Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fightin' Fire with Fire

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored" on a rainy afternoon! I'm your host, Anne Johnson. Today we're gonna talk about flag-burning, specifically the Confederate battle flag better known as the "Stars and Bars."

Depending upon where you went to school, you learned this about the Civil War:

1. It was a war aiming to keep the United States together rather than allowing it to break into two nations. The issue that caused the division was human slavery and a state's right to decide whether or not to allow said slavery. When the North perceived it was winning the war, President Lincoln freed the slaves. The North won the war, and the United States remained united, thus beginning an international superpower state that today is one of the dominant nations in the world.

2. It was a war of aggression foisted upon a peace-loving group of states whose economy was influenced by the gentle use of agreeable domestic servants. Though a vast majority of its soldiers fought not because of slavery but because of states' rights, the cause was in vain. This brave attempt to create a nation was brutally crushed, in some cases by slash-and-burn methods. Nevertheless, almost a century and a half since the end of the conflict, a nationalist pride still burns in the breasts of the people so brutally treated, especially but not exclusively those who can trace ancestry to soldiers who participated in the failed attempt at nationhood.

I'm gonna let you figure out which history lesson you're likely to get in New Jersey, and which you'll get in Mississippi.

However you feel about the good ol' Confederate States of America, you can't deny that its battle flag (which was never the national flag) still has a mighty potency as a symbol. Many of the people who wear it, fly it, display it, or revere it, are racists. A few are nationalists who've never accepted Lee's surrender. There's also another core group of people who use this flag as a symbol not because they're racist, or want the South to rise again, but just to look like badass rebels.

You'll see the Stars and Bars all over the place in West Virginia,  even though that state exists because the people living there in 1860 did not want to secede. Just recently, I saw a teenager in the Eastern Panhandle with the Stars and Bars on the back of his t-shirt. The caption read: "This shouldn't piss you off, but if it does, oh well." The kid knows he's gonna piss people off by wearing that shirt ... and most of the people he'll piss off aren't black people, because there aren't very many black people in that area. This kid is probably racist, but more probably he's rebellious. If he can fight you one-on-one and win, what does it matter why he's fighting? He's a big badass, a tough guy, someone who ought to get laid by pretty girls.

I'm a big fan of Jesus' General, one of the blogosphere's premiere commanders in the War on Morons. JG has begun a Facebook group called "Burn the Confederate Flag Day" and has named September 12, 2010 for the first conflagration. Why 9/12? Because it's a big Tea Party rally day. What better way to expose the racism in the Tea Party than to set the Stars and Bars ablaze at counter protests?

I joined the "Burn the Confederate Flag Day" not because I intend to burn a Confederate flag. (I'll get to that in a minute.) Principally I just want to see the level of vitriol that Jesus' General is going to incur by suggesting such an affront. So far the spectacle has been interesting, to say the least -- and the concept hasn't gone viral yet.

Yes, I am a little afraid that "belonging" to such a group will get me hacked. But I love a good debate.

Here's why I'm occasionally in favor of burning Old Glory but not in favor of burning the Stars and Bars.

Burning Old Glory generally happens when a portion of the populace is disgruntled by the decisions being made by the national government. It is therefore a protest against a national policy.

Burning the Stars and Bars is different. It sends a message of contempt to a certain segment of the population, not to the government. And whenever you heap contempt on certain segments of the population, you reflect badly in the glare of the fire.

And yet the glorious Jesus' General has had to take this step because no one with a reasonable agenda has risen to oppose the Tea Party. Where are the organizers of "Wear a Red Cross If You're Uninsured Day?" How about a nostalgic, "Make Love Not War" protest (considering that the Tea Party's aim is to cut government spending, but they don't ever say a word about the defense budget)? As a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, I would personally be thrilled with a "Go Back Home If Your Ancestors Weren't Here in 1776" Day. Quick! Someone tell me how that would affect the population of the USA? If you said there would be a much higher percentage of African Americans, BING! You're right.

We at "The Gods Are Bored" heartily endorse counter-protests on Tea Party Day. It's just the whole Stars and Bars flag-burning thing we don't like. They lost the war like egg-sucking dogs, and they're still waving that flag. Isn't that pathetic enough? They used it to frighten black people, and now our president is black. Isn't that statement enough about the power of that loser flag? Gosh, if you burn it, how will we know which ones are the moron rebel racists?

My solution for Jesus' General? Let's collect the Social Security and Medicare cards of the Tea Partiers and burn those instead! Assuming, of course, that the Tea Partiers aren't going to resort to such effective statements themselves.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

As a Canadian and an outsider, may I just say that I think the best possible strategy against the Tea Party is ridicule? I think flag burning is a potent protest, but it just gets people angrier and offended. But if you make fun of them, it's harder to retaliate without looking even stupider. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are the two most potent warriors you have against Tea Partyism!

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Being from Canada I just always assumed the old flag was just some kind rebel thing, you know, bikers fly it cause it pisses people off, and I didn't really understand the deeper endemic meanings of it (probably because I would prefer to think that things such as racism are not as widespread as they probably are). Good blog, will now check out Jesus' General!

Anonymous said...

Only realized now you seem to be getting some support from The Great White North! lol.

Sarita Rucker said...

This kind of stuff is generally off my radar. And I definitely wouldn't have thought of waving the old flag around as being offensive to blacks...but maybe that has to do with what I was taught about the civil war? What I learned was actually something other than either of the options you gave:

The power was in the north, and they made a bunch of laws/taxes that was great for them, but which wound up hurting the south. The south protested, but they felt that they weren't taken seriously (or were ignored or something like that), so they decided to secede. Civil war ensued. Eventually lots of the Yankees wanted to just let them go because so many were dying, but Lincoln brought up the whole bit about freeing the suffering slaves. Interest in the war was renewed, and the war was eventually won. Slaves were freed in the south immediately, but the slaves in the north had to wait until a later date for freedom.

It's funny how different people regard the civil war differently, and how it shapes their view of the Confederate flag.

Anne Johnson said...

Thank you, Sarita, for providing yet another example of how difficult it is to get to the "easy answer" in history class! Your comment encourages me to see if a French or Spanish historian has ever written an account of the events leading to the Civil War...


holy shit..Sarita really put a different spin on it didn't she..I did know about the slaves being freed in the south before they were in the north..and good ole Texas kept our slaves in the dark for a whole year..that's why June 19th is celebrated it Texas every year.

Sarita Rucker said...

Anne, if you find something about our civil war by a French of Spanish historian I'd love to know about it. Their version might be less biased than anything written in the USA!

Madam Lost said...

Sarita kind of lucked out for a few reasons. Her mama comes from Tennessee stock that fled to Texas after "exercising their freedom of expression" with a couple of incidents that would definitely be called "war crimes" in this day and age. On a homeschool outing, mama stumbled upon a Civil War Cemetery and took the kids in but was shocked to discover that there were Yankees buried in the hallowed ground. That got mama to thinking which led to a Civil War curriculum based on information from European educational web sites. As long we're living in Union Territory and plan on staying here, I figured we all needed an unbiased source which would have the kids fail public school history tests equally across the U.S.

Sarita Rucker said...

(In case anyone didn't guess, Madam Lost is my mom.)

Maebius said...

Very interesting thoughts are now bouncing in my head regarding this post... but I can not form them into words well enough. Hmm.
I agree the Tea Party needs smacked down.
I used to self-identify as a "Liberal Libertarian" which immdiately gets me cautious glances and muttered "evil eye" wardings by some people who think Libertarian = Tea Party. Yet, I abhor them as a group. *sighh*

I did learn "Option#1" histroy of the Civil War, and always felt the Stars and Bars was a misplaced rally-flag by those who either used it for "rebel-factor" or simply out of ignorance (not stupid, just un-knowing).
Thus, burning it probably might not be too effective, other than by drawing attenion to things because of it's odd-ness.


JohnFranc said...

I started school in Tennessee in 1968 and I was taught Anne's version 1 from first grade. In high school I started hearing Sarita's version, which I now believe is closer to the truth (which is not to minimize the role slavery played in many of these issues).

Most folks I've seen flying the Stars and Bars obviously haven't given it a lot of thought beyond identifying with "rebels".

There's a lot of the same mentality in the Tea Party as there was with the secessionists - "that damn guv'ment isn't going to tell ME what to do!" But so much time has passed and the Stars and Bars have taken on its own rebel/racist/heritage identity - I don't think trying to connect it to the Tea Party is particularly useful.

I'd rather satirize the Tea Partiers on their own, and Anne's idea of burning their Social Security cards is brilliant.

Alex Pendragon said...

I was born and raised (mostly) in Mississippi, and I am about as white as they come, so I have license. Once I left Mississippi and was exposed to the "Real" world, my "heritage" became a source of shame for me. I knew instinctively as a child that all this yelling and hating was wrong, and a much more balanced history of the conflict when I was old enough to research it on my own put it all in proper perspective. The stars and bars are a revered symbol of a bigoted and spiteful (and usually less-well educated) populace that would rather scapegoat black people and yankees than take responsibility for their own moral shortcomings. I doubt very much that the Europeans think of World wars One and Two as wars of "yankee aggression". Evil is evil, no matter what country or part of a country it takes up residence. The tea party is nothing more than another group of bitter failures who would rather march beneath the flag of selfishness and dressed-up bigotry rather than be caught out in the open burning crosses on the lawns of people different than them. I would have no compunction whatsoever in burning that flag of treason.

Intense Guy said...

Totally divorced from the symbolism behind it - I think the confederate flag is a cool design and neat to look at - I also like the Australian and Alaska State flags.

Being an engineer and computer scientist, I've been trained in the use of symbols in a "non-emotional" way - e.g., the "x" in Algebra is "just a symbol" meaning an unknown value - nothing more or less. Likewise, to me, a flag is a bunch of fabric with a (sometimes) colorful design - nothing more or less. Burning one just causes pollution and upsets the morons amongst us.

kimc said...

What does the "Stars and Bars" look like?
The version of the Civil War I learned was that it was about slavery and preventing secession.
I sortof think it was a mistake: if we could have let them secede without setting a precedent, that might have been better. We would be less aggressive now, and less powerful, both good. They would be less powerful.

Anonymous said...

No, World Wars I and II were wars of "Yankees standing aside making high-minded noises till something flew in their direction." Rodger C

Souris Optique said...

Maybe some idiots in Texas are trying to bring that second version into currency, but I've never heard such absolute rot in all my life, and I live in Alabama. The version I got was somewhere between #1 and Sarita's version. Graduated high-school in '99, for reference.

That said, (NOT that this is what is going on here) As a (probably rather radically) liberal Pagan in the South, I'm growing extremely frustrated with the (seemingly to me, at least) increasing number of Pagan and liberal commenters that oh so *seriously* ponder just why *is* it that everyone in the South is such an inbred, toothless, ignorant teabagging,homophobic racist who's still fighting the Civil War? And why shouldn't we just cut all those red states loose... etc.

Sorry, I'm getting a bit bitter and ranty where it isn't warranted. Just remember, we ARE here, and in far greater #s than most "Northerners" or the southerners who fit closer to the tidy stereotype imagine. And as comfortable as it may be to think it, if you live elsewhere, "The South" (which is no more monolithic than any other generalized region_ doesn't have a lock on bigotry. Not by a long shot.

Anne Johnson said...


I deliberately did not post a picture of the Stars and Bars on my blog because it's akin to (though not quite as repugnant as) shoving a swastika on my site. If you want to see the flag, you can go to Jesus' General and look at his banner. You'll recognize the flag immediately. Really? You don't know what it looks like? Haven't you seen "Gone with the Wind?"

Anne Johnson said...

... and Souris is correct. The South is a huge region, full of individuals, and it is far too often assumed that everyone living there is of the same mind on everything. My fanciful renditions of the Civil War were extremes, of course, and neither one was the version I learned in school... although Sarita's wasn't the version I learned either, and it sounds straight-arrow to me.