Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The controversy over a proposal for a memorial to Confederate veterans buried in Butler National Cemetery is a reflection of the ongoing controversy over the Confederate flag.

The flag with which most people are familiar is the battle flag also known as The Southern Cross –13 stars on a blue "x" on a red background.

To many, this flag is a symbol of their heritage and a tribute to their ancestors.

To others, it is a reminder of slavery and segregation, made worse by its association with hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan.

Both sides need to acknowledge the thinking of the other before any understanding can be reached.

Unfortunately, that is about as likely as agreement on whether to refer to the bloodshed of the 1860s as the Civil War or the War Between the States or even the War for Southern Independence.

Several Southern states have flown or continue to fly the battle flag on their Statehouse grounds. A few incorporated it into their state flags. But only Mississippi continues to have the battle flag as part of its state flag. Voters supported its continued use in an April 2001 referendum.

Although Mississippi’s flag design has been around since 1894, most of the former Confederate states that gave the old battle flag new life did so in the mid-1950s to early 1960s, in the midst of battles over desegregation and what some saw as federal intrusion into states’ rights.

The timing of those actions contribute to feelings that the flag represents racist beliefs.

Much of the complexities of the issues that triggered the Civil War — issues of states’ rights, local control, taxation, tariffs and more — are lost when it is oversimplified as a war against slavery.

The best way to resolve of those issues — and the ones that divide us today — is with a continuing dialog, not by sweeping matters under the rug or declaring them off limits for discussion.

Unfortunately, it is foolish to try to rewrite history or changes its markers to fit today’s society. We cannot learn from the past — the good and the bad — if it is continually being rewritten to suit current correctness.

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