America’s cultural elite has apparently decided that a new round of demonization of Southerners is in order and is busy eradicating all semblances of Southern heritage, especially the Confederate battle flag, from any and all public places. Now that there are no problems at all with the black family structure in the inner cities, nor with crime or poverty or education there, the NAACP is spending resources battling anyone who wants to fly a Confederate flag anywhere at any time. It is all reminiscent of how the Soviets and other communist regimes rewrote their own history as a means of bolstering their own political power.
For years, Southern heritage groups have entered the political fray and have lobbied to maintain their symbols, but with little success. New York City playwright and historian John Chodes recently remarked to me that Southerners today remind him of his own Jewish people of yesterday: the one group in American society whereby discrimination is acceptable if not expected. Vanderbilt University mathematics professor Jonathan Farley (who boasts of being a communist) even went so far as to suggest to the Nashville Tennessean on November 20 that the hundreds of thousands of surviving Confederate soldiers should have been mass executed by the federal government after the war. He still has his job and such a statement will probably help, not hurt, his chances for tenure in today’s politically correct university system.
A recent example of the whitewashing of Southern history is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in October to prohibit the flying of a Confederate flag over the cemetery in Point Lookout, Maryland, where 3,300 Confederate soldiers were buried in a mass grave after they were intentionally allowed to die of starvation and disease. I say "intentionally" because at the time the North was flush with resources, food, and money, and could have saved many of these men. If the Lincoln administration was in fact devoted to "equality," as Harry Jaffa and his followers have absurdly claimed for decades, then the commander of the Point Lookout prisoner of war camp should have been hanged after the war, as was the Confederate commander of the Andersonville prison, where many Union prisoners perished.
In fact, a case can be made that the Andersonville commander should have been spared: There was scant food or medicine available in the South for the prisoners by 1864, unlike in the North, and the Lincoln administration had rejected prisoner exchanges. The Andersonville prisoners could have been spared by such exchanges, but the Lincoln administration decided that the exchanges would advantage the Confederate army, which was suffering a manpower crisis. No such crisis existed in the North, especially with thousands of Europeans being recruited into the Union Army by being promised free land under the Homestead Act.
Southern opponents of the "air brushing" and whitewashing of American history are beginning to wise up and are realizing that the political arena may not be the best place to fight this battle. While attending the annual Christmas banquet of the Richmond Civil War Roundtable, where I was the banquet speaker, I learned that there is a plan to purchase a private plot of land adjacent to the Point Lookout cemetery where the Mother of All Confederate Flags will be flown and will be so big that it will be seen for miles out into the Chesapeake Bay.
The South Carolina League of the South was recently harassed when a local politician told it that it could not fly its flag on the road leading to Abbeville, South Carolina, because a citizen had complained. The League responded by placing an even bigger flag on a private parcel of land, and erecting the original flag pole and flag on another spot at the other end of town. The complaining citizen must be doubly perturbed.
The new statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest in Tennessee is also on a private plot of land. It has been protested, of course, but there is nothing the protesters can legally do to remove the statue.
What these examples suggest is that Southern heritage groups — or any heritage groups for that matter — need to rely more on private property and less on politics as a vehicle for defending themselves against politically-correct bigotry. Forget about government property; you’re hopelessly outnumbered. If Southern heritage — all Southern heritage, not just from the 1861—1864 period — is to be preserved it will be preserved in private museums, book collections, libraries, Internet web sites, schools and colleges, and in the minds of home-schooled children.
The Confederate battle flag has become a worldwide symbol of opposition to state tyranny. It has been flown in the former Soviet republics and in many other places where there are opposition movements to centralized state oppression. That is why self-described communists like Vanderbilt University Professor Jonathan Farley are so opposed to it to the point of hysteria.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of the LRC #1 bestseller, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random House, 2002) and professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.