- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 21, 2001

There is a reasonable argument to be made for retiring the Confederate flag from places and occasions where it appears to be sanctioned as a banner of the state. But so far nobody is making it.
Instead the banner, emblazoned with the stars and bars of the familiar St. Andrews Cross, is derided by those ignorant of history as a banner of slavery and by those illiterate in history as an equivalent of the Nazi swastika. This is not an argument meant to persuade, but to mock and wound.
The bad faith implicit in this argument is the accompanying attempt to erase Southern, and even national heroes, from history, to treat them as the felons of our common inheritance. George Washingtons name was taken from an elementary school in New Orleans because the father of our country owned slaves, and the image of Robert E. Lee, not so long ago honored everywhere as a model for all Americans, was painted over in a mural in Richmond, of all places, to placate ignorance rendered rabid.
That the Southern banner has been appropriated by skinheads, Klansmen, racists and other yahoos saddens and infuriates those who revere the flag of the men whose courage and blood bought it honor. So, too, has the Stars and Stripes been desecrated by these same yahoos, and the cross of Christ as well, and so far there has been no attempt to furl Old Glory and haul down the cross from its place on ten thousand steeples, though we probably ought not to give the ACLU any ideas.
Against the argument of bad faith and mocking sentiment no one can be surprised by the overwhelming vote in Mississippi this week to retain the Confederate icon in the states 107-year-old state flag. The South is a place where the past is not dead, as William Faulkner famously wrote, because "the past is not even past." Much that is good and much that is bad in that past hovers close to the Southern land, a presence that can be oppressive but is often comforting because it is so familiar.
Nothing stirs the blood of Southerners like heavy-handed attempts by the ignorant and the illiterate to rob them of that familiar and comforting presence. This anger can transcend race. A reading of the county-by-county vote totals of Tuesdays vote demonstrates that black as well as white rarely cotton to trifling with tradition. One delicious irony is that the Delta counties, where blacks were not even allowed to vote a generation ago and where blacks now comprise a majority of the electorate, did not return the expected overwhelming totals for furling the old flag. By some estimates one in four black voters voted to keep the old flag with its Confederate icon. This did not surprise the home folks.
History and tradition often get scant respect in the classrooms of modern America, where self-esteem has replaced genuine learning as the thing to be most prized. What is not understood must be destroyed: Honor my icons, but to the trash heap with yours.
Honoring sacrifice in defense of home, hearth and conviction, however ancient the memory of that sacrifice, is a stubborn attribute of the human heart. This is particularly true when sacrifice is spent in a lost cause. John W. Thomason Jr., a senior Marine officer and novelist, expressed the Souths devotion to the memory of its fallen sons eloquently on the eve of World War II, as he reflected on the timber of the men of a previous century who enshrined a banner in the hearts of their progeny. Those who profess not to understand the stubborn Southern devotion to the St. Andrews Cross could profitably study his words:
"It was never a homogeneous army. The Tidewater regiments of Virginia with … their cavalier dash were not quite the same as the sturdy blue-light soldiers from the Valley whom Stonewall Jackson led down to First Manassas. They were plain and simple men from the hill farms of North Carolina and Tennessee … who hardened under fire as steel in a furnace. South Carolina sent high-nosed heroes … hard-dying men in any company. In the hearts of Alabama and Georgia soldiers there smouldered always an angry hell, burning brightest in battle. From Texas and Mississippi and Arkansas came the tall hunters who broke the cane and bridled the western waters; bear killers and Indian fighters regarded as savage and dreadful by civilized patriots called to arms out of rock-fenced New England pastures. Louisiana sent those famous cosmopolitan Zouaves called the Louisiana Tigers … and there were Florida troops who, undismayed in fire, stampeded the night after Fredericksburg, when the Aurora Borealis snapped and crackled over that field of the frozen dead hard by the Rappahannock …
"One thing they had in common a belief in Southern rights. That one of those rights involved the dark institution of chattel slavery is not pertinent because few of them owned slaves or hoped to own them. That tariff and free trade entered into it is not pertinent, either: These were pastorals, and their economics were bounded by their fields and woodlots … Those men believed in something. They counted life a light thing to lay down in the faith they bore. They were terrible in battle. They were generous in victory. They rose up from defeat to fight again, and while they lived they were formidable. There were not enough of them. That is all."

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