After "Flag Removal Day" in South Carolina: Will the Real Extremists Please Stand Up?

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At
noon on July 1, the Confederate flag was removed from the South
Carolina State House Dome. Within minutes, a square version was
raised on a 30-foot pole behind the Confederate Soldier Monument
before a crowd of onlookers representing both sides of this long
and acrimonious dispute. Downtown Columbia streets were blocked
off, and dozens if not hundreds of police were on hand in case flag
supporters waving Confederate banners and NAACP supporters bearing
signs with the single word SHAME decided to do more than hurl invective
at one another. Going from reports by others (due to work obligations
I was not there in person) it was an ugly and potentially dangerous
spectacle, and it is probably just as well that the police were
out in force – as abhorrent as I would find that description in most
contexts. Just one person was arrested, and tensions that could
easily have erupted into violence were kept under control.

On
July 4, I took a drive through downtown Columbia to the State House
to see the flag's new location, and assess for myself some of the
charges that have been flying around. In particular, I wanted to
evaluate the claim by those who favor the NAACP's continuing its
tourism boycott of South Carolina that (as one person put it) "the
flag is off the Dome and in our faces," i.e., in a more visible
location than before. July 4 was an exceptionally good day for such
a venture, because with all government offices and most businesses
closed for the holiday, traffic was light and few people were around.

I
approached the State House driving south on North Main. From this
perspective the State House in clearly visible in the distance.
You can see flags atop the building without being able to distinguish
them; it only becomes possible to see that the Confederate flag
is no longer there about halfway across the downtown area. Soon
I was coming up on the famous or infamous corner of Gervais and
North Main facing the State House steps.

The
truth is, the new Confederate flag is not that prominent
in its new location, which is, after all, behind and not in front
of the much taller Confederate Soldier Monument. You can see it
from a car in the North Main portion of the intersection if the
wind is blowing – and if you are looking in the right place – but not
otherwise. The flag is visible from an angle, e.g., from Gervais
Street on either side of the stoplight, or to a person standing
on one of the crosswalks on either side of North Main – again, if
you look. Moreover, the State House grounds are fairly woodsy. Further
down Gervais Street, the main east-west corridor north of the State
House, the flag is largely concealed by trees this time of the year.
From elsewhere on the grounds it is not visible at all. The State
House itself or trees are in the way.

This
should serve to quiet those who complain that the Confederate flag
is "more visible than ever," or as one private critic
of a previous article of mine put it, "the view was better
on the Dome!" On the contrary, the flag is visible only to
onlookers in the immediate vicinity: the Gervais-Main intersection
and the large promenade leading from there to the State House steps.
And during the regular workweek, most of the people filling the
crowded streets and sidewalks will be too busy to bother much with
a flag flapping 30 feet overhead.

Moreover,
it ought to become clear to anyone touring the State House grounds
that once the General Assembly had decided to move the flag, the
Confederate Soldier Monument was the logical place to put it. The
State House grounds in Columbia provide a gold mine of South Carolina
history, including not just this state's role in the War Between
the States but the full range of the state's history from early
beginnings up through the present. The figures honored here include
Richard Richardson, who was born in 1704 and became Brigadier General
of the Militia for South Carolina in the Revolutionary War. Captured
by the British in 1780, he fell seriously ill and died later that
year, having given his life in the cause of independence for his
countrymen. There is, obviously, the Wade Hampton Memorial, and
it is clear from the dates when Wade Hampton was governor – during
the late Reconstruction period – that putting the Confederate flag
there, as Governor Jim Hodges had proposed, would not have been
historically appropriate. There is a monument to the women of the
Confederacy – without a hint of radical feminism (true Southron belles
are ladies, after all). Finally, there is a statue honoring
none other than Senator Strom Thurmond, whose life has spanned a
century of change.

The
plain truth is, the Confederate flag belongs on these grounds somewhere,
if not on the Dome. It's called respect for historical accuracy,
whether one likes all the details of this history or not. The Confederate
flag, in its new location, is most certainly not in a "position
of sovereignty," any more than, e.g., the Wade Hampton memorial
is.

This
brings us to some general points worth making again, however often
they have been made before. More and more in this age of political
correctness, respect for history and for truth itself is taking
a back seat to feelings, especially the feelings of those who arrogate
for themselves the mantle of victimhood and whatever moral superiority
they believe comes with this. Virtually every argument by an NAACP
member for removing the Confederate flag completely from State House
grounds begins with, "I find the Confederate flag offensive…"
It then may proceed to slavery, or to race hatred, and to the politically
correct but historically false view that the War Between the States
was fought over slavery. The issue ought to be irrelevant since
the institution hasn't existed for 135 years, and blaming whatever
problems blacks have today on slavery is silly. But let's dwell
on it a minute. The South did not initially secede to preserve slavery
but as a last-resort protest over Northern-imposed tariffs and other
increasingly oppressive economic policies, policies the newly elected
Abraham Lincoln had pledged to continue. Likewise, the North did
not go to war to eliminate slavery but to preserve the Union. Lincoln,
it is true, had no love for slavery, but neither did he accept the
equality of the races – all one has to do is read his own words on
the subject. Moreover, it is now clear that there were regiments
of blacks who fought and died for the Confederacy. The Confederate
Army also made room for Indians who had good reason to hate the
Lincoln Administration, since brutal campaigns of butchery waged
against entire tribes were carried out under Lincoln's watch. Unfortunately,
today's historians have no use for such facts, since they do not
fit with currently fashionable ideology.

When
evaluating the causes of that disastrous war, it is useful to remember
the truism that histories of wars are always written by the victors,
not the vanquished. The victors automatically portray themselves
as heroes; the vanquished are portrayed as traitors and villains.
Had the original 13 colonies lost the Revolutionary War and remained
under British domination, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and
those who signed the Declaration of Independence would be remembered
much as we are told to remember Jefferson Davis and his cohorts.
All would have been tried and imprisoned if not executed for treason.

And
speaking of fashionable ideology, it is useful to note that when
we talked about the Confederate flag atop of the State House Dome,
we were talking about an object that was barely noticed until around
ten years ago. This was also the time political correctness reared
its ugly head both on college and university campuses and in the
legal system. The coincidence in time is too much to be coincidence
in fact. That movement came about because 1960s-nurtured leftist
radicals, of whatever race, were gradually rising to power, and
have continued this rise throughout the 1990s. Their fundamentally
totalitarian mindset should be clear to all that have followed their
role in the events of the past nine years, whether on college campuses
or regarding Confederate symbols. The aim is thought control. Striving
for "harmony," or "resolving issues," in this
view, means satisfying leftist groups. The NAACP became a prime
example, and is carrying its campaign to Georgia and Mississippi
(both of which incorporate Confederate symbols into their state
flags) as well as Texas. In the latter case, Gov. George W. Bush
recently had two plaques bearing Confederate symbols removed from
the state Supreme Court building in Austin in response to NAACP
demands. The organization plans to have a bill introduced early
in 2001 which would ban all Confederate symbols from public schools.

Thought
control efforts are made in various ways. Most whites who are not
left-liberals find the NAACP intimidating, because they have learned
that criticisms of "black leaders" are almost invariably
met with allegations of racism. There is, however, nothing inherently
racial about the leftist strategy which is about ideology, not race.
Leftist groups of all stripes play the character assassination game.
In one recent case, a fellow employee where I work, upon reading
an article of mine critical of the NAACP, emailed not me but someone
whom, had he chosen, could easily have orchestrated my being fired.
This kind of gesture is not uncommon; any number of university professors
who haven't towed the line have had their careers sabotaged, and
there is no way of knowing how many others have been threatened
or suffered close calls. And when one person in an organization
becomes a public pariah, the rest get the message. They censor themselves,
having learned that today's ideological debates are not really debates
at all but demands, with one side expected to make all the concessions – whether
in the name of "social justice," "reparations,"
or what-have-you. The demanders learn they can be as extreme as
they want, because it is the rare person who will call them onto
the carpet.

It
is one of the benefits of the Confederate flag compromise measure,
in this writer's view, that it prevented the NAACP from assuming
dictatorial control over where the flag ended up, and ensured that
it would be in a place that accurately reflected its role in history.
Naturally, NAACP loyalists are miffed, big time. Hence the continuation
of the boycott.

Now
who are the real extremists?

While
those who today defend Confederate symbols in any form or fashion
are routinely labeled extremists by their enemies and in the politically
correct media, it is the mark of a real extremist to assume
an automatic moral high ground and be unwilling to negotiate, no
matter what. "Keeping the flag on the State House grounds,"
emailed one of my correspondents, "was never negotiable."
Real extremists make demands, and expect obedience or else. When
they say "Jump!" they expect the response "How high?"
For all their appeals to "tolerance" they are intolerant
of dissent. They are convinced of the absolute rightness of their
stance and the blindness or malice of their critics.

The
NAACP in its present form surely qualifies as an extremist group
in this sense, and one that hardly speaks or ought to speak for
the entire black community. (For an alternative to the NAACP's leftism
one may go to http://www.issues-views.com.)
Of course, the NAACP is hardly the only extremist group of the Left,
just the most visible one in South Carolina. It remains to be seen
whether its future actions substantiate flag supporters' main allegation,
that we have just seen one stage in an ongoing campaign of "cultural
cleansing," part of the breaking down of potential resistance
by the one section of the United States with a visible history of
resistance to the central-statism more and more emanating from Washington,
D.C., these days.

July
7, 2000

Steven
Yates
is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action
(San Francisco:
ICS Press, 1994) and numerous articles and reviews. He lives and
freelance writes in Columbia, South Carolina.

Steven
Yates Archives

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