Adopt-a-Flag

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The
NAACP should formally adopt the Confederate battle flag, and all
things Confederate, in the way that community groups adopt sections
of roads.

Why?

This
would send the Ku Klux Klan, and any genuine racists, into fits.
It would also bridge the gap between the NAACP and Southern heritage
groups, and perhaps help to heal the wounds between Southern blacks
and whites left over from Reconstruction.

To
justify this action, ask a simple question. Does the NAACP want
real social progress, or is it merely engaged in posturing for fund-raising?
Kweisi Mfume, the head of the NAACP, is a Democrat cast from the
same mold as Clinton, and – no surprise – has opted for money instead
of justice and progress.

Southrons
are attached to the battle flag, as well as the three National flags
of the Confederacy and the Bonnie Blue flag, because Southern nationalism
did not end with the war. Yes, Southern nationalism. Loss of the
war aside, the Confederacy was a de facto independent nation for
roughly four years. Would you forget a thing like that? Do you think
the colonists would have forgotten the taste of freedom if the British
had won the American War of Independence? Not likely. If you still
have doubts, think about Patrick Henry: Give me liberty, or give
me death. Heck, the New Hampshire state motto is “Live Free or Die,”
and they’re Yankees.

Also,
consider the case of international law. When there is the break-up
of an existing state, as in the case of Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia,
who decides whether the new entities are really states? Basically,
other states decide. Czechoslovakia split peacefully into the Czech
Republic and the Slovak Republic; since neither of them complained,
other states such as Germany, France and the U.S. had no difficulty
in recognizing their existence as states. Similarly, Slovenia and
Croatia are recognized as independent states, now that the fighting
in those formerly Yugoslavian areas has died down.

In
the case of a war of secession – as when the British colonies in
America forcibly earned their independence from Mother England – recognition usually does not come until after the rebels have won.

Of
course, international law itself raises a philosophical question:
what does it mean for one state to “recognize the existence” of
another state? Surely, if it didn’t exist, there would be nothing
to recognize. Yet recognition seems to confer existence in the minds
of states. At a minimum, it can be said that international law is
not sufficiently informed by libertarian and classical liberal thinking.
But the Confederate States of America certainly existed as a functioning
government. It was not recognized by any foreign nations, but it
was recognized by the sovereign state of Maryland.

But
back to my main point. The NAACP gains nothing from its demonization
of all things Confederate. The solid core of NAACP supporters is
going to stick with the NAACP through thick and thin. But what about
those on the fence, or those who, in defense of their own heritage,
despise the tactics of the NAACP? Such a confrontational stance
gains some supporters from those on the fence, but others are pushed
into the ranks of the furious and defensive Southern heritage groups.
It does not seem to be a good idea to willfully and intentionally
push away people who might otherwise be sympathetic to one’s cause.

My
suggestion could be adopted in a variety of ways. The NAACP could
stop opposing the battle flag, and begin a reasoned discussion of
the pros and cons of the battle flag as a symbol of the Confederacy.
Of course, this would involve an acknowledgment of history, instead
of myths, for example dropping the claim that the War for Southern
Independence had anything to do with slavery.

In
point of fact, as Charles Adams has recently demonstrated in his
marvelous short book, When
in the Course of Human Events
,
the war was fought over economics and politics. The political issue
was the power structure of the federal government and the states,
known as federalism. The South adhered to the vision of the founders,
i.e. of a federal government created by the sovereign states and
limited in its powers. Because the united States were a union of
sovereign states, a state that wished to leave the union could do
so at any time. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence
as well as a President of the United States, said so explicitly
in public speeches. So did President John Quincy Adams. The South
had good reason to oppose Abraham Lincoln’s ridiculous claim that
the union was permanent, and that it was “prior to the states.”

The
war was also fought over economics. Lincoln’s Northern backers favored
the high tariff which Lincoln passed immediately upon taking office.
The Lincoln tariff was intolerable to the South for several reasons.
First, the Northern-controlled Congress spent the vast majority
of revenue raised in the North. Second, the South was an exporter
of raw materials such as cotton, and an importer of European manufactured
goods. With a high tariff, Southerners would be induced to buy lower-quality
Northern goods instead of European goods which had been priced out
of the market by the protective tariff. In the process, the busy
ports of the South would lose a great deal of business.

Slavery,
in contrast, was not even announced as a war aim by Lincoln until
two years of fighting had elapsed. Even then, the Emancipation Proclamation,
which European publications ridiculed as a sham, only alleged to
free the slaves in the Deep South, where Lincoln had no authority.
It did not free the slaves in the border states, such as Kentucky,
Maryland, and Missouri, which Lincoln was still struggling to keep
in the union.

Lincoln
had successfully prosecuted cases returning fugitive slaves to their
masters. He campaigned with explicit statements of his lack of constitutional
authority to do anything about slavery, and he stated numerous times
that he did not want to do anything about slavery. When he did suggest
ways to deal with slavery, Lincoln’s preferred plan was to ship
the slaves back to Africa because, he said, he would prefer the
white race to be superior, and he did not believe that the two races
could ever live together. It should also be remembered that while
leader of the Illinois legislature, Lincoln passed laws forbidding
freed blacks from living in that state. Adams’ book is richly footnoted
on all these points.

But
Lincoln was not alone in his attitudes. The allegedly abolitionist
Northern states had laws forbidding free blacks from moving in,
holding property, or taking jobs. Northern cities such as Boston
had “black codes,” which were later copied by the Southern states
and known as “Jim Crow.” The black codes told blacks where to live,
among other things. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed, nowhere were
blacks treated worse than in the states where there had never been
slavery.

The
South, by contrast, featured integrated areas of cities, where freed
blacks lived side by side with whites and with slaves. C. Van Woodward’s
short book, The
Strange Career of Jim Crow
, is also informative on this
point. Although set 90 years before the War for Southern Independence,
the Mel Gibson film The Patriot illustrates this point: the film
features free blacks working for Gibson’s character (a South Carolinian),
as well as one slave who wins his freedom through militia service
and stays to fight beside his fellow (mostly white) South Carolinians
as a free man.

As
Adams documents, Northern Reconstruction ended all this. The Union
League, the GAR, and the Republican Party disenfranchised anyone
who had fought for the South, armed the freed slaves, and turned
Southern society on its head. The resulting lawlessness – characterized
by federal troops and Northern politicians literally raping and
stealing their way through the South for a period of years –
spawned the Ku Klux Klan. It should not be forgotten that the Union
Army which “liberated” the South was immediately thereafter engaged
in the massacre of the Indians. For that, one might expect the NAACP
to ban the Stars & Stripes
.

So
back to my suggestion.

The
NAACP can do something which no white politician can do. It can
tone down the rhetoric. It can end the conflict by acknowledging
that things don’t have to be the way they are. It is possible to
celebrate the South and the Confederacy without being a racist.
The Southerners saw themselves as following in the footsteps of
their fathers and grandfathers who were in the role of Mel Gibson’s
character – those who fought the tyrannical British to gain
American independence. They did not see themselves as defenders
of slavery, but rather as defenders of their homes and their freedom.
Given that six percent of Southerners owned slaves, and, as Jeffrey
Rogers Hummel has demonstrated in his excellent book Emancipating
Slaves, Enslaving Free Men
(the title is taken from a speech
made by Lincoln prior to his presidency), slavery made the South
poorer, this should not be surprising.

Either
these statements about the South are true or they are false. If
they are true – which they are – it does no one any good,
the membership of the NAACP included – to attack them as if
they were false. As a matter of political philosophy, the Bonnie
Blue flag was spontaneously flown by Southerners after secession.
It
is spontaneously being flown by Southerners today who wish to celebrate
their heritage while not being slandered as “racists.”
It is
therefore a flag chosen by the people, and not by a government.
But this is a minor point, and besides, the Somali flag looks confusingly
similar. Somaliland, as it used to be called, was a U.N. protectorate,
and the Somali flag features a five-point star on a field of U.N.
sky blue, which is a lighter shade than the royal blue of the Bonnie
Blue. On the other hand, if Americans cannot recognize the Bonnie
Blue, they are not likely to recognize the Somali flag.

What
would happen if the NAACP renounced its attacks on all things Confederate?
It is likely that some members who would quit the organization in
a fit of rage. A split in the ranks would be likely. But so what?
Supposing that there are blacks, just as there are whites, who cannot
or will not reconcile themselves to give the other side a fair shake,
why let them set the agenda? The League of the South has been a
model in this regard, celebrating Southern heritage while also drawing
fire for its “No Kluxers” stance. As prominent black writers – Larry
Elder and Thomas Sowell among them – have observed, the world contains
both white racists and black racists.

But
no one should let the racists set the agenda, no matter what their
color.

Happily,
there has already been a spontaneous display of black civil rights
support of the Confederate battle flag: a former NAACP county chairman
in Texas protested a local judge’s order banning the display of
the Confederate battle flag at the county court house by showing
up at the court house in a Confederate uniform, carrying the battle
flag, and announcing that he was defying the court order so that
he might be arrested.

The
tragedy here is that my suggestion will never be adopted. Kweisi
Mfume, for one, would have to find honest work, and there is not
much demand for demagogues in the free market. Picture Bill Clinton
filling out job applications, and you get the idea. It will never
happen. But a man can always hope.

November
18, 2000

Mr.
Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate
in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

©
2000 David Dieteman

David
Dieteman Archives

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