Allan Cruickshanks, Opinion Columnist

ACCORDING to Senator and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the state of South Carolina should remove a Confederate flag displayed on the grounds of its Statehouse. Why? Not for the typical rhetoric about what the flag may represent, as the Associated Press reports, but "because the nation should unite under one banner while at war" — interesting logic for someone who makes such a big deal about ending the war. Yet the more important question is why, Hillary, do you think South Carolina cares in the least about your opinion on the issue?

Senator Clinton’s reasoning for why the Confederate flag should be removed is odd: According to the AP, she thinks "about how many South Carolinians have served in our military and who are serving today" and believes "we should have one flag that we all pay honor to." The simplicity of Clinton’s thought pattern makes it rather amazing she was able to form a complete sentence about the issue. After all, no one is asking South Carolinians to carry the Confederate flag into battle, to wear it on uniforms, or to have it in their consciousness in any way. In fact this has absolutely nothing to do with the war in Iraq at all. What it does do, however, is to distort historical symbols for political purposes.

Clinton’s comments bring to light several recent political and social trends. The first trend is that not potentially offending someone has more weight than seemingly any other factor. In South Carolina, this factor is the actual history of the Confederate flag versus the image Clinton played on without directly addressing. Elsewhere in the country, the de facto subservience to political correctness has reached into virtually every area — and though intentions may be good, effects often are not. Take the story of Willow Hill Elementary, outside Philadelphia, which according to the AP refused to let a fourth grader dress as Jesus for Halloween because his costume "violated a policy prohibiting the promotion of religion." That this policy was not applied to the various witches, devils, goblins or other obvious followers of the occult shows the principal’s main intention was to prevent controversy — apparently devils and witches are just kids having fun, whereas Jesus is a dangerous political message.

Similarly, consider the removal earlier this month of the cross that for more than 65 years was displayed in William & Mary’s Wren Chapel. William & Mary President Gene Nichol said that he had the cross removed, according to CNN, "to make the chapel more welcoming to students of all faiths." Though his intentions may have been in the right place, they led to the wrong conclusion. Instead of bowing to pressure and ignoring the cultural and historical significance of the chapel, Nichol could easily have provided space elsewhere for other religious groups.

Finally, we come to the more disturbing trend: The substitution of or simple ignorance about historical events in place of one’s own beliefs. The Confederate flag means many different things to many different people, yet for some reason radical and horrible groups who misappropriated the flag as a symbol of hatred are given the final say on its meaning. In reality, every symbol, including the American flag, has at some point been used by a group to support something we now consider morally wrong.

This is not in any way meant to imply that the decades of oppression against African-Americans should be ignored or down-played. However, the deeper and often-ignored history shows that slavery and hatred are not the only things the Confederate flag represents and that it should not be remembered as such. Take for example, the fact that the "Stars and Bars" most people recognize as the Confederate flag was used only in battle, not as a national symbol for the Confederacy. In this way it represents the memory of the tens of thousands who died in service to their states. Likewise, consider that Virginia, the most populous slave state, actually voted to remain in the Union where it considered the continuation of slavery most likely. It was not until Lincoln demanded troops for an invasion of the South that Virginia changed its vote and seceded.

History cannot be ignored either in full or in part. History — recent and long past — should not be rewritten or exploited to serve political purposes. A symbol with various meanings should not be repressed just to prevent controversy over just one of those meanings. Finally, as a society that prides itself on freedom, it is our duty to enable that freedom by fully understanding the symbols and issues with which we come in contact.

On The Web: