Ah, the heritage of the Confederacy. The South may have surrendered at Appomattox, but the war continues to be fought — and not just in the South, and not just by southerners. But of course, that’s where we need to start…
Earlier this week, Virginia’s Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that he would not be issuing any kind of proclamation making April “Confederate History Month” in his state, unlike several of his recent Republican predecessors. Among certain parts of the citizenry, that did not go over well.
But the Stars and Bars will not be kept down, right?
Here in the Kansas City area, a local high school has been embroiled in this same controversy, when a student wore the Stars and Bars like a cape over his shoulders in the cafeteria. An assistant principal removed it (and him), but the South Will Rise Again, you know. The next day, the flag appeared elsewhere at the school, and the first student also displayed the flag while standing in the bed of his truck in the school parking lot. When asked later about his actions, his response was predictable:
The student who owns that truck spoke with 41 Action News. He asked not to be named and said he took flag and wrapped on his back like a super-man cape and wore it around the common room at school.
Another day, a different student hung the Confederate flag over a banner in the common room of the school.
“I’m from the South, and me and my mom have been going through a lot with our stepdad and I thought I would go ahead and fly the flag in a show of my freedom basically,” the student said.
Freedom? Seriously? But to borrow one of Mr. Pierce’s favorite sayings, this is Not About Race, because it is Never About Race.
As soon as I saw this news story, my thoughts went to the less-than-nuanced thoughts Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, written as a part of his ongoing “what happened 150 years ago during the Civil War” series of posts:
A little more than a decade ago I was going through a divorce. It was pretty ugly, and emotionally, it left me distracted and out of sorts. The Ex had decided on a course of action with another fellow, and I really could not stand by for that. Allegiances and oaths and vows sort of mean a lot to somebody like me, and this being the second time, that was the end of things. Somehow, however, it was I who ended up moving out of our nice home.
What followed was stereotypical for a divorce of this sort. I spent a lot of time after work going to local bars. All of them within walking distance from my apartment on a hillside known as Marye’s Heights, in the town where I lived. This was 2002.
Being disinclined to sociability at the time, when prompted by a fellow barfly into a conversation I did not feel like having, I would assess my interrogator. If he fit the profile (and so many did), I would counter-present a statement as a way of starting a “conversation.” That “profile” had nothing to do with socio-economic status, but it did have a hell of a lot to do with race, and the bugaboo of “heritage.” At least “heritage” as it is interpreted in rural Virginia anyway. Regardless of the topic he was trying to engage me on, I would parry. Then I would start a new conversation. My entree was, “I think that Robert E. Lee, as a traitor and betrayer of his solemn oath before God and the Constitution, was a much greater terrorist than Osama Bin Ladin… after all, Lee killed many more Americans than Bin Ladin, and almost destroyed the United States. What do you think?”
Yeah, I flunked “Subtle 101” in High School. Oh well. Like I said, I was not in a good place.
Read Bateman’s whole piece, on oaths and loyalty. As the above might suggest, Robert E. Lee does not come off very well, though other Virginians do. (And if you’d like another dose of Bateman, his response to those who say the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery is priceless — especially the disclaimer at the very end.)
All of this might be brushed aside as bickering over history and kids being kids, except for the fact that the political theology of the Confederacy is an ongoing part of the current incarnation of the Republican party, and not just in the South.
In a ring that circles the ceiling of the legislative chambers of the Kansas Capitol building, various famous 19th century Kansans are honored, including a rather intemperate pro-Union anti-slavery activist named John Brown. Within that chamber, the calls are loud and long to embrace the doctrine of nullification. Whether it’s to get out from under environmental laws, Obamacare, gun laws, abortion, or something else, the Kansas GOP is the modern incarnation of the Old South in demanding the right to ignore the laws of the federal government.
Think about that again: the state that embraces its history of defending the Union in the 19th century is leading the fight in the 21st century to vindicate the Old South’s vision of a state veto over any law with which they disagree.
All that’s missing is Sam Brownback issuing a proclamation to celebrate Confederate History Month.
Image via Wikimedia