Simply Look Away If Flag Offends You

The Tampa Tribune
Published: June 8, 2008

Speaking at the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson told the aged veterans of the Blue and Gray that the Civil War had become "a quarrel forgotten."

After the uproar last week over a proposed Confederate war memorial and the massive battle flag that will be its centerpiece at the intersection of interstates 4 and 75, I think William Faulkner was more accurate when he wrote in "Requiem for a Nun": "The past is never dead. In fact, it’s not even past."

Faulkner’s words, written in 1951, remain an accurate description of some Southerners when it comes to the Civil War – or as someone once corrected me, the War of Northern Aggression. The war is hardly forgotten, and all the issues it raises are still contested territory – 143 years after it ended!

Even though more books have been written about the war than any other event in U.S. history, there are still conflicting perspectives and interpretations of its causes. According to members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the group behind the Hillsborough County memorial, the war was over tariffs, states’ rights and federal usurpation; slavery was but a peripheral issue.

From The Mouths Of Confederates

I tried my best to look into other causes of the war. Even though soldiers on both sides didn’t fight to end slavery, it was still the centerpiece issue.

In the 1850s, slavery permeated all political discussion in the United States. After Abraham Lincoln won the election in 1860, 11 Southern states seceded because they feared he eventually would abolish slavery. Secession – because of slavery – initiated the war.

You don’t have to take my word for it; just read what Southerners at the time had to say about what the Confederacy stood for.

In the "cornerstone speech" delivered by Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, in 1861, he stated that the new nation’s "foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro sic is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition." He said slavery was "the immediate cause of the rupture and our present revolution."

Robert Smith, a framer of the Confederate Constitution, noted: "We have dissolved the late Union chiefly because of the Negro quarrel."

And part of the Mississippi Declaration of Causes of Secession, dated Jan. 9, 1861, states:

"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. … There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin."

It’s Heritage, But Used For Hate

That’s why so many blacks see the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of oppression. It’s also why many white supremacist groups wave it. When they unfurl it, it’s to intimidate, not to honor Southern heritage.

Still, I have no problem with those who wish to honor their ancestors who fought for a cause they believe in – even if I disagree with it – and it’s only natural that a flag fly over monuments dedicated to them.

That’s why I would tell those offended by the flag to just "look away, look away" when they come upon it driving down I-4 or I-75. Don’t make it a weapon of mass intimidation.

And remember, they don’t call it the "Lost Cause" for nothing.

©2008 Media General Communications Holdings

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