Dixie Do or Dixie Don't?

Huckabee spit polishes his image down South by loudly defending the flying of Confederate colors. The New York Times tells us . . .

“You don’t like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag,” Mr. Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, told supporters in Myrtle Beach, according to The Associated Press.
“In fact,” he said, “if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we’d tell them what to do with the pole; that’s what we’d do.”

At a news conference on Thursday night, he said, “It is not an issue the president of the United States needs to weigh in on.”

I'm split on the issue myself. One one hand, it's stupid to claim that "outsiders" (presumably, anyone north of the Mason-Dixon) have no stake in the flying of the Stars and Bars. That flag represents a rebellious movement that was ended only after hundreds of thousands of "outsiders" lost their lives, with many others coming away maimed or mentally disturbed. For all non-Southerners, the Stars and Bars continues to be a reminder of that brutal conflict, and a symbol with significant emotional resonance.

Furthermore, the Confederates were, in part, fighting to maintain the cornerstone of their caste-based agrarian society: that is, human bondage. Thus the flag -- a flag of, for, and by the CSA -- is an icon of an illegitimate white supremacist nation that not only defended but championed a system of racial subjugation and exploitation. That being so, its continued veneration is a massive insult to all African-Americans, whose descendents suffered the greatest cruelties.

But . . . it's equally true that the Stars and Bars is a multifaceted icon. There are some liberal Yankees who are still eager to gloat over Appomattox. They would unfairly reduce the flag to an exclusively racist symbol, which is just wrongheaded. Undeniably, it is representative of the Old South, and its rich social, economic, and political heritage, not all of which is immoral or embarassing. Localism, particular community, respect of tradition, self-determination, popular sovereignty, anti-Caesarism, limited government -- these fine principles constitute the DNA of the Old South. They are notions to admire, and if a man looks into the Stars and Bars and sees those ideas, then more power to him.

After all, many people (particularly where I grew up, in New England) fly Revolutionary banners, or flags from the early republic (the circle of thirteen stars, etc.), and these represented the nation when it still accepted human bondage as alright, if not ideal. Yet, to most, those old school colors are not perceived as symbols of American slavery, but of American liberty. Isn't this somewhat of a double standard?

I suppose this is the ideal arrangment: keep the Stars and Bars off public property, but don't heckle others for giving it respect. The thing is a powerful, complicated symbol, rich it connotation, with meanings that range from despicable to utterly admirable.


Jeff Hudecek said...

I don't know. It's a lot easier to look at slavery as the primary driving force of the south's rebellion; whereas the old stars and bars represent the rebellion that spawned an entirely new government and nation (which slavery, while part of it, was certainly not a factor in shaping its guiding principles).

I don't agree that the historical view of the confederate flag holds enough merit to deserve such respect. You could make the same argument for Swastikas. Sure they're a symbol of a Germany uplifted from the depression of post-WWI, but they're also the emblem of anti-semitism, radical opression, and all the negativity that was the Nazi party.

I seriously doubt the secession would've occured on any grounds aside from the threat of abolition.

Philip Primeau said...

I strongly disagree with the idea that slavery was the driving force behind the Civil War. It was just a surface manifestation of a much more pressing underlying issues: the tension between industry and agriculture; between landed wealth and moneyed wealth; between centralization and decentralization; between the increasingly multicultural north and the WASP south; between protectionism and free enterprise. Most Southerners didn't own slaves (not even close), and most Northerners didn't like blacks, and didn't have an interest in losing an arm or leg (or worse) to "free" them (which, of course, didn't really happen until the 1960's, anyway).

Jeff Hudecek said...

Well, take a look at some of the actual events that lead up to the war:

The 1831 Nat Turner uprising, which prompted the Southern viewpoint on slavery to shift from a neccessary evil to benefit their agricultural economy to an actual positive.

John Brown's Pottawatomie killings, where a posse either lead or organized by the famous abolitionist hacked 5 slave owners to death.

The North's resistance and barely existant enforcement of the Fugative Slave law of 1850.

Uncle Tom's Cabin.

The Dred Scott decision.

The Compromise of 1850.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and lead to the foundation of the anti-slave Republican Party.

Really, cite me something (aside from perhaps the Nullification Crisis) that lead up to the civil war that had nothing to do with slavery. It was a series of political bartering regarding which new states would be slave states and which would be free states that constituted massive tension on both sides that culminated with the election of Lincoln and secession of South Carolina in 1860.