Rebel flag


Dear Mr Adderton,

Truly it is a relief to see some common sense displayed in the ongoing debate over the Confederate (battle) flag. Seen from this distance (in both time and space, because I am a European) the never-ending tug of war over the Confederate flag is a source of amazement. Have you ever stopped to wonder why, of all the 19th century conflicts, only the war between North and South in America continues to generate controversy, headlines, and to spawn literature and re-enactor associations? There are no Sons of Napoleonic Veterans, and hardly anyone remembers the Franco-Prussian conflict, though these wars had far-reaching consequences for Europe and the rest of the world, America included. The long, tedious struggle for equality for blacks, as well as the current hostility to Confederate symbols and anything and anyone Southern, which your article referred to, is connected to this remarkable fact.

The link between them is that the historically unique American experiment in republican, limited self-government by states forming a voluntary union which began in 1776, ended in 1861 when a ruthless megalomaniac bent on saddling America with a strong centralised government, high taxes, a military-industrial complex and the ambitions of empire ascended to the Presidency, and waged war on the Southern half of the country which had hitherto thwarted the schemes of the Whigs Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay. That war was then without precedent in that it attacked military and civilian targets alike without discrimination, the invasion of the South causing over 600,000 deaths and destroying 40% of the national economy. Rejecting all domestic and foreign peace overtures, four years of overwhelming force succeeded in subjugating a smaller nation, leaving an indelible legacy of atrocity, occupation, abuse, exploitation, and subsequent racial hatred.

The Great Emancipator cleverly used the cloak of “freeing the slaves” to sell his agenda both in the North and abroad, though certainly not all were fooled at the time: Charles Dickens, for one, saw that the true reason for the “Civil War” – which neither you nor I learned in school – was in fact the tariff, paid for by the South for the North’s benefit. That it took over a century for blacks to gain the equality which is their birthright is an ironic and unforgivable legacy not of slavery (which, being untenable and uneconomic, was on its way out – witness the many instances of compensated emancipation in other societies in the first half of the 19th century) but of Reconstruction, a misnomer for the brutal military occupation, political subjugation and economic exploitation of the devasted and conquered territories of the South. One of the instruments of this subjugation was the political abuse of illiterate freed black slaves in what amounted to mock parliaments that laid the basis for much of the immorality of racial discrimination against blacks which was the aftermath of war in the disenfranchised South. Remember that, decades before the war and in the midst of the slavery period, Alexis de Toqueville remarked that “race relations seem better in the South than in the North”. His observations are beyond reproach, and beyond the reach of modern-day political correctness.

Sadly, what is almost just as disturbing as the needlessly long road toward equality for blacks is that this adequately documented history is not even being taught in America’s schools. The lie that “the Union came before the States” (the States created the Union), the myth that Lincoln freed the slaves (the Emancipation Declaration was a mere politico-military expedient without social aims), the fable that the Civil War was fought over the liberation of blacks (it was fought over the tax revenue, the issue of political overrepresentation of whites in the South via the presence of blacks which counted for 3/5ths of a “white” vote, and the issue of “internal improvements” meaning government subsidies for corrupt big business) all go virtually unchallenged in schools and the media today. Yet these facts are known to me. They are readily available to all who can read.

The reasons why the Confederacy continues to attract adherents at home and abroad, continues to generate controversy, and continues to inspire debate, is the fight for historical truth, and the honest yet virtually hopeless desire of many to, one day, return to limited, responsible, republican, liberty-respecting government for all, because no one but the looney fringe is interested in discriminating on the basis of colour. The days of slavery are gone for ever and good riddance – precisely the sentiment expressed, by the way, in the diary of a Southern lady during the Civil War itself – please read Mary Chesnut’s “A Diary from Dixie”.

The fight you referred to in your article is not over a piece of red cloth. Symbols are important, but less so than the things they stand for. The fight is not about whether or not the Confederate flag today stands for supporters of slavery or denial of the rights of blacks – that is just preposterous. If black students react this way, it is because of a lack of education. Teach them about race relations in the North as late as 1868. The fight is about the South’s right to have its history recognised, its struggle for independence from a centralised, tax-minded, empire-bent government recognised. The Confederacy lost that struggle. That is evident when you watch the news today, for America has become everything the South fought against, to the dismay of many, on both sides of the Atlantic, who love the promise of that unique experiment that was extinguished forever at Appomatox in 1865. America, and the world, is the poorer for it.

Best regards,

Johan Temmerman
Oudenaarde, Belgium