Of Flags, Tattered Banners, u2018Erasures,' and u2018Hate'

by Joseph R. Stromberg Last Remaining Super Power Confronts Last Remaining u2018Rebel' Flag

The Mississippi flag excitement has ended, for the moment, with the defeat of the forces of Progress, Hope, Enlightenment, Truth, Brotherhood, and anything else officially good which I may have negligently left out. It is a welcome break from the craven retreats we have seen over the last two years. It will probably not last. The Forces of Progress will not gladly be denied; that is why they are called forces, after all, and soon enough other kinds of force will occur to them. I suppose it will start out mildly enough, with denunciations, candlelight vigils, calls for boycotts, investigations, and a whole series of new elections until the Mississippians get it right.

Walter Hines Page, himself a Southerner, had the unenviable job of trying to explain the Mexican policy of Woodrow Wilson, a sort of lapsed Southerner, to the British. To the amused astonishment of his British counterpart, Page seriously stated that the United States fully intended to teach Mexicans, by force, "to elect good men" – if it should take two hundred years of military intervention. Wilson's mindset is alive and well today. We can expect one, two, many Vietnams – oh, I'm sorry, I mean, one, two, many elections to eradicate the last offensive, hateful, et cetera, Southern state flag and remove it forever from the sensitive (if colonizing) gaze of good persons of all left-of-center persuasions. That, or the Left will temporarily drop its covering rhetoric about "democracy" and take up Deep Thinking about how democratic elections aren't everything because, sometimes, the people are just plain bad.

The Good can do no less. Creation of the New American Person – better even than New Soviet Man – depends on such advances. People who cling to their history and decline to hate their ancestors, despite all the "new" evidence lately aired in open court by axe-grinding, Marxoid historians, are surely lacking in some fundamental quality required for life in the brave new 21st-century world. You don't want HITLER to come back, do you?

Still, we may savor the moment. As Murray Rothbard once wrote, the Left hates nothing so much as any reversal, however temporary, of the historical clock-which-can't-be-turned-back. It upsets their whole equation of their personal preferences with the Will of History, the Forces and Relations of Production, or the eschatology of the religious Left. The one-flag-fits-all telescopic philanthropists and their carpet-bagging and scalawagging allies will not give up easily.

And, indeed, who could complain of their efforts? The GNP of Georgia has shot through the roof since the adoption of that state's new cluttered banner. Georgians now live in peace and brotherhood seldom breached by crime or unhappiness, in a paradise undreamed-of by the most utopian 19th-century thinkers. Truth and beauty reign; the Governor is universally loved.

One can only applaud the achievement, on Southern soil and by Southern politicians, of the high ideals of Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner. But wait! I'm only kidding. The present campaign for "erasure" of the South actually exceeds and surpasses the maximum program which those worthy gents spearheaded in their time. Thad and Charlie seem almost reasonable in the present context.

My allusion to Page and Wilson, supra, demonstrates an important truth, namely, that there are Southerners whom other Southerners have every reason to dislike; that there are Southerners who have no concern at all for the South except as a place to stand, until they can find a better one. Somehow this brings us to the Buckleys. Have not the very Buckleys informed us of their well-bred disdain for overwrought crackers and blue collars who still care about the maintenance of Southern symbols? Have not the Buckleys, with their Homerically open-handed South Carolinian connections, allowed as how it just ain't aristocratic and well-mannered to insist on such things? It's not like the flag-changers are demanding the nationalization of oil-producing properties. That would be bad manners. Seen through oily glasses, flags, heritage, and culture amount to so much pathetic folklore.

Embarrassing Moments in Flag History

There are any number of difficulties to be dealt with, if we really must right all the wrongs of the last five centuries through communist-style "thought reform" and the imposition of new symbols in place of the ones we had. A case in point involves the checkered career of General Narciso López, who schemed for Cuba somehow to throw off Spanish rule and then petition for entry into the United States as a slave state. This began around 1848, with various donations and subscriptions raised in Southern states and with the plotting centered in New Orleans. López got in contact with Governor John Quitman of Mississippi and a half-vast conspiracy got going. At one point, the conspirators offered military command to Jefferson Davis, who recommended Robert E. Lee. Lee had the good sense to refuse.

Then the Feds decided it would look bad in terms of international law to allow "filibustering" expeditions to set out from US territory – especially while they were trying to buy Cuba – and cracked down. López's further proceedings, on his own, got him killed, when his revolts fizzled. What is striking is the flag designed by this pro-slavery Cuban independence movement: red, white, and blue, with the lone star of Texas (Texas was López's working model) inside a Masonic triangle, and some blue stripes. Now strike me dead, if that ain't the flag under which our pal Fidel Castro, a communist despot universally loved by the Left, presently reigns. Poor Fidel, flying a flag intended to "fly over slavery" as well as over annexation to the Yanqui republic. Must he take it down? Will you break it to him gently?

Bronze and Iron Age Flag Atrocities

This may be one of those "ironies" of history – to use Professor Eric Foner's favorite word – that sometimes thrust themselves upon us. But, alas, things get even muddier, as Sherman sets the Way Back Machine for 2000 B.C. I fear that all flags with a red-white-and-blue color scheme will have to go. Those colors reproduce a wicked, patriarchal Indo-European ideology reflecting the overall unity of ordered societies having priests (white), warriors (red), and economic producers (blue). All societies speaking Indo-European languages are tainted by this sinister, inegalitarian vision.

This will be hard on France, Britain, and some other countries, but if flags which incorporate a flag which "flew over slavery" for a whole four and a half years must go, what can be said for flags which "flew over" feudalism, patriarchy, established churches, monarchs, and European white folks for hundreds of years? Not much, I'd expect.

Shockingly, a number of European flags "flew over slavery" – not all of them red, white, and blue. These flags flew over slavery rather longer than the Southern Cross. The English flag (incorporating the Scottish Cross of St. Andrew from 1707) so flew from about 1620 to 1834. Spain had slave plantations in its Atlantic island possessions seventy years before Columbus sailed west and did not get around to abolishing slavery in Cuba until 1888. Subtracting 1420 from 1886, we get more than four and a half years in any system of counting.

Closest to home is the stripy US banner, with the changing number of stars (depending on what's been conquered lately), which in some form or another "flew over slavery" from 1776 down to 1865, or 89 years. That is the flag to which public bureaucrats make innocent children mumble a civic prayer every morning – a misleading and constitutionally absurd prayer written by a Northern nationalist and socialist.

But that flag doesn't remind anyone of slavery, I guess. Maybe it's the additional stars down the years, which obscure its continuity. Striped clothing is said to make people look taller. Horizontal stripes, I guess, make the empire look wider.

Nonetheless, I grant the point. I only note that if history, peoples, flags, and symbols must now be viewed through the simple-minded morality play imposed by PC wankers, and reconstructed accordingly, many embarrassments and "ironies" will necessarily arise. It won't be pretty, but on the other hand, it won't be my fault.

Meanwhile, there is more "targeting" to be done. Is the problem with the Mississippi flag and the real Georgia flag their three colors, or is it that terrible cross? If the latter, there are at least two more state flags which will have to go. Just my luck – I am a native of one of those states and now live in the other. What about the Hawaiian flag with that offensive Union Jack in the corner? For that matter, can Scotland long be allowed to cling to that same cross, or "X," as the media so delicately term it?

No matter, a whiff of the old depleted uranium grapeshot across their bow, and the Scots and the English will certainly give up their crosses and hexes. Can we do less?

I note, in passing, that the press is incapable of discussing the Southern Cross without giving ritualistic notice that in the 20th century it was adopted by or tainted by its association with certain groups wearing funny costumes and pointy hats. I have been keeping track of political news for thirty-five or more years, and I have never seen a picture of such a meeting in which the stripy banner of the US Empire was not prominently displayed. Does such adoption and tainting of the US flag by hate groups make it imperative to take down the stripy banner?

Taking Care of u2018Bidness'

I hasten to assure readers that I never make fun of Southern speech. I justify the above heading on the ground that "bidness" is an established synonym for "business" in these intramural Southern discussions. Anyway, many of us are sick to death of the eternally youthful New South boosters who can only see Southern distinctiveness of any kind as an impediment to their own immediate economic prospects. Personally, I have nothing at all against business or the prospects of these individuals. For all I care, they can answer "how high?" every last time that Northern politicians, opinion leaders, and outside-and-inside agitators yell "jump!" – provided always that they don't complain when their fellow Southerners fail to jump as quickly or as high. They are so afraid of threatened boycotts. Maybe someone should tell them that Southerners, too, can boycott. But there I go again falling short of that South Carolina standard of good manners. Just whisper it to them, then.

I really think these bidness fellows should adopt that light-hearted Caribbean song, "Working for the Yanqui Dollar" as their campaign theme. Can't you just imagine these high-powered corporate characters coming home to Jackson or Columbia and yelling, "LUCY! I'm home from DeKalb"? I grant we always did need a Southern business class, but must the one we finally get adopt the psychology of Third World compradores just to do some fairly ordinary business? Is regional cringing really a necessary management skill just to produce and sell plywood? At this rate, we might as well dress up in 19th-century Yankee peddler costumes and cheat ourselves with our own wooden nutmegs

Friends Don't Let Friends Fly Hurtful Symbols

The conservative anthropologist John Greenway once introduced a discussion of Australian cowboy songs by writing that there was something about the cattle-herding business that turned men into sentimental idiots. I guess the oil business is like that, too. How else to explain the common front of the aristocratic South Carolina Buckleys and the non-aristocratic Cato Institute on the Confederate flag question? Of course it could rest on their common espousal of high-toned good manners.

Mr. David Boaz lately came down from Cato's ivory tower of marginal adjustments to bad policies long enough to lecture his fellow Southerners on the Mississippi flag problem. Others have answered Boaz's ruminations and I only wish to address one small point. He suggests that Southerners should privatize their flags and symbols, so to speak. Well and good. Can Mr. Boaz really believe that the ideal neutral state of Cato's "civil society" will protect Southerners in their private display of Confederate symbols – in the present PC climate? I think he should put his guarantees in writing – the Buckleys can co-sign with him – before the negotiations go further.

Necessary Erasures: From Breslau to Wroclaw and Beyond

If there is any hate involved in all of this, it is a hatred of the South, as such, on the part of an imperial ruling class of therapeutic bureaucrats, state-sponsored big capitalists, public/private educational charlatans, the media's chattering classes, and sundry organizations of civil rights fame, who achieved their major programmatic goals forty years and won't shut up because they need to justify their continued existence.

What is being attempted is what the trendy postmodernists call an "erasure." Back in November, at a conference in Pittsburgh, I heard a young German historian give a paper on the Polonization of Breslau. Now – hold your horses – he didn't demand it back; he merely described in rather neutral language the hardships faced by the communist Polish authorities in creating a new "history" for Wroclaw (the former Breslau) grounded on the pretense that Breslau had always (sort of) been Polish. For various reasons of their own, the US Establishment has decided to give the South a new history.

Centralizing states always feel a need to rewrite people's history and change their symbols for them. The Left loves to go on about the "social construction" of reality. They say very little about political constructions of reality, because they generally support those.

Once in a long while, resistance arises against state-sponsored homogenization. Mississippians seem intransigent to some people. They are carrying the burden just now. But where's the band of brothers, native to the soil, to support them in this? They're probably off somewhere selling plywood to a flagless world.

Joseph R. Stromberg is the JoAnn B. Rothbard Historian in Residence at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and a columnist for Antiwar.com.