Thursday, July 9, 2015

You Were a Grand Old Flag

I have to admit, I've long been puzzled by the fact that, with the ascent of Obama to the highest office in the land, racial strife did not immediately cease the minute he took office. Because that was the promise – one of many – that we were given. All it would take to move seamlessly into a “post-racial” society was to elect The First Black President. And yet it didn't happen; in fact, things are starting to feel more and more like the late 1960s around here – more race consciousness, more division, more hostility, more alienation. Clearly something was missing. But now, at long last, we have an answer – it was That Flag. As long as the Confederate flag (battle flag, whatever) waved in the breeze anywhere in the country, we were doomed to suffer the effects of residual racism, no matter the good intentions of the president. But now that said flag has been banned, and is no more welcome than the swastika in present-day Germany, our troubles should now be over, because, as we all now know, flags have a hypnotic effect on people. They can turn otherwise sensible people into mass murderers. They are more than a mere symbol; they are an icon... a fetish... a “trigger”. And, as we also now know, there is nothing more dangerous to the mental health of the citizenry and the well-being of society than “triggers”, which, along with “micro-aggression”, can render people either homicidal, or helpless, or both. Our college campuses seem to be overrun these days with quivering little people who ooze around like eggs without shells, just waiting for the next traumatic event to render them even more helpless. They are even being offered sheltered recovery areas, complete with mood music, teddy bears, and binkies.

And this in itself is a mystery. After all, aren't all of these people products of the public schools, which offer a steady diet of liberal propaganda and historical revisionism that favors – nay, encourages – nay, demands – allegiance to “diversity”, and “tolerance”, and niceness, and sensitivity? Shouldn't those motives add to one's strength, resistance, and intestinal fortitude, rather than hopelessly compromising them? And yet the very opposite seems to be the case – all of which reflects the gradual conditioning and transformation of the populace into an infantile state where they will all be willing subjects of a totalitarian regime. Yes, everything is going according to plan.

But to get back to the flag issue – what do flags mean, anyway? What to they represent? What do they symbolize? The answers, I suspect, are as varied as the people to wave, carry, or display flags. In the case of the Confederacy, what we have is – to cut to the chase – the flag of a defeated nation. And this constitutes a stumbling block right off the bat, since the custom in the South has been to never admit defeat, and the custom in the North has been to never acknowledge that the South, i.e. the Confederacy, was ever a nation, even though it had, for those few short years, everything that other nations have.

When I was a kid in upstate New York, the image we had of the South was remarkably consistent – aided, in large part, by history and English classes in the public schools. The South was backward, if not downright primitive... hopelessly nostalgic (Gone with the Wind)... decadent and degenerate (Tennessee Williams)... and just generally weird (Faulkner). Abe Lincoln had taught them a damn good lesson, they had been dragged back into the Union kicking and screaming, and if they didn't like it, well, that was just too bad. And, being a good student and a product of Yankee culture, I pretty much bought the whole package. The first thing that happened that started changing my mind was my encounter with Southern breakfasts when my family started traveling below the Mason-Dixon line. No, really – I kid you not. After my first tastes of grits, country ham, and biscuits and gravy I started to develop a newfound respect for the South – anyone who makes food this good can't be all bad. Then later on there were further enlightenments – Delta blues, Sacred Harp singing, Cajun cooking, catfish, key lime pie, Kentucky bourbon, and so on. Yes, there was a real culture down there – foreign, alien, mysterious in a way, but quite real, and obviously satisfying to the people who lived there. And then I had the audacity to marry a Southerner! It's a wonder I wasn't shunned by my kinfolk.

But this notion of the South – the Confederacy – as a defeated nation just doesn't sit well with... well, with just about anybody. It's much easier to call them “rebels”. But what are rebels, and what is a rebellion? As I understand it, it's an armed uprising with the intent of taking over the government, or at least making a significant change in the government – its form or who's in charge. But the Confederacy never intended to change the government of the United States, much less to take it over. Their campaign was more akin to what we call “separatism”, which is, of course, quite fashionable in these times. Since the Iron Curtain was lifted, we've seen separatist movements of all sorts – some peaceful and relatively painless, others anything but. Example of the former include the breakup of the Soviet Union (with the exception of the Caucuses, where the battle still rages), and the division of Czechoslovakia (back) into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Examples of the latter – much more numerous – include the breakup of Yugoslavia and Sudan. And along the way there have been plenty of dismal failures; can you say Quebec? And then you have the Middle East, which is in throes of would-be Balkanization that would put the Balkans to shame. I would say that separatism is more common in our time than outright revolution.

The favored term for the “late unpleasantness” of 150 years ago, for the victors, is the Civil War. But again, this is a misnomer, because your typical civil war involves opposing forces fighting over the same territory – they both live there, in other words. (Northern Ireland comes to mind, as does Spain in the 1930s, Russia after the Bolshevik revolution, and China on any number of occasions.) Again, one can cut through this Gordian knot by simply allowing that the South seceded, they formed their own nation, and the Union did everything in its power to bring them back into the fold – never mind the reasons or the rationale, which are still being debated. (Was it all about slavery? This is the conventional wisdom in the North, but I consider it more of an aggravating factor, economics being the real driver.) When the South refers to the Civil War, they are more likely to call it the War Between the States, which is certainly accurate enough, and which, in a subtle way, reflects the notion that states were more significant entities than the national government (either one) at the time. (And again, Old Abe pretty much did away with the states as power centers, and anything he failed to accomplish has since been policed up by the Supreme Court, as witness the most recent decision having to do with same-sex marriage.)

And the story is not without its ironies. Once Reconstruction (so-called) died down, Southern politicians managed to become the dominant force in Congress based on seniority, which was, in turn, a cultural phenomenon; it was easier to elect someone to Congress for life in the South than it was in the North. (Eventually, the South also gave us a succession of presidents, about whom the less said the better.) But that's not all. The South, with its military traditions, also turned the U.S. Army into, basically, a Southern institution, which it remains to this day. So they have made their mark, for good or ill.

But about that flag – what does it mean? To Northerners and/or liberals, it signifies, first and foremost, a people and a culture that will not admit defeat, and refuses to be homogenized, absorbed, co-opted, or treated as a mere historical oddity or eccentricity. And that is considered a bad thing. To Southerners, it means the same thing, and that's considered a good thing. Does it really mean “racism” per se? Or slavery? Do Southerners really want to go back to “whuppin' darkies” out in the cotton fields? I find that hard to swallow – but the mainstream media present this as a very real possibility. Or, maybe it just represents “hate” -- that all-purpose abstraction that, along with “terror”, seems to have captured the fevered imagination of the American media and the public at large.

What the establishment is saying, in essence, is this: You lost the war, so admit it, and stop pretending otherwise. Cut out this “the South shall rise again” nonsense. (It already has risen again, in many ways – not least with the help of air conditioning and the unions -- with their strongholds in the North -- that managed to drive so much manufacturing southward.) They (the establishment) are also saying: “Southern culture” is a contradiction in terms, and you'd be much better off if you just gave up that nostalgic nonsense (including, I suppose, moonshine, guns, the Bible, and muscle cars). (After all, didn't Obama himself criticize people who “cling” to guns and the Bible? He didn't have to say “Southerners” because we all know who he meant.)

It is true that “to the victor go the spoils”, and it's amazing to see how long that process takes in actual practice. Where else in the world do you find people who are still P.O.'d about... oh wait, I forgot about Ireland, Ukraine, Armenia, Spain, India & Pakistan, sub-Saharan Africa, Native Americans, etc. The problem is, one people or nation conquers another people or nation, and they refuse to stay conquered. Real, bona fide genocide is a common enough thing, but it always leaves survivors, and those survivors are energized. They have long memories. (Note that the Islamists in the Middle East refer to the U.S. and Europe as “Franks”. That goes back to the Crusades!) The question always for the victors is this: To what degree do we “tolerate” cultural (ethnic, religious, racial) assertiveness on the part of the defeated? Should it be crushed outright, or is it better to allow for safety valves? And does it make sense, after 150 years, to still be stomping on the South for its “racism” and recidivist attitudes? Does it make sense to give rise to another generation of resentment, when things were already going fairly well? These are questions that would test the tolerance of any regime, but in this case nothing must be allowed to get in the way of the long march to totalitarianism, and the South and its flag are clearly stumbling blocks that must be eliminated.

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