ESSAYS, ARTICLES, & REVIEWS
CHARLESTON AND THE CONFEDERACY
When President Obama went before the American public to lament the shooting of civilians within the borders of our own country, by one of our own countrymen—for the twelfth time during his two terms—this time at the Emmanuel church in Charleston, S.C., the intense overwhelming weariness of the inhuman, soul-killing, repetitiousness of this tragedy was blatantly apparent in every fiber of Obama’s being—regarding this topic, he looked beaten. Of all the nefarious, horrible events coming down in our country lately, I daresay this series of school and church shootings is the worst. Obama looked beaten down by this calamity, much more so than any terrorist acts by al Quaeda or ISIS, and rightly so. This division within our country, the resulting violence, and the utter lack change in response to it is ridiculously discouraging.
Is our country really that divided? It’s as though we were North and South Korea—our philosophies are so different, as well as diametrically opposed, that we may as well be on different planets.
And now the debate has boiled down to removing the Confederate flag flying over South Carolina’s state building, which, since the 21-year-old racist murderer, Dylann Roof, chose it as the main symbol of his feelings of hate and segregation, has finally come under scrutiny. Well, it’s certainly about time.
The Confederate flag is a symbol of treason, no more, no less, and is as appropriate as flying the Nazi swastika. Neither flag is a fond remembrance of simpler, gentler times; each of these flags declares death and suffering to somebody.
Let us not forget that the American Civil War was the bloodiest war in America’s war-filled history, with an estimated 625,000 to 850,000 dead—all Americans. And no matter how contemporary historians care to spin history, the Civil War was fought specifically to abolish slavery and stop its movement into the western territories—states’ rights, territorial and economic issues, and the election of Abraham Lincoln, all relate back to slavery. States do have some level of self-determination, but it cannot and should not include issues of morality—rape, child molestation or the beating of your wife or children cannot be made legal in any state. Therefore, anyone who supports the memory of the Confederacy, supports racism, segregation, and treason, on some level, even if they pretend to be unaware of it. I just heard on NPR one of South Carolina’s senators state, “I don’t even see it.”
It was flatly illegal for the initial seven southern states, starting with South Carolina, then Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas (finally culminating in eleven states), to secede from the union in February, 1861. These initial seven states combined to form the Confederate States of America on February 4th, 1861, with Jefferson Davis as president. There is no constitutionally legal way for a state to secede from the United States, of which the key word is “United.” As has been said, united we stand, divided we fall, and the north did not consider that a viable option. There is also the issue of the south confiscating federal land, forts and munitions, which was also illegal. The secession of the south was not only treason, it was high treason, since it wasn’t just intended to undermine the north, it was meant to destroy it.
But, not only was the Confederacy fighting for an immoral, illegal cause, it was doomed to failure from the outset and only got as far as it did out of sheer hubris and blind ignorance. The north not only had more people, it had more money, and all of the factories with which to manufacture weapons and munitions, whereas the south was based on a purely agrarian economy, specifically dependent on cotton, a commodity that was brokered by the English who were so imperious that they regularly did not return the profits. Had President Lincoln appointed better generals to the top positions earlier, the war would most certainly have been shorter and less lethal. However, no matter what mistakes were made, nor how many casualties were incurred, the north would ultimately, eventually win—there was no other possible outcome. After several early southern victories, the tide of the war turned to the north and never returned to the south.
Now, 150 years later, the specter of the Confederacy has raised its ugly head once again. Why must the African-Americans, as well as the non-racist whites of the south—which I would seriously believe is the vast majority—have to bear the burden of this nefarious memory, endorsed by their own states? The state of Mississippi actually has the Confederate flag embedded into their state flag. Roads all over the south, and specifically in Charleston, are proudly named of Confederate generals. Is it humanly possible that the implications of these treasonous, foolhardy reminders of a bad cause are lost on southerners?
It’s been 150 years, isn’t time to let it all go?
It’s only been 70 years since the end of World War II, but most everybody has let that go, although certainly not some Jews (when half your population is murdered it’s difficult to shake off), and not all Europeans, although I’d venture most since it’s been over three generations since the war was fought. Still, on my last trip to Amsterdam, I was seated in the Bulldog Coffee Shop happily puffing away on a big spliff, when an attractive, well-dressed German couple in their twenties came in and sat down. The seventeen-year-old Dutch kid beside me leaned over and whispered, “Fucking Germans.” Surprised, I asked, “Wasn’t that all way before your time?” “No,” he replied, “I’m from Rotterdam. The Germans bombed Rotterdam into rubble. Every building has been rebuilt since then. If we want to see what our city used to look like, we have to come to Amsterdam.”
So, historical resentment can be passed on from generation to generation. By photographing himself with the Confederate flag numerous time, Charleston killer Dylann Roof was, to some degree, reliving the “outages” and “humiliations” that the south had to endure in the past.
The south—the Confederacy—did not endure any outrages or humiliations; they took an immoral, illegal position, and they got what they deserved—destruction. They are only lucky that there was only one General William Tecumseh Sherman, who believed and practiced “Total Warfare,” meaning civilians and their property were aiding and abetting the enemy soldiers, and therefore deserved to be destroyed, too. Most of the south was not destroyed, but the memories, attitudes and moral positioning of that time still need some cleaning up. And taking down all of the Confederate flags is not only long overdue, it’s a necessity to heal an old, festering wound.