The Corner

The ‘Blood-Stained Banner’ in Charleston

In response to Heaven Bound

To follow up on David’s post below, leftwing reactions to today’s horrors are keen to identify as the symbol of Dylann Roof’s hatred — or, in Chauncey DeVega’s reckoning, of “white America” — the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, the famous blue-and-white saltire, set with stars, against a red background. One of several Confederate flags, it is currently flown on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse

This comment on South Carolina governor Nikki Haley’s Facebook page is representative:

I have tried — and failed — to write about Confederate symbols previously. It’s not a straightforward topic, whatever Vox may say. But in the wake of today’s events, a thought on the subject is in order.

Making the rounds on the Internet currently is a photograph of the Charleston shooter leaning against his vehicle, which has a “Confederate States of America” logo where the front license plate should be:

But with respect to Ms. Kendall, this hateful man’s use of a slogan is no proof that the slogan itself is hateful. Elected leaders make this distinction constantly when it comes to Islamic terrorism, after all: The teachings of Muhammad, the Koran, the black flag with the Shahada (the flag of ISIS) — they have been “hijacked” and “perverted.” Why hasn’t Dylann Roof merely “hijacked” or “perverted” the main symbol of the Confederacy?

To that the obvious answer would be, Because the flag in question is the symbol of a cause rooted in hatred and racial oppression. But it is exactly that point on which persons of good faith can — and do — disagree. One does not need to think the Civil War was the “War of Northern Aggression” to think that the “Blood-Stained Banner” represents something more than visceral racial hatred.

Yet much of the reason the Confederate flag is so contentious is because objections to it are not raised in good faith. Many opponents of Confederate symbols demonstrate not to promote the reduction of racial tensions and the advancement of a shared good, but out of a desire to impose their own moral outlook on dissenters — because it suits their present-day interests. Racial identity and the interests of one’s own racial group are of outsize importance in leftwing politics. Those interests are furthered when history can be invoked in one’s favor; thus today’s “racial activists” are keen to cast the the Civil War as a simple contest of Good-versus-Evil — even though it is obvious that, pace Ta-Nehisi Coates, the American South was not analogous to Nazi Germany, and the Confederate flag is not the Third Reich’s swastika. Arguments to the contrary have in mind not a proper interpretation of past events, but the manipulation of those events to bolster a present-day agenda.

Yet one can recognize, understand, and sympathize with the revulsion symbols of the Confederacy occasion in some quarters, particularly among black Americans — and a compromise should be possible. If reducing the visibility of these symbols would offer relief to those genuinely hurt, and would remove an object of contention keeping persons of different races from cooperating to advance true racial justice, that is something supporters of Confederate symbols should be able to do. There are ways to celebrate Southern heritage that simultaneously advance the interests of community.

But that requires persons acting fair-mindedly and with goodwill on both sides. The exploitation of today’s tragedy to promote a particular, debatable vision of racial justice is neither.

Ian Tuttle — Ian Tuttle is the former Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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