Heritage and Honesty

by Jonathan Eisenman | 11/20/03 6:00am

To the Editor:

I was not surprised to see the typical defenses of the Confederate battle flag in the Nov. 17 issue of The Dartmouth. As someone who spent many years living in South Carolina, reading these responses reminded me of so many bumpers displaying the flag along with the slogan "Heritage Not Hate." It seems to me that many of the individuals taking this tack do not realize that the "heritage" they are espousing is a heritage mired in hate. It will take more than their protestations of innocence to separate the flag's symbolization of "rural living, fried green tomatoes, biscuits and gravy, 'possums on the road, massive kudzoo, etc" from its symbolization of a regime that could not hope to function without slavery, or the more than 100 years of systemic racism that followed that regime's collapse. Such a defense is the equivalent of a German flying a flag from the Third Reich to symbolize a period of national unity, industry, and pride in Germany's history and ignoring some other, more distinguishing features of the Third Reich.

I am aware that there are Germans who are proud of their ancestors' fight in the Second World War, irrespective of the government for which the war was fought. Likewise, there are Southerners who are proud of their own ancestors' defense of the Confederacy. However, while Germany apologizes for its aggression against the other nations of Europe and its genocide of "non-Aryan" peoples, I note the silence of many Southerners when it comes to offering any such qualifications in professing their pride. For instance, none of the responses that appeared in The Dartmouth offered any such disavowal, something that might be expected given that the Confederate States of America was a nation whose economic existence relied on the forced labor of a race of people. Instead of admitting to this glaring fault in the Confederacy, however, pro-flag groups parade out a small contingent of African-Americans who romanticize the antebellum South (as occurred during the "flag debate" in South Carolina) so as to say, "see, it really wasn't so bad for blacks." While I do not expect every Southerner to be responsible for the "sins of their fathers," someone who wishes to take pride in a Confederate heritage should be honest in their accounting of what that heritage means. That would be a step toward making the "Heritage Not Hate" bumper sticker more plausible.

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