Stuff you couldn’t make up dept.

How the Confederate flag at the Charleston capitol is attached to its mast.

The ill-loved Confederate flag flies in deluded pride at the South Carolina state capitol.

A Confederate flag flies outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia

Attached to its flagpost by chains.

Image by Reuters, h/t Daily Kos.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

19 thoughts on “Stuff you couldn’t make up dept.”

  1. I need advice from people smarter than me on how to respond to people who matter-of-factly state that this flag just stands for Southern Pride and "has nothing to do with racism" (yes I have heard that from people). I usually end up geting so angry I can't articulate a coherent argument.

    1. I have no reason to think I am smarter than you, but it might be worth concentrating on the more objective aspect of slavery, which in a modest way was the link I was trying to underline in my post. The Confederacy seceded in defence of slavery against the abolitionist threat in the North, "the worst cause for which anyone ever fought" in Grant's words. The flag was an emblem of men waging war to keep slaves; slavery was abolished in the USA because they lost. The revival of the flag was part of the history of Southern resistance to the CIvil Rights movement, a second losing battle to defend the Jim Crow system of systematic discrimination.

      Now you and I know that racism was a crucial part of the justification for the enslavement of Africans against the egalitarian pressure of Christianity, which has made slavery a problematic institution ever since St. Paul. Logically you don't have to be a racist to keep slaves, and wealthy Romans kept mainly white slaves. Plantation-owners were defending their property as well as their seignorial status. I can't see much of a non-racist rationale for opposition to civil rights, though perhaps the fears of poor whites about job competition and again status may have come into it.

      It may well be true that many Southerners cherish the flag as part of a phony sentimentalised Gone-with-the-Wind image of the Old South, and a discredited narrative that the Civil War was about states' rights. They are not necessarily racists themselves, but it helps. What would your interlocutors think of a group of SS veterans commemorating their valour at the Third Battle of Kharkov, wearing the SS bolts? On second thoughts, don't raise this!

    2. My great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy, enlisting with a slave and a cook. We didn't talk about it very much, and when we did we talked mostly about how remarkable it was that we were that closely linked to such a momentous event in American history. He lived with my grandparents in the house my Mom grew up in, dying when she was 9 years old. One thing that was never said was that he was brave and honorable – he may have been, but that was beside the point – he was on the wrong side, and thank God the good guys won.

      My Mom knew him as a man with a fierce temper and dangerous cane. And, he was a stone-cold racist. How could he not be? Virtually every elected official in Texas was a segregationist, or pretended to be (and there were very few pretenders). There were lynchings and no doubt other acts of terror printed in the local paper. If my great-grandfather had repented his youthful service, and especially if he had advocated for racial equality or even reconciliation, he would have been so unique that he might have been worthy of a magazine article. (In a national, not Texas-based magazine; in Texas his life would be in danger, and his social standing obliterated.)

      And that's the thing. If after the Civil War, southerners had gradually come to see the error of their ways and embrace racial equality, it would be a little easier to forgive them for their nostalgia for the Confederacy. It would be a little easier to accept "we're honoring their bravery and valor, not the cause they fought for." But that's not what happened – the South was still fighting the Civil War when my great-grandpa died in the thirties; it was still fighting the Civil War when I started elementary school in the fifties; it was still fighting the Civil War when Strom Thurmond won his last Senate race in 1996. To claim otherwise is disingenuous, to say the least. The Civil War will last as long as the flag is treated with respect, not contempt. Throwing the stars and bars in a trashcan won't in itself end the war, but it's an important step. Until then, "the past isn't dead, it isn't even past" to paraphrase Faulkner.

      1. The US South is not alone in having artificially long memories, A part of the French Right is still not reconciled to the Revolution of 1789. I was at La Baule in the Vendée on 14 July 1989. Municipal fireworks, but no street parties or other participatory celebration. Alsace, in spite on speaking a German dialect, was quite different: for instance there's a rousing annual torchlit parade and bal populaire every year at Mutzig. Alsatian peasants knew that their old seigneurs were just waiting over the Rhine for the Revolution to fail and to come and take their land back. The record (outside religions, which remember for millennia) is probably held by the Serbs, whose national identity is bound up with the defeat in Kosovo in 1389.

    3. I replied earlier, with too much prolixity, and can't tell if the comment got eaten or is just awaiting moderation. Here's a different, more pithy take.

      I have contributed to Al-Qaeda. I hate their terrorism, but they need money to take of Jihadists' widows and orphans, and who will tell me that looking after the welfare of widows and orphans is a bad thing? I give money to ISIS. I don't like the beheadings one bit, but they also build schools and hospitals — are you opposed to education and healthcare? I give money to Hamas for the same reason, even though I wish they'd stop firing those rockets and spreading terror. I've contributed to Nicolas Maduro so he'll have armed-protection in case someone attempts a coup, because I don't believe a head of state should be murdered or deposed by violence. I contribute to defense funds for domestic terrorists – white supremacist or black panther or weatherman, everyone in America is entitled to a fair trial with competent counsel.

      Sure, you could look at all that and think I must support the predominant aims of the causes I fund, but can you really see inside my heart? Don't judge me by my visible actions, judge me by my subjective impression of myself. If people who don't like terrorism, mass murder, despotism and violent civil insurrection are offended by my choices, they just need to get over it. I'm a good guy, and it's wrong for you to think otherwise.

      That's what defenders of the flag are saying, but it sounds pretty disingenuous to me.

      1. Assuming you are being serious, let me respond to your stated choice to fund certain international terrorist groups because they also engage in some laudable personal charity and social welfare programs, even though you have no control about how your funds are spent by those groups once you contribute. (This response does not apply to your mention of contributing to defense funds for alleged domestic terrorists facing charges, which is an entirely different matter.) As a lawyer, I would point out what you describe doing is referred to in U.S. federal criminal law as "material support," and is a very serious crime, which is not infrequently prosecuted. Those who disagree with you might, in your view, benefit from "getting over it," but the Department of Justice and the federal courts would be more likely to give you a decade or so of separation from your family and career, for you to "get over it."

        1. My attempt to provide a statutory link for the "material support" statute has failed over some html issue. The cite is 18 U.S.C. sec. 2339B.

      2. Y'know, the first two times I read this, I didn't appreciate that the two central paragraphs were intended ironically.

    4. My reply is this:

      Pride in the achievements of southerners, in southern culture, should encompass all southerners. The flag does not do that. It does not stand for southern culture. It stands for the very dark side of southern history – nothing remotely to be proud of.

  2. That flag is protected by a very strict state law; it must fly at the Confederate memorial site on the state Capitol grounds 24/7/365 and cannot even be lowered to half staff. It would take a 2/3 majority of both houses of the state legislature to change that. Those were the terms of the "compromise" that got it taken down from the S.C. Capitol dome a few years back. So, yes, Gov Haley could go up on a forklift with a hacksaw and take it down, if she wanted to commit civil disobedience. I would support that, but don't misunderstand what it would entail.

  3. The speech act they perform is a wish rather than a statement of fact. Many Southerners feel a local pride that has nothing to do with racism, and would like to continue using the Confederate flag to express it. The correct question to ask them is not about the meaning of the flag, but about the feelings it evokes. They may well be aware that many people see it as a symbol of racism, and may even accept to remove it from public areas.

  4. Yes of course the flag is an affront to Americans everywhere. Besides its racist overtones, it’s a flag of rebellion against the country you currently live in and claim to be loyal to! How is it acceptable to honor this?

    Even more infuriating, those that support the Confederate flag tend to be the same people who think of themselves as “real Americans” while us Northern liberals are destroying this wonderful country. Really? A true American thinks talk of secession is patriotic? Disobeying the laws of the federal government is patriotic? In what world?

    The federal government actually pays for some Confederate memorials. That’s insanity.

    The post war forgive and forget response from the North allowed the culture that led to the war in the first place to persist through to this day unfortunately.

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