South Carolina today lowered the divisive Confederate flag at the State Capitol, where it had been flown proudly for more than fifty years. This caps off a major crusade against the flag in the aftermath of the cold-blooded murder of nine Afro-American worshippers at a church in Charleston SC on June 15 by a crazed white supremacist, who had used the flag as a rallying point.
Seems to me, the gun lobby could update their mantra: Now it might read: “Guns don’t kill people, flags kill people.”
Now, do not get me wrong. That Confederate flag, when used for non-historical ends, is an odious and incendiary symbol. No debate there. I just think people have been gunning for the wrong problem and going for an easy fix.
Let’s just take a step back to June 18 when President Obama issued a statement about the Charleston shootings, saying in part:
But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.
Given the outpouring of sorrow in the days after the murders, those sure are fightin’ words coming from the President’s typewriter. His target is clear: guns.
Now let’s contrast that to Jon Stewart’s monologue, delivered on June 16, but given much wider circulation in published form in the Washington Post on June 19 (I posted this to my Facebook page):
And that’s the part that blows my mind. I don’t want to get into the political argument of the guns and things. But what blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think people that are foreign are going to kill us, and us killing ourselves.
Nine people were shot in a black church by a white guy who hated them, who wanted to start some kind of civil war. The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy’s the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him. We’re bringing it on ourselves. And that’s the thing. Al-Qaeda, all those guys, ISIS, they’re not s— compared to the damage that we can apparently do to ourselves on a regular basis.
Within four days of the murders, the main story that you see in the news is about the Confederate flag, and not guns, at least in what I was reading.
On June 22 the Republican Governor of SC calls for the removal of the flag from the State Capitol grounds.
By then, everyone is piling onto the flag. It’s now become a crazy game of capture the flag.
As just one example of the breadth of this movement: On June 25 Apple Corp announced the removal of the Confederate flag from apps and games that are “offensive or mean-spirited.”
We close off this affair today with the lowering of the flag in SC. But I will repeat the core of Present Obama’s message:
And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.
I guess just not yet. Too bad that Jon Stewart didn’t “want to get into the political argument of the guns …” I trust that he would love to.
At least as I remember it from the 1980s in my leadership class at the Harvard Kennedy School, Ronnie Heifetz taught us about how groups avoid the real work. If you want to know what’s important, just look to what is not being done. Case in point here, I suggest.
My question is, did the right-wing of the American political spectrum sacrifice the Confederate flag in order to remove the heat that they were packin’? Was the Confederate flag a convenient scape goat for them, because initially there was resistance from the Right to attack the flag? Conspiracy theorists go wild!
Rogues’ gallery of odious flags
Just a minor start here (please add more examples in comments):
My fave: in 1956, at the beginning of the American “Civil Rights Movement,” the state of Georgia incorporates the Confederate flag into the state flag. Those were difficult times. But Georgia waiting until 2001 to remove it? Huh?
Since 1894, Mississippi has had the Confederate flag as part of the State flag.
The Nazi flag is illegal in Germany, but its display is legal in the US under the freedom of speech Amendment (Regrettable, but right). In Canada, the flag cannot be used to communicate hatred in a public place.
The “Rising Sun” flag used by Japanese forces during the Second World War is still in use, only slightly modified, by Japanese defence forces.
The current flag of Croatia bares a remarkable resemblance to the flag used by the Independent State of Croatia and the maxi-fascist Ustashe (accent missing on “s”, so the h is added) during the Second World War. The Ustashe carried out a campaign of genocide against Jews, Serbs, and Roma. Under the ultranationalist leader, Franjo Tudgman (the accent is missing on the d, hence the g is added), most Serbs were cleansed (or moved on their own, depending on your perspective) from Croatia during Operation Storm in 1995, so there are much fewer left to complain that the flag is odious.
Photo Credit: © modernschism, licence purchased from iStock.