WTMA commentary broadcast 5/9/08:

May 10th is Confederate Memorial Day in South Carolina and as usual the holiday will likely pass with less fanfare than some might like. That a holiday to honor the Confederate dead doesn’t get as much attention as their flag says more about today’s politics than it does yesterday’s soldiers.

For us modern folks, it is the flag that first comes to mind upon hearing the word “Confederate” and how one feels about the South’s most famous symbol is the key to how we feel about everything else associated with it. Some insist that the Confederate flag stands for bravery and sacrifice while others believe it stands for slavery. Some contend that it stands for regional pride while others consider it a symbol of racism.

The Confederate flag is not the first symbol in history to have double meaning. There’s little doubt Muslims during the Crusades had as negative a view of the Christian cross as their opponents did a favorable one. Englishman likely had a different feeling about the Union Jack than those in India and elsewhere who watched as foreigners colonized their homeland. And the American Indian, no doubt, has had a love/hate relationship with Old Glory for centuries. Yet no reasonable man would dare suggest that Christians, the English or Americans surrender their most cherished symbols.

Black Southerners are not without reason in their distaste for the Confederate flag. But does their distaste discount white Southerners’ affection? Should the worst aspect attributed to a symbol, however accurate or inaccurate, define that symbol for everyone?

For example, many black Americans have made African heritage a symbol of pride. Should the fact that more enslavement and slave trading occurred in Africa by Africans than it ever did in the entire West, discount African symbolism entirely?

Many have compared the Confederate flag to the Nazi swastika as an irredeemable symbol that stands exclusively for ‘hate’ and hate alone. But to compare Nazism, an imperial philosophy defined exclusively by anti-Semitism and white supremacy, with the War for Southern Independence, a struggle for national sovereignty not unlike the American Revolution, is absurd. That Adolf Hitler targeted a certain ethnic group for annihilation is as certain as the fact that Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee did not. And whereas the swastika represented the singular vision of a race-obsessed dictator, Confederate imagery grew out of the Christian and American character of the Southern people, from the St. Andrews Cross that adorns the battle flag to the 13 stars that define the red, white and blue banner.

Mutual respect does not necessarily entail mutual understanding, and just like the cultural divide in hip-hop and country music, a black American doesn’t have to understand Robert E. Lee anymore than a white American needs to understand Malcolm X. What has happened to the Confederate flag is that those who neither like it nor understand it have been allowed to define it exclusively, which would be like reading a history of the Boston Red Sox written by the New York Yankees. Both groups belong to the same game and play on the same field, but naturally have entirely different perspectives.

Whether the Confederate flag stays with us or continues to wither on the vine, it is but one symptom of a much larger problem. Political correctness and multicultural philosophy have rendered too many white Americans defenseless against those who would gladly rob them of their cultural inheritance just out of spite. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who said “a nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.” And with the increasing attacks on traditional American symbols, everything from Christmas to Christopher Columbus in recent years, you can bet the ongoing destruction of the Confederate flag is but the first downpayment.