The South is the new China. Southerners, like the Chinese, revere the past, worship their ancestors (and their flags), and eat a lot of rice. William Faulkner observed that the past is not dead, because it is not even past.
He applied that sentiment only to Southerners, but if he had been among us over the past fortnight he would have revised it to include nearly everybody in America, where every day is Flag Day.
This confuses modern Americans because they don’t know much about the past. They certainly don’t revere it, and they wouldn’t worship their ancestors even if they knew who their great-great-grandfathers were. (Grandma wasn’t always sure.)
This fit of ethnic cleansing was inevitable, given the popularity of getting ourselves politically correct, which has grown from a cottage industry, employing mostly family and intimate friends, to a great industry embracing the likes of Amazon, Wal-Mart and eBay (where you can presumably sell your dirty family secrets).
What started with palpitations and occasional fainting spells at the sight of a Confederate flag, has become a nationwide search for something, anything, to bring on a cleansing fit of hysterics. Round and round it goes and where it stops nobody knows. When Rush Limbaugh observed the other day that what happened to the Confederate battle flag will eventually happen to Old Glory, a lot of people said, “well, there goes ol’ Rush again.”
But he had a point: “The American flag has flown over a slave nation much longer than the Confederate flag did.” When the firing on Fort Sumter set off the war, there were more slave states in the Union than in the Confederacy. At Appomattox there were still four slave states in the Union, with slavery preserved in them by Mr. Lincoln with exceptions noted in his Emancipation Proclamation.
Right on cue, Louis Farrakhan, preaching (to applause) at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, demands that the American flag be hauled down. “I don’t know what the fight is about over the Confederate flag,” he said. “We’ve caught as much hell under [the American flag] as under that Confederate flag. Who are we fighting today? It’s the people that carry the American flag.”
It’s often not clear what Mr. Farrakhan is talking about, but once ethnic cleansing starts you never know whose ethnicity gets a bath. A columnist in the Los Angeles Times took a look at Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves and was accused, probably falsely, that he sired a child with one of them, and said the Jefferson Memorial needs attention.
The day we start on the memorials, as logical as that might be in the current hysteria, we must take a brown-bag lunch. It’s going to be a long day. We could evict Mr. Jefferson and convert his memorial to the world’s largest 24-hour McDonald’s, but there’s the Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial next door. FDR hung out with a lot of Southern senators, segregationists all, and chose a running mate from Missouri, a slave state. Shall we plow up the FDR memorial and plant corn and beans for the poor? (No cotton, certainly.)
And there’s the Lincoln Memorial just across the street. Abe described himself as a white supremacist in language a Klansman could admire. “I am not now, nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people,” he said in one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates on the eve of the Civil War. As long as blacks and whites live together in America, he said, “there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
There’s agitation to take down the thousands of Confederate statuary across the South — there’s even one in Washington — and that must include the thousands of streets, avenues and parks named for Confederate generals. The state of Washington, though thousands of miles from a serious Confederate flag, might rename the state after Chester Alan Arthur. He sounds safe enough.
What about the name of the nation’s capital? If the Washington Redskins can’t be the Redskins, how can we call the capital “Washington”? George didn’t fly a Confederate flag, not even a little one, but he did own slaves. Why must we show mercy for him just because he saved the nation at Valley Forge?
Or we could all grow up, cool down and remember that times change, and so do people. We laughed at the Soviets for pulling down statues and erasing history. History will laugh at us, too.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.