Monday, June 29, 2015

Rebel Yell

Orginal Design of the Confederate Flag
I haven't written anything original for this blog for quite some time. I had just come the conclusion that there was no topic that I hadn't written about already and I was just repeating myself. I also felt like I was banging my head against a wall to no effect. I don't expect this post to be any different in regards to effect, but I did look back and realize that somehow I never tackled the confederate flag issue. So here's my two cents: 

I won't go into the long and checkered history of this flag (whether it's the battle flag or the official flag or one of the designs of the official flag), because it's not really relevant to the argument. No person alive today fought for the flag, or fought under the flag or was there when the design was conceived or was there when it was first raised, so the point of what the flag actually is, is moot. The point of what the flag stands for therefore becomes the only issue worth discussing. 

The idea that the flag is a benign symbol of the bravery of the confederate soldiers and a nod to the cultural significance of the southern way of life is a perfectly acceptable interpretation. There are many people who look at that flag and do not see racism or slavery or treason. Those people (and indeed any person in America) have a perfectly defensible right to display, wear, honor and treasure the flag. However, what they cannot do is deny that the flag has been co-opted by many who wish to spread hate, fear and intimidation. That is an undeniable fact. 

I personally find the flag offensive. In my mind it does stand for treason, racism, slavery, hate, intimidation, murder, bigotry, violence, ignorance and all the worst characteristics of the human race. I believe that I can find more than enough evidence to support my view. The fact that hate groups all over the world have adopted the flag (including the skinheads in Germany who are not legally allowed to display the Nazi flag), is more than enough evidence for me that my understanding of what the flag represents is shared almost universally. 

The questions then becomes, whose understanding of what the flag represents is more valid? The answer is really simple. They are all valid. The current debate is not over the individual interpretation of the flag. The debate is over state sponsored approval and display of that flag. While individuals can and do have their own interpretation of what the flag stands for, the state of South Carolina made it very clear as to the reason for it's entry in to the Civil War. Quoting from the South Carolina Declaration of Causes of Secession: 

"These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety."

It is very clear from this declaration that the State of South Carolina fought the Civil War because of states rights. It is also clear that the right they were fighting for was the right to own another human being. That fact is once again indisputable. The state of South Carolina engaged in treason for the purpose of being able to maintain a system in which they subjugated, terrorized, raped, abused, and enslaved an entire race of people under the protection of the law. 

History, and their own words, makes it very hard for the state of South Carolina and in fact any state who was part of the confederacy to deny the reason for their entry into the Civil War. However, most of the soldiers who fought for the South in the Civil War were not slaveholders. They were mostly poor and uneducated men and boys who went into war with the thought that they were fighting for their state against a hostile attacker. The continuation of slavery was not foremost in their minds. While their lives would undoubtedly benefit from a economy based on the free labor of slaves, their day to day life would be mostly unaffected. As they saw it, they were fighting a war against tyranny. As in all wars, there was heroism and bravery on both sides. Those young men who left their homes, to fight in what they perceived as a just cause, deserve to be honored.  A few southern states do indeed honor those men with a confederate soldier day (including South Carolina). 

That fact that the state of South Carolina committed treason is without question. The fact that the state of South Carolina continues to celebrate that treason and has attempted to try and deny the core reasons for it is what is at question here. It is, in fact, indefensible for the state of South Carolina to defend flying a flag that represents treason and the subjugation of fellow human beings. There is no compelling argument that the State of South Carolina can make that could justify the continued presence of the flag on state grounds. They can twist the past and throw out words like, "history", "heritage" and "culture", but the truth about the reasons for secession are plain for all to see. 

The flag itself will always be with us and will always be a source of controversy. Our nation's history cannot be denied. My hope is that going forward that the states who took part in treason will not celebrate that history so proudly or publicly. There was honor and glory in that conflict, but that honor and glory should be reserved for the brave men who gave up their lives on the battlefield. Those men who in their moment of truths did not care about slavery or President Lincoln or President Jefferson or about maintaining the antebellum way of life, they only cared about getting back home to loved ones. Those men should have statues and monuments built to them. That is the history worth preserving.

As I stated before, I have no issue with people who choose to honor those soldiers by displaying a flag. For some it is a symbol of defiance. For some it's a symbol of pride. For some it's simply to honor their forefathers.Using the term 'state's rights" however is an argument without merit. My feelings about the flag are not really important in terms of whether someone should be able to put it on their clothing or fly it from their truck, car or house. It is the right of each individual to decide whether to display it and what that display means to them. When the flag is displayed, it should be with the understanding that it does offend many people and that those people have the right to be offended. It should be with the understanding that it has been co-opted by a multitude of hate groups here and around the world. It should be with the understanding that the flag will help divide us. It should be with the understanding that this is not as petty as arguing for USC or Clemson. It should be with the understanding that this flag was flown proudly while innocent black men were pulled from their lives and families and lynched while crowds smiled and cheered.  It should be with the understanding that this flag was flown while angry crowds of people and policemen tried to deny basic human rights to an entire race of people.

Friday, June 26, 2015

One More Time...And Thankfully For the Last Time!

Reposting something I wrote back in November of 2008. Our nation's long national nightmare is finally over!

The most disappointing moment of the 2008 campaign for me came when Joe Biden said that he and Barack Obama did not support the right of homosexuals to marry (it was even more disappointing than Obama's vote on the FISA bill). It can only be seen as ironic that in an election when the American people decided to elect an African-American to the highest office in the land, the voters in four states decided to deny homosexuals the right to get married. In California, even more ironically, African-Americans voted overwhelmingly for the ban. I am positive that neither Barack Obama nor Joe Biden are opposed to homosexual marriage, but in order not to ruffle the feathers of the country, they took the more popular public stance.

This battle is very reminiscent of the bans against interracial marriage which were eventually struck down by the Supreme Court. In the case of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court stated:"Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State." (Just as a side note, Alabama had retained their law against interracial marriage on the books until 2000)

According to the Supreme Court, marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man". However the bans against homosexuals marrying have been upheld in various court challenges. The highest court in New York basically said that the homosexuals cannot be given the same protection under the law because discrimination against them hasn't been recognized until the recent past.The New York Court of Appeals held in 2006:"[T]he historical background of Loving is different from the history underlying this case. Racism has been recognized for centuries...This country fought a civil war to eliminate racism's worst manifestation, slavery, and passed three constitutional amendments to eliminate that curse and its vestiges. Loving was part of the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s... It is true that there has been serious injustice in the treatment of homosexuals also, a wrong that has been widely recognized only in the relatively recent past, and one our Legislature tried to address when it enacted the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act four years ago (L 2002, ch 2). But the traditional definition of marriage is not merely a by-product of historical injustice. Its history is of a different kind. The idea that same-sex marriage is even possible is a relatively new one. Until a few decades ago, it was an accepted truth for almost everyone who ever lived, in any society in which marriage existed, that there could be marriages only between participants of different sex. A court should not lightly conclude that everyone who held this belief was irrational, ignorant or bigoted. We do not so conclude.

I do believe that in time this will become a non-issue. It's just a shame that the American people always seem to have to be dragged kicking and screaming into giving oppressed minorities equal protection under the law. The Supreme Court has usually had to take the first step and I do have hopes that over the next 8 years, the Court will address this issue and lay it to rest once and for all.

Here is what Barack Obama said in his now famous Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic convention:"For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we are connected as one people. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work."

And I would add that if there is one person or group who are having their "fundamental" rights denied, then we are all oppressed, even if my rights are not being infringed upon. Denying the fundamental rights of citizens to marry is separate from the fight for Civil Rights of African-Americans (and clearly less violent), but the right to vote, the right to live where you want and the right to marry who you want are unalienable rights that are essential to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, that according to the Declaration of Independence, we were all endowed with by the Creator. Eventually we, as a country, realized that denying basic rights to an entire group of citizens based on something as arbitrary as skin color was wrong. I hope for the day when we as a country will realize that denying the fundamental rights of any minority group makes us smaller and uglier in the eyes of history. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution was implemented to protect the rights of former slaves, but it should be applicable to every citizen regardless of their race, color, creed or sexual preference.

The 14th Amendment, Section 1:"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Amen!