Controversy erupted last week in the East Texas town of Palestine after a Confederate flag was flown over the Anderson County Courthouse, bringing with it accusations of hatred, racism, and intolerance. Advocates of flying the flag declared that the banner to them represents the ideals of freedom and local heritage.
National discussion over the Confederacy and the Civil War is sensitive, but Americans must understand that the only way to effectively grasp the conflict is to allow expression and discussion through flag-flying and national forums. Only then can sincere regard for Southern heritage be separated from the hateful and race-based use of Confederate identity simultaneously present today.
Establishing what the Confederacy means positively in the 21st century is central to understanding why it should be on the table for discussion and expression. By knowing the positive, the negative can be sifted out and judged more effectively for greater equality in the long run.
In Palestine and in many other towns across Texas, Confederate memorials are almost as prevalent as courthouse squares themselves. Honoring veterans who were, in their lifetimes, parents, children and dear family members, is a social impulse that knows no national or racial boundary. Who can deny the right of a community to revere its own?
Furthermore, allowing the expression of heritage encourages discussion. People and groups dedicated to explaining their common past become afraid and defensive when their efforts receive criticism for being racist or backwards. American democracy thrives on the honest and civil discussion of social issues. The Confederacy and the Civil War together are no different.
As any Star Wars fan knows, closely following fear is anger, and closely following anger is hate. According to the California Association of Human Relations Organizations, radical groups with an otherwise unpalatable agenda, like the KKK and neo-Nazi groups, can exploit peoples’ fear to make them feel that they are being threatened and that they have to fight back.
Preventing honest discussion only will send the moderates who wish to respect heritage into the arms of the more accepting but angry extremists.
The more the common memory of the South falls beneath the axe of a history painted with the broadest of brush strokes, the more violence and misunderstanding will perpetuate. Valuing local heritage and giving social attention to veterans encourages discussion, and discussion leads to change and common ground.
A cycle of improved understanding and freedom from repression follows from this process. As light slowly dawns on a common American memory of the Civil War, those who seek to exploit the dark and hidden places will have no flag with which to conceal themselves.
So let the flag fly. The great American promise of tolerance will lead to discussion and, in time, will work for the American promises of liberty and justice for all.
Pearce Edwards is a sophomore political science and history double major from Albuquerque, N.M.