My home is in Chicago, but I’ve also lived in Arkansas and Kentucky. It is accurate to say there are a fair amount of differences between the North and the South. Today, 150 years after the Civil War began, the enduring views of the Civil War are still quite different. In Chicago, we think of Abraham Lincoln as a hero and an icon of state pride. In Arkansas, residents still talk about the “War of Northern Aggression.”
Texas, obviously, is part of the South. Last week, a story from Palestine, in East Texas, highlighted this. Anderson County commissioners, in a split 3-2 vote, approved a motion to fly the Confederate flag over the Palestine courthouse on Friday, April 1. Racial tensions ran high, and there were protests. County Judge Robert Johnston asked that the flag be removed.
It is hard to argue with the underlying reason behind the flag. It was raised by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to honor the thousand men from the county who fought on the side of the South. War veterans should be honored. These men were Americans, even if their side did not win. It is also hard to argue that people should not have the right to fly a Confederate flag. It is a matter of freedom of speech, which is fundamental to the United States.
What is not so hard to argue is the appropriateness of the venue. The flag was being flown over the county courthouse. This is a government building, and an important one. As such, its flags should be representative of the government. The Confederacy is not the government of the United States. Further, some of the modern connotations — specifically slavery — of the Confederate flag are not ideas that the U.S. government wants to promote.
By all means, private citizens have the right to fly the Confederate flag. An individual should be able to fly whatever flag they want. The Constitution gives people the freedom to do that. But the government should fly flags that are descriptive of the government — the U.S. flag or the Texas flag, for example. An official, important, government building should not display an icon that, fairly or unfairly, has negative ideas attached to it in our society.
This is not to say that these veterans should not be honored. It would be very appropriate to create a county memorial to the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy. The government should honor the sacrifices of American troops. There were heroes on both sides of the Civil War. They should all be honored and remembered.
The county courthouse is a vital building in the governmental system. It should fly the official government flags of the United States and of the state. These are the living symbols of the government. The Confederacy is not the U.S. government, and should not be treated as such. Flying such a controversial flag is wrong and inappropriate. Honor these soldiers and respect the right of the individual to free speech. Just keep the government flagpole representative of the government.
Jason Lam is a junior mathematics major from Chicago.