Saturday, 11 July 2015

Confederate Flag - My View

The Confederate Flag has been taken down from the State House of South Carolina. For many this is a long over due event, getting rid of racist symbols of hate. For others an attack on their heritage, culture and identity. Living in the UK I have been reading and listening to different people with different vies on it, so this is my view as an outsider. I normally try to steer clear of politics on this blog (especially foreign politics of which I will have little if any understanding) however as a student of vexillology and flag enthusiast, I don't think it unreasonable to look at this issue with an open mind and draw a conclusion. First of all, we need to establish one thing, and that is that the Confederate Flag, is not the Confederate Flag. As my favourite youtuber CGP Grey explains:
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.  
These are facts that have shaped the arguments for both view points with both sides using the argument that suits them best. It can not be ignored that the Confederate flag was used by a "country" that advocated slavery, however if you use that argument, it should be noted that in its early history the United States also advocated slavery, so should the same stigma be attached to the Stars and Stripes?
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. 


  1. Very good write up on the situation, especially the Northern Ireland perspective which I would venture to suggest has a distinct and more recent, even current perspective.

    I can remember going to NI in the mid eighties when I was in the British army and was amazed to see the emphasis placed on the symbology. Whilst we were well aware of it in England from news articles to see it in action during marches and even just flying in the street was quite different.

    In England now we have the cross of St George (that famous Roman who never came to England) which for most of my life seemed to make the odd appearance over a Church but otherwise was hardly seen. These days however come a football World Cup you are guaranteed to see it draping from many houses and flapping on the end of little plastic straws stuck out of car windows.

    The thing is, it seems to me that a flag, whilst having a definite historical perspective also has a meaning to those who want it to have a meaning. For England it means football and possibly UKIP, which itself is weird since it is the UK Independence Party not the England Independence Party but that itself rather empathizes the point in that it is not the historic but the living meaning attached.

    I do however like your idea about the Pensacola method which would neatly sidestep the whole thing.

    1. Thank you.
      While various parts of the UK have always had strong regional identities, a rise in regional identity in most of the UK countries has seen a significant rise recently, and not just on a national/sub-national level but also on a county level. Many counties in Great Britain have officially registered county flags, most of them designed in the last 10 years.
      As for the Pensacola method, its not really my idea, Pensacola have been flying the five flags for quite a while. I merely highlighted the method as I think if the Confederate flag is to be flown from state property I think the method of flying it alongside other relevant historic flags is a good way to do it.

  2. I appreciate your comments and deep consideration. As a deep South US Southerner, I feel the deep feelings that our people have for the Confederate military flag (it was the flag of the army) as I had ancestors in the Confederate Army. And there lies the problem. Some people want the right to honor and remember their people like they want. However, American politics, where I'm sorry to say, some will dumb down anything to appeal to one group or another just rubs salt into wounds.
    I don't think people would argue so vehemently, it the issues weren't rammed down their throats or at least they were involved in intelligent discourse by intelligent people. You have to recognize that even Christian groups are under duress in the US because of ultra liberal goals against them because they represent the very ideas the country was founded on. It is not always an accepted end game that anyone will support whatever issue is forced on them, whether it's the flag, gay marriage, abortion etc, but liberal politics is trying to forced many issues on solid people and the flag just symbolizes some of that. History will pass and things will move to museums, but dignity never should be sacrificed to play to lower standards.

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  4. It is a brave or a stupid man who wades into this debate Sam: you are the former, I am probably the latter! ;)