The Confederate battle flag is protean. It is a powerful symbol that has entered the world’s consciousness. “Protean,” going back to the classical Proteus, is defined as “readily taking on varied shapes, forms, or meanings.”   And as “having a varied nature or ability to assume different forms.”   The flag’s power   is very real, but engenders a different feeling according to the beholder. The power was created by and has been evident since the failed War of Southern Independence, the heroism, spirit, honour, and tragedy of which moved much of the civilized world to admiration.   Winston Churchill wrote in his history of the English-speaking peoples that the Confederate army was one of the most magnificent in history, while his nemesis Adolf Hitler was writing of his great admiration for Abraham Lincoln.

Add that the flag is also a beautiful object, judged by those who look into such things as one of the most beautiful of all national banners.

Public display of the flag was commonplace throughout the 20th century and not just in the South. I have read recently a number of articles in the British and American press that inform us that the Confederate flag appears in Europe only as the symbol of neo-Nazis. You would never know that it has appeared often as a symbol of liberation, for instance at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the freedom of the Baltic countries. There is no bottom to the combined ignorance and dishonesty of contemporary journalism. A friend in Europe has over the years sent me many examples of the appearance of the flag among Europeans that have no relationship to neo-nazism. He tells me that it has recently been used to protest the European Union.    Certain it is that nobody objected to the public appearance of the Confederate emblem in many different forms throughout the world before very recent times. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower did not flee in terror from being photographed with it. The great Toscanini played a rousing version of “Dixie” when he toured the U.S. During World War II and Korea, and I expect Vietnam, the flag appeared in front of Marine tents near the combat front and on fighter planes and was flown at the conquest of Iwo Jima. Before the U.S. armed forces became historically ignorant and gender-neutral institutions.

Love of the flag is authentic, deep-seated, and long lasting. Hatred of the flag is a recently invented political weapon.

Defenders of the flag often speak of “Heritage.” I have always thought this was a bit off the mark. It may be easily answered by “put it in a museum.”  By heritage they mean our Confederate ancestors. I understand and share the sentiment. But this does not carry much weight with critics who have no notion of what heritage means and certainly would reject the idea if they did. They are determined that Southerners, and in time the whole of America, be deprived of all heritage, at least all heritage that precedes Ellis Island.  That is their goal. It is no accident that the attack on the flag comes at the same time and from the same sources as the sanctification of sodomy.

It seems to me that the flag is primarily and ought to be defended as a representation of the Southern people and their continued distinctiveness from the American norm. This is the way most of the world views it, though without clear articulation. The hysterical campaign to suppress the flag is actually a campaign to extinguish the South. To get rid of people who are more traditional, conservative, and religious than it is now fashionable for Americans to be. I believe Southerners are hated–and yes we are hated, and by people it would never occur to us to interfere with–because we are the last large group of Americans who believe in freedom–who believe that not every sphere of life should be regulated by government. The anti flag campaign is nothing more than ethnic cleansing, which, as we know from history, often becomes oppression and then liquidation. I have in recent days read several screeds about how America would be so much better off without the South. Very certainly, the ethnic cleansing will not be over when the beautiful Confederate banner is suppressed. It will just be getting started. If we are so bad, why have they never been willing to let us go? Because they need their idea of us to keep up their self-esteem in the American nightmare they have created.

And now they want to dig up General Forrest and his wife. Americans’ self-righteous ignorance and falsification of their own history is of staggering proportions. At the start of the War for Independence Forrest took with him 50 black men as support troops, promising freedom for faithful service. In the desperate third year of the war he took time to execute manumission papers for all but one of these men. It is a fact that hundreds of black people attended to pay their respects at Forrest’s funeral. The Republican city fathers of Springfield, Illinois, made sure that there were no blacks or Jews at Lincoln’s burial. The Memphis paper’s report of the current atrocity says that Forrest was notorious for his “brutal warfare” against Northern soldiers.  This exhibits the mental level of most American journalists today, and, alas, also, I fear, the mental level of most “scholars.”   I suppose Union soldiers were exemplars of non-brutal warfare. Actually Forrest fought rather chivalrously against people who invaded his state and looted, imprisoned, and killed civilians. And he had positive relations with many black people that they valued, which cannot be said of any Unionist, from A. Lincoln on down.

Perhaps the most important thing that a genuine historian would say about Forrest is that he is one of the greatest soldiers of all time. Robert E. Lee said so. So did that famous non-brutal warrior William T. Sherman. Certainly he was the most important citizen of Memphis ever. (Elvis was famous but not historical.) And one might mention that Forrest’s grandson of the same name was killed in action defending the United States in World War II. I wonder where Hillary Clinton’s, Mitt Romney’s and Nikki Haley’s forebears were at that time?

Anyway, it is just as well that the flag has been removed from the South Carolina capitol grounds. It is far too noble a thing to be in the vicinity where politicians go about their dirty business of deal-making and self-aggrandizement.

Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books.

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