and slavery to others. So as an Ulsterman I can understand to issue to a degree.
In fact in the east of the province Confederate flags have now appeared. While it was not odd to see the one or two at Ulster-Scots gatherings or band parades where they were used to represent that region of the US where many Scots-Irish emigrants settled, it is extremely uncommon to see them in such numbers in Northern Ireland particularly Belfast. What is common in NI though is flags being flown in solidarity, and this could be some unionists drawing a parallel to the Union Flag being restricted to designated days on Belfast City Hall, and the Confederate flag being taken down in South Carolina, despite fundamental differences in both events. Although it is refreshing to see that NI is not the only place that has trouble with flags.
Is it possible to fly Confederate flag and not be racist. Yes there are people who fly the flag and are reasonable people, expressing their heritage, culture and regional identity, and not all of them are racist in fact some are even African-Americans!:
Do racists use the Confederate flag? Yes, it is used by organisations like the Klu Klux Klan and there is no getting away from that, but so are other flags like the stars and stripes. So why is the Confederate flag apparently singled out? Well its popular use as a protest flag against race equality in the late 20th Century probably has something to do with it. But symbols and there meanings change with time. To use an example close to home, the red hand of Ulster is a Gaelic symbol with Gaelic origins, but despite that is a favourite symbol of Ulster loyalists!
President Obama said the flag belonged in a museum Should it be flown? Mr Obama is right it is a historical flag and as such does belong in a museum. If it is to be flown it should be flown for the right reasons. The Confederate flag was flown from the State House of South Carolina in the 1960s in protest of race equality. This is the wrong reason to fly the flag and as such I have come to the conclusion that it should have been taken down from the state house a long time ago.
It is a historical flag but there are lots of historical American flags and I can't justify one getting precedent over the others. If it is to be flown from public and government buildings then perhaps it should only be used on significant anniversaries, or perhaps the adoption of a method like that used by the City of Pensacola, in Florida. There the five historic flags of the nations who's flag flew over the city (Spain, France, Great Britain, Confederacy and USA) are flown together. This is the correct use of the Confederate flag, outside of historical reenactments, as it is being used in its historical context. If it is to be used then I feel the Pensacola model is the one that should be used.
Also of note is that the Battle flag is not used here but the Stars and Bars, this is in fact more historically accurate, and is perhaps the better flag for use like this.