Is Confederate flag appropriate car swag in Northwest (or anywhere)?

My latest Oregonian commuting column, looking at how the state’s police agencies can enforce traffic laws outside their boundaries, generated a great deal of comments from readers.

But none was more interesting – and provocative – than this email from a reader who took exception at my joke at the expense of the old 70s TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Here’s what I wrote:

“The Dukes of Hazzard” is guilty of many transgressions against humanity.

These come to mind: Exposing us to John Schneider’s feathered helmet hair. Popularizing the confederate flag as car swag. And convincing a generation of drivers that Smokey Bear has some hard and fast rule about sticking to his own jurisdiction.

Remember how Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane, Hazzard County’s bumbling sheriff, would have to suddenly stop a hot pursuit of the General Lee in a cloud of Georgia dust when the outlaw car crossed the county line?

Here’s what the reader sent at 1:42 a.m. Tuesday:

Dear Mr. Rose,

I am writing this email in response to an answer you posted about police, their respective jurisdictions and how you referenced the "evil Dukes of Hazard." In hopes that you will actually read this I will replace perfect grammar with bullet points to keep this as short as possible:

1. It irritates me that the confederate flag is associated with racism, hate and ignorance. When I read an article such as yours that further perpetuates this misinformation, I feel compelled to speak up.

2. I am from the south, I currently live in Vancouver and I have to say, the differences are staggering, but the biggest difference is definitely the political and historical opinions of the locals. In my home you will find the American flag, Virginian flag and of course the old "stars and bars." To my dismay I actually have to remove said flag to avoid having to explain to some people that regardless of what they may think, I am not a racist.(not that I would normally care, but my landlord is a quite fickle liberal that hasn’t seemed to be quite so friendly with me after an awkward Tuesday evening last year.) As a matter of fact the confederate flag did not and does not have any thing to do with slavery or race. This brings me to my next point.

3. "A brief American history": The civil war officially started on April 12th, 1861. Even before the cotton Jin, crops, primarily cotton were a huge money maker for the southern states. Due to the vast land and favorable conditions, land owners in the south could and did become extremely self sufficient; so much so they were able trade with other countries such as France, completely leaving the struggling industrialized north out of the picture. Hence fourth, the federal government began imposing unjust and rather high taxes on all international trade among many other things bringing forth the succession of several southern states. Sound familiar? You know it does Yankee Doodle! The emancipation proclamation was nothing other than a last ditch effort in 1863, to make those southern patriots fighting for their freedom and independence out to be war mongers guilty of crimes against humanity. It worked.

4. The confederate flag is a symbol of rebellion and freedom. A Jolly Roger if you will. A blood soaked, cannon tattered old glory, also backed by the blood sweat and tears of the men, women and children that believe in its meaning. The real crime against humanity is how our history and ancestors are skewed and disrespected by the miseducated and those who saw "Lincoln" and thought it was the best movie ever.

5. In conclusion, the confederate flag is the ultimate car swag sir, and that is no crime!

Thank you for your time Mr. Rose.


A slowly integrating pacific northwestern, social minority

Now, I’m not entirely ignorant to the South. In the (Union) Army, I went through months of training at Fort Benning, Georgia. I also have many good friends from there – some from the Army and a few who have tried unsuccessfully to use the same defenses of the Confederate flag.

I’m a long way from being convinced that the confederate flag is anything but a glorification to the sad, brutal culture of the past portrayed with grit and without apology in films such as “12 Years A Slave ” (see it) and the Neil Young song “Southern Man.”

I appreciate the thoughtful comments from Mr. Slowly Integrating. Still, if he feels so strongly about displaying a rebel flag or a Jolly Roger on his rig, perhaps he could buy many of the recognizable “Star Wars” Rebel insignias available on the web ($1.50 on eBay) or an actual Jolly Roger.

This is the Pacific Northwest not Alabama. I’m not trying to be high-minded as much as I want to be always cognizant of the horrors attached to that flag.

Yes, people like to put a lot of silly things on their vehicles. (Full disclosure: My 21-year-old Volvo wagon has an "I Saw Pearl Jam" sticker that embarrasses my teen daughters slapped on the back.) The Confederate flag is among the silliest. For now, I’ll continue to treat it as a joke. It’s my way of dealing with a symbol that makes my stomach churn.

Am I wrong? Free speech rules. I respect that. (Indeed, I’m torn on an Arizona high school’s decision to ban a student from displaying the Confederate flag on his truck while on school grounds.) But is displaying the “Southern Cross” on your car really a rational or a tasteful way to let everyone stuck with you in a Northwest traffic jam know that you’re a rebel soul?

Feel free to sound off below.

Oh, and should I be shocked that no one wrote to defend John Schneider’s feathered helmet hair.

— Joseph Rose