Any expat will tell you that the longer they spend outside of their home country the easier it becomes to dispassionately examine the current events happening there. Last week my eyes fell upon the headline, “South Carolina waves the white flag.”

After successfully campaigning to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the grounds of the capitol building, the mob is now conducting a witch-hunt to remove that flag from National Battlefields, from graveyards, and if possible, even from people’s private property. Indeed, Apple removed, then restored, all Civil War games from its App Store in order to sidestep the controversy entirely.

I said, “Stalin” below my breath to no one in particular as I casually looked over the aforementioned article. For those who don’t know, in the pre-photoshop era, Stalin would have party members who had fallen afoul of him (read: disagreed with and then executed) removed from official portraits or even from casual photographs. These people literally disappeared — and hopefully, in Stalin’s eyes — from existence altogether. South Carolina bought into Stalinism last week: remove a flag = change history. c1930-Stalin American illiterati — both the sort who write articles named “Seven things you need to know about the Confederate Flag controversy” and those who naively read such tripe — would have you believe that the events of the past few weeks are some normal evolution in the way of things. A lot of outrage has been filmed. Where has this outrage been all these years, I wonder? That flag has been flying over South Carolina’s capitol (and many other parts of the U.S.) for over 50 years. Some horrible person murders innocent children and in a popular rage history gets murdered. By removing the flag, so many things get accomplished! Racism is now officially “illegal,” history has been corrected, and no more terrible murders will occur in the South.  Right.

On this side of the Atlantic, Europeans who consider themselves quite knowledgeable about American history (because CNN briefed them) post Nazi flags on their facebook walls in mockery of the “heritage, not hate” slogan so popular in the South these past years. Indeed, who could deny people defending their homes from invaders are the same as a democratically elected regime that ruled for over a decade that had much public support until it was clear that the end was near! If only Americans understood that Southerners were Nazis!

The Europeans who would lecture me on my (American) history, much like the puffed-up Americans who pretend they know a lot about the Civil War because they watched the Ken Burns documentary, would have you believe that history is simple, when it is indeed profoundly complex. In this particular case, they want you to buy into the narrative of North = good = godfearing = abolitionists = fighting to defend the rights of blacks in contrast to the South = bad = backwards = evil = racist = fighting to keep blacks in chains until the end of time. This parody of the truth isn’t even remotely accurate, but the chattering classes of Europe and America only remember what they are told, not what they have studied (because they haven’t). Uncle Joe (a cheery nickname invented by Americans to humanize an “ally” that was an enemy) Stalin would be proud indeed.

***

Berlin is a not a city that I ever expected to enjoy as thoroughly as I do, but both chance and choice have allowed me to spend quite a bit of time there and I want to use just a segment of the city to illustrate what South Carolina (and indeed anyone actually interested in history and learning about it, instead of reading talking points, watching youtube videos, and scoring points in meaningless facebook “debates”) could learn from a city that has, like Charleston, survived multiple wars and lived to tell about it. siegessaule

I’ll start at the Siegessäule, a column meant to commemorate (then) Prussia’s victory in the Danish-Prussian War. And yet, by the time it was finished, Prussia had also handily disposed of Austria (1866) and France (1870-71). This monument is par excellence a glorification of German martial might. Just down the road, as you go towards the Brandenburg Gate (and do walk it, there is a lovely park between the Victory Column and the Gate) there is a monument to the Soviet “liberation” of Berlin. Keep going. Now you can see the Reichstag building (now the Bundestag) — now an ultramodern building with great views over the city, but built over the ruins of the original, which was ordered burnt to the ground by Hitler, though he blamed it on a patsy. People have been using false-flag operations to manipulate public opinion for generations.

At this point your gentle and historical walk has brought you to the former site of the Berlin Wall, which is still visible on the ground in brick outline at your feet so you can trace the prison walls of hopelessness that enclosed Berliners of the Soviet past. If you head over to the eastern side of the city, you can see the part of it that is still up. But now you are under the Brandenburg Gate. Walk through and look up at the statue of Victoria, which seems to glare — if you trace her line of sight — right at the French Embassy. When Napoleon had taken Berlin he had taken this statuary back to Paris and the Louvre. As you may know, history follows a curving and sometimes circular path, and when Napoleon was defeated the statuary was brought back to the Gate and the plaza renamed “Pariser Platz,” demonstrating that despite how serious and hard-working the Germans are, an architectural joke like “Victory over Paris” was not beyond them, and that perhaps laughter was an appropriate way to deal with things as tragic as war and the theft of art and monuments.

If the Berliners were as historically ignorant as South Carolinians (or as “enlightened” — choose your adjectives as you wish), they would pull down the Siegessäule. Why glorify something that led to the most notorious militarism Germany is now primarily known for? Why not destroy the Soviet monument? Surely we have the ability to look at history with some corrective lenses and laugh at the term “liberation” in reference to that monument! Why stop there? Why leave some part of the Berlin Wall intact at all? Why, indeed. Berliners, or at least the people in charge of civic planning, it would seem, understand that destroying monuments or symbols not only fails to “change history” but worse, it hinders our ability to profit from the lessons those monuments would teach us if we weren’t so stupid. It is perhaps because we are beyond an age in which we consistently create meaningful public spaces or symbols that we can’t possibly understand why it’s important to see things in civic spaces, every now and then, that might seem troubling.

I hope the more intellectually consistent among those who targeted the Confederate battle flag this week will now train their sights on a much more visible target: a flag which has flown, in its basic form, over a country that was founded (by mostly slaveholders) on principles that a black person was 3/5 of a human being and that has often justified foreign military adventures as crusades for “freedom,” when the reality is that money, the oldest reason for war, was often the real (and only) reason.

One reason that the U.S. government and corporate media have had the temerity to tell the American people that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were about democracy and women’s rights is because since 1865, the catastrophe and lie that was Reconstruction has proven to be a winning formula: invade another country unilaterally on “moral” grounds, then after overwhelming military victory which included targeting of civilian homes and populations, militarily occupy, depose and disenfranchise the native population and its elite; bring in non-natives to show them how to obey their new masters; and then rewrite history to make the native population the lowest of villains and the conquerors the noblest of heroes.

We used these methods, while flying the Stars and Stripes, to subdue those “treasonous” Southerners (I’ve laughed every single time I’ve read that word in the last few days), to murder Native Americans to near extinction while constantly changing “treaties” we made with them, to provoke a war with Mexico for a land grab (ostensibly because we couldn’t just buy it), and to top it off, since 49 states weren’t enough, to steal Hawaii from a sovereign people with their own queen. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, had to say about U.S. foreign policy:

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” 

So, the current American flag stands for “heritage, not hate”? Prove it. Or if you can’t, and are confronted with the possibility that there are no easy answers in history, and that loving one’s country doesn’t mean lying about its crimes, please climb back down into your cellar of ignorance, and take some history books and a flashlight down there with you. You might learn something while down there, namely, that history, like human life, is never as simple as we would imagine it. It is in confronting the paradoxes and heartbreak (and sometimes humor) of its many trails that we learn a bit more about who we are as humans, as peoples, as nations. Attempt to rewrite it according to whatever’s popular at any given time, and you will surely lose what matters, what teaches, (and was learned) at terrible cost.

Stephen Heiner makes his home in Paris, France, where among some of the finest beauties of churches and architecture and museums in Europe, he runs into that horrible tricolor flag and sundry monuments glorifying the murder of priests and nuns in a revolution inspired, in part, by America. He believes that loving one’s country and fellow countrymen isn’t always a straightforward task, and must involve at least as much patience and understanding as God grants us in our foibles.

17 COMMENTS

  1. A fine, thoughtful, and funny rant, methinks, but a rant nonetheless, one that generates more heat than light. For example, I find it interesting that Mr. Heiner (who finds it unnecessary to mention that for decades multiple individuals and organized groups criticized South Carolina’s implicit public endorsement of the Confederacy via employing one of its symbols as its state flag–“Where has this outrage been all these years, I wonder?” he asks, somewhat innocently) somehow fails, while praising the nuanced historical understanding of Berliners, to note that the German government decided over 60 years ago that a responsible historical understanding needn’t require continuing to countenance symbols of genocide, and banned Nazi imagery accordingly (see here).

  2. Mr Fox

    Perhaps I should have said, “Where has the *high* level of outrage been all these years?” I’m talking about televised SC legislature debates in which members yell, claim descendancy from Jefferson Davis (which apparently makes everything they say important), and demand for the flag to be removed without any further debate – and the follow-on rage that wants the flag banned out of existence (I’ve even seen stories to have it removed from museums). Whatever outrage has happened over the years, it’s never been meaningful enough to have a real debate on the issues. Ironically, all the outrage of this cycle insured that there could not be a real debate.

    As for the bit about the Nazis – if you missed my allusion to the fact that I find the comparison of Southerners to Nazis to be disingenuous in the extreme, let me make it clear: it’s absurd. Germany banning all Nazi symbols because of genocide, as you say, has almost no relationship to South Carolina removing a flag which has nothing to do with genocide.

  3. I live in upstate NY. I’ve seen quite a few Confederate flags on trucks and in yards in the past couple of weeks that weren’t there before. Are these people all nothing but brazen racists? Nah. Do they know that their “betters” think that about them? Yup. Do they care? Nope.

    New York and other blue state elites think that South Carolina is full of unrepentant racists and bigots and all sorts of other lesser beings. Has New York ever had a black senator? Has New York ever had a woman governor? South Carolina does, right this second, neither of which got their positions due to their fathers or spouses, unlike the current NY gov and the famous former senator.

    Perhaps NY and similar states should spend a bit of time wondering why so many South Carolinians have neighbors who were former New Yorkers (of all races), while the opposite never happens.

    Someone at FPR could write a serious article about the nasty hysteria of Zero-Day historical obliteration that is going on right now. The South has a complicated history, to be charitable, but at least it retains a local, historical pride and memory that has been abolished in most other regions.

    Such pride used to exist everywhere. You can still find, in used book shops everywhere that they still exist, whole volumes that were written until the early 20 century on the places and personages of local towns and counties. Who in the “elites” knows such books even ever existed? Certainly no one is writing such books anymore. People once were proud of their towns and villages. Look at the spectacular schools, courthouses, town halls, that were built in the most humble hamlets until a century ago. Now such buildings are indistinguishable from prisons. Everything is homogenized to the point of worthlessness.

    Let’s not pretend that Southerners aren’t aware of the nasty parts of their past. They can’t be–the rest of the country has been rubbing their noses in it for well over half a century. But attempting to, first, reduce their past to nothing but an object of contempt and loathing, self- and otherwise, and second, to obliterate even the very memory of it, is a most outrageous tragedy.

  4. The recent legislative action in South Carolina can be explained as (i) the act of a democratically elected body, (ii) in response to horrific events that devastated an important part of the Charleston community (the black community), (iii) to address the perceptions of many in the black community that the Confederate battle flag symbolizes and endorses slavery.

    You don’t have to agree with the black community’s view of the flag to acknowledge that the action represents the will of the majority expressed through its elected representatives, and that it was a compassionate action that was intended to and had the effect of assuaging the pain of the black community in Charleston.

    Other similar actions in the private sector by businesses and individuals can be seen as similarly well intentioned, positive steps to bring the community together.

  5. Mr. Wilton–It seems as if the people of SC have behaved admirably, and their representatives have performed well. The national media and big business have behaved in a way that can only be described as Stalinist.

  6. The government/media reaction to the Chattanooga shooting sure has been different than their blitzkrieg attack on the historic South following the Charleston massacre. Apparently the ever present threat of a Confederate revival dwarfs any fear of Islamic terror. Who could forget the day when those damn rednecks crashed planes into the WTC in the name of Robert E. Lee?

    In the official news there is nary a mention of such topics as Islam and immigration. Labeling the event as “domestic terrorism” is absurd, but at least it’s better than “workplace violence,” which Obama insists is what took place at Ft. Hood.
    Andrea Mitchell seems to think that hunting, fishing, and other “small town Tennessee activities” caused the young man’s murderous rampage. After the great fun of two weeks spent bashing southern culture, who can blame her for trying to keep the party going?

    In fairness, the right wing talk idiots haven’t been much better. Their answer to mass violence is always to call for more guns. Arm the teachers! Pastors should pack heat! Now they want all members of the military to carry weapons at all times and places.

  7. Mr Wilton

    Since you wish to discuss the legislative action itself (of which I do not know details) I would add only 2 things:

    1. I don’t believe the role of government is simply to act in response to an angry mob, manipulated essentially as a puppet.
    2. A teachable moment was missed – one in which South Carolina could have explained why it has (seemingly) proudly flown the flag and why – as you note – for particular reasons it is now being removed. Instead, by simply kowtowing to popular outrage fanned by a 24-hour media which is effective on a populace which can tell you who Honey Boo-Boo is but can’t give you the starting and ending years of the War Between the States, South Carolina de facto admitted that the Battle Flag’s presence *was* a celebration of some racist apartheid. This is simply not factually accurate in any way, shape, or form.

    I have no idea whether this action represents “the majority will of the people of Charleston/South Carolina” but I suppose I’m not someone who thinks that the majority always knows the best thing to do. In this particular case, it got angry, knocked over a few things, and is coming for more.

  8. Fred Reed recently wrote about some of this: http://fredoneverything.org/

    (Scroll down to “‘Payback’s a Bitch”: Rural Wisdom and the Gathering Storm”)

    Look, as a Southerner, I increasingly don’t give a rip about what you may think about me and my ancestors. Read that again: I DON’T CARE! I’m numb.

    I’m past debating over states right vs. slavery, the Civil Rights Act, Old South vs. New South; I don’t care to convince you of ANYTHING! Further, I don’t need you to feel sorry for me, as a poor benighted white Southerner; I’m not claiming victim status; in fact I don’t want anything from you, except to LEAVE ME AND MY COMMUNITY ALONE!

    They won’t. That could prove VERY dangerous!

    He does a better job of characterizing it, but that’s the gist, anyway. BTW, the Battle Flag, as others have observed, is being seen, North, South, East and West, increasingly as a symbol of opposition to the tyranny of elites who destroy community everywhere, not just in Dixie! This ain’t over!

  9. Mr. Heiner,

    Thank you. Flanney O’Conner rightly noted that the South, while no longer Christ centered if it ever was, was still, in her day, and even yet today, Christ haunted. The elites of liberalism, including the Democratic and Republican parties as well as the entertainment centers and financial centers are no longer even Christ haunted. Robert Dabney rightly concluded in the 1870’s that there were no longer any conservative men. What passed for conservatism was merely the long shadow of liberalism, indeed, pointing to the past but plodding inexorably forward, forever tied to its master – liberalism. The reason that liberals – Democrats and Republicans and their mutual sputniks – hate Southern symbols, Confederate and otherwise, is because the South, flawed and fallen as it is, still bears, even in the Confederate battle flag, the Cross of St. Andrew, the image of Christ be it ever so tarnished in its Southern idiom. It is the Christ whom they hate as well as the Church, His Bride, and any culture, such as the South, which has been informed and influenced by Him. These liberals – Democrats and Republics – are like ISIS: iconoclasts. They are possessed by a false narrative which allows no competition from the true narrative, even a flawed version of the true one. The attacks will not end with Southern flags, totems and monuments. The Latin Cross and the Church are next. “These people” intend to root out all that is true and good; they are Cromwellians, Jacobins, and Marcusians.

  10. I am amazed you were shocked. 67 years back, you were told how this works.

    He who controls the present controls the past.
    He who controls the past controls the future.

    Warmest regards,
    Winston Smith 6079
    Recdep
    Minitrue
    Airstrip One
    Oceania

  11. To find this article on FPR and then to read some of the followup comments is the most depressing thing I have done in a long time. I do not despair, but for America there is no hope. She has truly lost her right mind.

    God have mercy on us all.

  12. Mr. Jordan, I agree that America has truly lost her mind; but if I correctly interpret your post, likely for utterly countervailing reasons!

  13. In response to Stephen’s last comment, I think David is right to point out that the flag is “a symbol of opposition to the tyranny of elites who destroy community everywhere…” but much more significant, I think, is the reality that even South Carolinians have sold out to the elites and tied their fortunes to the Washington and Wall Street elites to an extreme that was hardly known even just a generation ago, and that’s why there’s nothing left to debate in the South Carolina legislature but Northern stereotypes of the South vs. substanceless slogans about “heritage,” military valor detached from any worthy cause, etc. The flag has become as pointless and nonsensical as opposition to the hand that feeds you.

  14. Germany? Last I checked, it is a crime to fly the Nazi flag in Germany. Its not because they all pretend that Adolf Hitler never existed. The confederate battle flag belongs at battlefields in appropriate places — particularly the ones where confederate forces were disposed for battle. It does not belong in an honored place in the halls of government. Our governments, all of them, including those state governments that were used as vehicles for secession, are based on explicit rejection of the confederacy and all it stood for.

  15. In response to Siarlys’ comment that our government, at the various levels, including the state level (and presumably including particularly the Southern states) “are based on… rejection of the Confederacy and all it stood for,” so long as hardly any people are saying such things, I would certainly want my state representatives to continue to fly the flag.

    Presumably, you, Siarlys, are no Southerner and are content with base prejudice and wholesale rejection of all things Southern (and probably rural, American as distinct from the values of post-monarchical European socialism, associated with evangelical Christians, etc., etc.), but out of curiosity, what other countries and regions, independence movements/failed independence movements would you say should be despised for all they stood and are completely devoid of any common graces?

    • Mr. Jenkins,

      I agree with you 100%. that our governments, all of them, including the government of South Carolina, are based on a specific rejection of the confederacy and all that it stood for. Since the governments currently wielding power over us are all spawns of the Enlightenment as such movements as the Enlightenment engendered, namely Marxism in its various iterations, fascism in its various forms and liberalism in its multiple manifestations, they must oppose any vestige of the Classical Christian world which marked the West from Late Antiquity, through the Middle Ages, and in redoubts, strongholds and enclaves in what is left of the West, including and particularly in the South. Deep in the heart of Moderns and Post-Moderns, beyond their mantras of “slavery,” “Jim Crow,” and the “KKK,” is their hatred for Jesus Christ, His Church and any cultural artifact which might remind them of the influence of our Lord and His Church, thus the real reason for the hatred of the Battle Flag and of those of us who rally around it.

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