Knowing Is Half the Battle

True contributor Mike Straw, who as you might remember is a fairly recently retired career U.S. Air Force officer, had more to say about one of the stories he wrote this week. We’ll start first with the story, from the 7 August 2016 issue:

Knowing is Half the Battle

Silvia Cotriss, 53, had flown the Confederate battle flag in front of her Woodstock, Ga., home for over a year. It wasn’t an issue until a neighbor complained to her employer: the Roswell police department, where she had been an officer for over 20 years. Cotriss removed the flag as soon as she was made aware of the complaint, but that notification came with an investigation for conduct unbecoming an officer on or off duty. “Cotriss explained that the flag was part of her history, part of the South, part of history involving the Civil War,” the investigative report said. And, the report says, she denied knowing that the Confederate flag was considered offensive to some people, even though an intense debate over that flag has been in the news for over a year. “Cops don’t watch the news because we live it in the day and don’t want to see it again at night,” Cotriss said. She was fired. According to the termination notice, Cotriss “engaged in conduct that was unbecoming, which brought discredit to the Roswell Police Department when she flew” the flag. Cotriss is appealing the decision. (MS/Atlanta Journal-Constitution) …Paying attention: the difference between living the news and becoming the news.

With that, Mike says:

One of the hardest parts of writing for True is getting all the information digested into 200 words or less. I can get pretty verbose sometimes, and it’s hard to condense a story down while not losing important information. And when there are complex issues involved, it’s nearly impossible to avoid losing the nuance in the True treatment of a story.

This was what I was faced with when I read the articles that would lead to this week’s story, “Knowing Is Half the Battle”. On the surface, the article is about a culturally clueless police officer who says she didn’t know that Confederate flags could be offensive. But as I read the information, I saw several layers that touch on important issues: freedom of speech vs. public obligation, intentional vs. inadvertent racism, multiple meanings of the Confederate battle flag, Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter, cultural sensitivity, and more.

So, I asked Randy if I could write a longer post taking a closer look at some of the issues. This isn’t about giving solutions or taking stances. This is True is about “Thought-Provoking Entertainment”, and hopefully this post will provoke some thought.

Public Service and the First Amendment

When I went to military basic training, one of the first things we were taught was that in order to support and defend the Constitution, we would be giving up some of our basic Constitutional rights. Freedom of speech is limited for people in public service, especially when acting in an official capacity. As a member of the Air Force, I was not allowed to express a public opinion about elected officials or candidates, and as an officer I could be court martialed for speaking disparagingly of anyone in my chain of command, up to and including the President. There were some things I could do and say if I was out of uniform and not mentioning my military affiliation, but even out of uniform, there were limits (I couldn’t, for example, support a group with a goal of overthrowing the U.S. government or that promotes hate and/or racism).

The original Atlanta Journal-Constitution story mentioned a First Amendment attorney who believed Cotriss’s firing was an overreach. I believe the question that must be answered is did what Cotriss do have an impact on her ability to perform her duties as a police officer? If — as the complainant said — she had her official vehicle parked in the yard by the flag, then it could. When my wife and I discussed this story, she brought up another point: would a black person seeing the Confederate flag in the yard of an officer of the law then feel safe encountering her in uniform? Since the likely answer is “no,” is this one of those cases where the flag shouldn’t be allowed whether or not there’s a visible indicator of her status as an officer?

One part of this story that bothers me is that Cotriss was fired based on a single complaint, after a year, when she immediately corrected the problem. Is it fair to respond this harshly to something that had been implicitly allowed for this long without any warning?

The Confederate Flag

As a symbol, the flag has been controversial lately. While the flag wasn’t the national flag of the Confederate States, in most minds it represents that nation — and all the controversy that goes with it [see below for a discussion of the flag’s history]. For some like Cotriss, the flag represents a proud heritage of standing up to an oppressor and fighting for the rights of states to determine their own course. To others, it represents a history of enslaving a group of people and the racism that continues to flow from that history. There are strong emotions on both sides, and the clashes around it have been in the national spotlight for a while (which is why the idea of Cotriss not knowing about it is pretty amazing).

Racism vs. Cultural Heritage

One of the most interesting experiences I had was when I visited a Confederate military museum in the South. As I walked through, I realized that regardless of which side of history they ended up on, the soldiers that fought for the Confederacy still fought honorably for a cause they believed in. There’s a certain respect among members of the profession of arms even when they’re enemies. The flag Cotriss flew was a battle flag: to people like her it represents the honor of those soldiers who fought and died under it much like the American flag represents the military members who fought and died defending it and all it stands for. It also represents a proud heritage that possibly pointed to her own family, as it’s likely some of her ancestors may have fought for the Confederacy.

On the other hand, to other people in the area, it represents a different heritage: the heritage of groups like the KKK who believe in the superiority of the white race above all others and the heritage of enslavement and oppression of blacks. There’s little doubt that racist beliefs were a part of the culture that entered the Civil War, so when those racist undertones are represented by a symbol proudly flown by a person responsible to keep the peace, what does it do to that peace?

Paradigms and Perspectives

In my mind, this is a prime example of where different people have different perspectives on a common theme. When two people see the world through different paradigms, it’s difficult if not impossible for them to understand how the other person can believe what they do. ”How can someone see the Confederate flag as racist? People that do that are tearing down my proud heritage.” vs. “How can someone see the Confederate flag as a positive thing? It obviously represents racism and hatred.”

A few years ago, I read an article from, of all things, Cracked magazine. The article was called “What is the Monkeysphere?” It describes how we as humans are configured to only see a limited number of people as actual people, and we revert to abstractions when seeing beyond that limited group. For example, someone would have a much stronger reaction to 10 people from their own school being killed in a bus accident than they would to 10,000 people dying in an earthquake on the other side of the world. It also explains why we sometimes don’t get other perspectives on an issue. We don’t see those as real because they contradict our own perspectives — and come from people we see in a more abstract way than our closest friends.

Relevant Links:


Publisher Randy Cassingham’s Comments

A little historical context is in order here.

William Tappan Thompson (1812–1882) was an American writer who co-founded Georgia’s Savannah Morning News in the 1850s, known then as the Daily Morning News. He was a strong supporter of the Confederacy.

In 1863, as the editor of the Morning News he proposed a design that would ultimately become the Confederacy’s second national flag, which would be come to known as the “Stainless Banner”.

In a series of editorials, Thompson wrote why his flag’s design should be chosen to represent the Confederacy, including:

As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause. … Such a flag…would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.

That “Second Confederate” flag is this one, which I’ve put in a box to make it clear where its borders are:

The second Confederate flag
(Flag images via Wikipedia.)

After his design was chosen by the Confederacy on May 1, 1863, Thompson editorialized in his paper:

As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism. Another merit in the new flag is, that it bears no resemblance to the now infamous banner of the Yankee vandals.

…As did the Confederacy’s first flag, the “stars and bars” — which had a varying number of stars — first four stars, then seven stars, and then 13, when officially adopted on November 28, 1861:

The first Confederate flag
What’s generally flown today is actually a variant of the Army of Northern Virginia battle flag:

The Northern Virginia Battle Flag flag
…which in modern times has been stretched into a more-common rectangular flag shape and is commonly called the “Confederate flag”:

The so-called 'Confederate flag'
It’s that flag that’s so controversial today, especially considering Thompson’s description of what he thought of as the Confederate flag: it’s a “WHITE MAN’S FLAG” designed and intended to represent “the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.”

So if you want to celebrate that flag as “part of history, part of the South, part of history involving the Civil War,” you have to start by admitting that the history being celebrated is wrapped up inexorably in racism.

So while the police officer may have been totally ignorant of the current controversy regarding the “Confederate flag” she proudly flew as part of her “history,” she’s also apparently professing her ignorance at its racist symbolism, overtly present from the start. Thus Mike’s title for the story is perfect: “Knowing Is Half the Battle” — thought-provoking indeed!

—RC

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28 Comments on “Knowing Is Half the Battle

  1. What you are calling the “stretched version” was the Battle Flag of the Army of Tennessee. See http://confederateflags.org/army/fotcaot/

    My description came from a good summary at Wikipedia: Flags of the Confederate States of America. It notes in a caption under the contemporary flag: “A more rectangular variant of the Army of Northern Virginia battle flag, common in modern reproductions. (A similar flag was used during the war by the Army of Tennessee under General Joseph E. Johnston.)” -rc

  2. Interesting and enlightening discussion. From a different angle, when I see that the woman was a 20-year veteran of the PD, I immediately think there was a possibility that she was fired to avoid having to pay her any retirement benefits.

  3. Thank you for “the rest of the story”. This was a particularly interesting story in this week’s issue and can be seen from so many different viewpoints. Taking time to consider all of the variables and perspectives is a great exercise in thinking. Any reflex reaction needs more reflection in a complicated situation. Great job on this one Mr. Straw — I appreciate the extra effort.

  4. The “Southern Cross” which you label here as the Confederate Flag is a flag that has a very convoluted history that your short summary does not really do justice to, but then again, a 500 page book would probably just scratch the surface. So, let’s just agree there is a convoluted history and leave it at that except for one fact I want to add.

    This flag in one form or another has flown over the second largest group of men who died in battle for this country. The only flag to surpass it is the Union Flag (36 star US Flag flown on the Union side of the Civil War). The number of soldiers killed in the civil war exceeds that of US soldiers killed in both World Wars combined.

    It is also a little personal for me. In my family history, four died on the Union side, five died on the Confederate. Six of them died in the same battle, Vicksburg. Three of my ancestors survived the battle fields of the civil war. None of my ancestors ever owned slaves. Two of my ancestors were “indentured” servants that spent much of their life under conditions little better than slavery. The farms my grandfathers inherited were bought with civil war pensions. (One Union and One Confederate.)

    Yes, this flag has been co-opted by racist organizations. It has been used by the KKK and other white supremacy groups. It also has been used by Confederate memorial groups, other groups rebelling against an ever more intrusive federal government and states. But, if displaying this symbol is a sign of guilt of the crime of racism, then should every officer and office holder in the state of Mississippi be drummed out of public service?

    I think the whole story of dismissing a police officer over the display of a symbol is a token gesture of appeasement by lily-hearted politicians and bureaucrats that don’t want to address the divisive issues that we are facing in policing. Instead of attacking symbols or tools, we need to look at the true causes of our problems and address them. Do we have police that abuse their authority? Yes, but not as much as some seem to think or want us to believe. Do we have people who have such a visceral hatred of officers that they actively plot the deaths of those officers? Yes, but again I think the sparks are fanned by anecdotes and not facts.

    I think the wisdom of our founding fathers is ever more apparent because of cases like this. I believe the first amendment exists because the founding fathers did not want us to get bogged down in superficial issues like this when we have real problems to deal with. Actions like this, stifle substantive debate on a real issue that is dividing this country. This is when we want, no, need everyone to be able to state their case. Instead we have a rush to judgement of this officer as racist, and serving her up to a mob mentality as a patsy. Her crime, hanging a flag. No one died. Not one drop of blood was spilled.

    If we continue to constrict the speech of our officers and other public servants in the name of satisfying a vocal minority which see oppression in every symbol they don’t or won’t fully understand, can we really blame these brave men and women if they abandon us to our own devices?

  5. I hope you’ll allow an outsider view on this…..

    For me the interesting part that is missing in these debates is the fact that this flag doesn’t represent just racism/heritage, it’s a flag of rebellion or treason. For me seeing people who fly it and claim to be US patriots is height of irony. Doubly so if they fly it together with US flag. And if you claim its heritage, its heritage of treason.

    Last year parallels were drawn with Nazi flag. The parallels are not apt. Nazi Germany was something that Germany went through and it represents a period in history of the entire nation, when that flag represent entire nation. This flag does not; it doesn’t represent entire US from the 1861-65 period, it represents a part of it. same goes for the Imperial flag, which is usually used as code for Nazi flag when and where those are banned.

    Think about that angle when you consider whether police, public servants and in public pay, should fly such flags.

  6. Her statement is bogus. I don’t care if she never sees the news, she lives in the south, and as a citizen of the South, and as a cop, there is no way she could *not* know.

  7. Luka, Slovenia writes, “For me the interesting part that is missing in these debates is the fact that this flag doesn’t represent just racism/heritage, it’s a flag of rebellion or treason.”

    So for that matter is the Stars and Stripes (US Flag). It was first flown in our rebellion against Great Britain. There has always been and always will be a “war” of sorts in the United States between the power of the state and that of the federal government. And the line moves from time to time on where that demarcation between those two governments powers lie.

    And I suppose as one from outside the US, you may never understand that many if not most of us see rebellion as a right and even a duty and not necessarily treason. We just choose to make our “rebellions” within the confines of our constitution. Instead of bullets, we use ballots. And, every four to eight years, we overthrow our government, proudly.

    Our deepest loyalty is not to any flag, any group of men, god or gods, or even any particular set of laws. Our deepest loyalty is to our constitution and the framework that allows us to constantly reinvent our system of government to meet the needs of today. We are generally loyal to our fellow citizens. Our government, not so much. We see government as a necessary evil and little more.

    Now not all of us will agree with my “propositions” above 100% as the way we feel. But, I think over time, if they think about it, it is the way we as a country has behaved.

    A very clear and succinct explanation! -rc

  8. Someone mentioned the swastika, which even now is used on maps in Japan to denote temples, but has recently attracted the attention of the politically correct as foreign tourist numbers boom. — another example of a symbol meaning different things to different people.

    And then there is a more controversial — and similar — example of the flag of the Japanese navy; a throwback to the flag of Imperial Japan during the Pacific war years, which is subject to the same kind of disapproval from Japan’s wartime victims (such as China, Korea) as the confederate flag.

    When the Confederate flag went suddenly out of favour a few years ago, I couldn’t help wondering; will there ever be another “Dukes of Hazzard” movie? !-)

  9. While I think it was right for them to ask that she take it down, firing her without warning seems to be a bit over the top. She was a 20 year veteran of the force and it had been present for a long length of time. Unless there is other conduct that we are not aware of or an official, explicit, and well publicized ban on the flag, it smack of making an example of someone and taking it too far.

  10. I just think it’s sad this awful person spent twenty years on the police force, I assume earning a good salary, while proudly proclaiming her hatred of a subset of the citizenry she was supposed to be to serving.

    Anyone who believes her patent “I don’t watch the news so I couldn’t have known!” *lie* is either too gullible to be allowed in polite society unchaperoned or is equally shady.

  11. I first became aware of the this flag as a young boy during the Harry Truman administration. I believe it was a protest symbol against something he was doing. (It may have been integrating the service.)

    To my mind it meant protesting something the federal government was doing. Like today’s congress holding up the confirmation of a new Supreme Court nominee.

  12. A couple of thoughts:

    Like Mike, I’m much more concerned that they fired her for a single complaint after a year and like Bernie, it does seem that her retirement could have played a part.

    To those who claim the Confederate flag is offensive because the KKK used it, you need to know that the KKK also used the American flag. Are they both offensive then?

    Not every black person thinks the Confederate flag is offensive (here) which bolsters the case that the flag is legitimately considered a cultural statement rather than a racist one.

    There is a huge grievance industry in this country where people who make it their business to be “offended” by (just about) anything. They derive power over others by forcing others to change their lives because of it. This has gone way too far.

    FWIW, I don’t fly the Confederate flag, nor do I want to, but I enjoy living in the South and wouldn’t live anywhere else. What other symbol of Southern hospitality, Southern independence, and Southern heritage is there? Of course I recognize that part of that heritage is slavery, but I think you have to have a pretty low opinion of people in the South to believe that they want to bring back slavery.

    No one on this page has said the flag is offensive “because the KKK used it,” which would indeed be a stupid argument — as is pointing to a black man carrying one in a Civil War reenactment as some kind of proof of anything. -rc

  13. I have difficulty understanding the claim that “There’s a certain respect among members of the profession of arms even when they’re enemies”. Members of ISIS can be thought of as being of the profession of arms, and they’re certainly enemies. Does that mean American veterans respect ISIS? I’m confused.

  14. My husband flies a rebel flag, and I will defend his right to do so, even though I wouldn’t do so myself. However, I do not agree that this woman had the right given her position in the community and the presence of her department vehicle.

    A lot of people seem to think that their right not to be offended always trumps someone else’s right to free speech. And I disagree. But when you are in a position of authority (apparent or real), when the expectation of your position is impartiality/fairness, you are held to a different standard. I wouldn’t want a judge or city councilman to fly one, either.

    As for her not knowing it to be offensive? Bullshit!

    Whether firing is too harsh depends on the department. What is the punishment for offensive postings to social media?

  15. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this issue was “had flown the Confederate battle flag in front of her … home for over a year” combined with “an intense debate over that flag has been in the news for over a year”. The timing makes it seem she was making a public statement by flying that flag.

  16. I disagree with the people who want to eliminate all signs of slavery, genocide, or other terrible things that we have done. I think they need to be preserved with appropriate explanations. We need to be reminded of what monstrous things we can do when we allow ourselves to treat other people as things, not people like us. We should preserve the Nazi concentration camps, the Native American atrocity sites, the Japanese Internment Camps, the symbols of slavery, and other horrid reminders. If we keep these reminders before us, maybe we will avoid another atrocity in the future.

    I do think that people in official positions should not be displaying symbols that many find offensive. Firing for a one time offense that was corrected immediately upon complaint seems excessive, however.

  17. I find it interesting that the flag being depicted as racist is NOT the “White Man’s Flag” as proposed by William Thompson, but rather that battle flag of Northern Virginia.
    I have to admit that I was unaware of the “Second Confederate” Flag, but I personally believe that people today are just too thin-skinned. They seem to be self-centered and are unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions. To me, the Confederate Flag is still a part of US History and should be treated as such.

  18. Would she have been fired had she hung a Mississippi flag? 🙂

    “I salute the flag of Mississippi and the sovereign state for which it stands with pride in her history and achievements and with confidence in her future under the guidance of Almighty God.”

    That reminds me — I think The United Kingdom will need a new flag in a couple of years, the way things are going in Scotland….

    For those who don’t know, Mississippi’s state flag includes an image of the “Confederate” flag. -rc

  19. I would like to comment on one of the statements made by John in Arkansas. He said, “This flag in one form or another has flown over the second largest group of men who died in battle for this country.” The group of men he is referring to did not die in battle for “this country”. (I assume he is referring to the United States.) They died fighting against this country. They fought for the Confederate States which was a separate entity and not part of the United States.

  20. This is silly. Up until 2003, the Woodstock police department flew a flag incorporating the (square) southern cross, since it was part of the state flag of Georgia (and Georgia police stations fly the state flag). The southern cross was always square — never rectangular (because then it’s not a cross), so the flag that Cotriss flew was never actually a flag of the CSA or any confederate battle unit.

    Since 2003, the Woodstock police department flies an ACTUAL Confederate (CSA) flag — the original Stars & Bars, the first official flag of the CSA. The only difference is that the Georgia state flag incorporates the state seal inside the ring of 13 stars. Take away the seal and it’s the EXACT same flag.

    So Cotriss flew a (rectangular) flag never used by any Confederate government or unit, while her police department flies the first official flag of the Confederate States augmented by the state seal.

    BTW, the reason the CSA replaced the Stars & Bars is because it was too difficult to distinguish from the Union flag when viewed from a distance on the battlefield. The Stainless Banner was abandoned because people realized that it was, ummm, a white flag, which usually means truce or surrender. oops.

    I don’t quite understand your point. Why is it “silly” for people to object to police officers flying a banner that specifically is about racism, and has always been about racism? -rc

  21. Several people have pointed out that the Civil War was a rebellion, and as such was actually treasonous. But that’s the trouble with civil wars — your friends and neighbors may be on the other side, and you have to continue to live with them when the war is over. Forgiveness is necessary, or they cannot rejoin the family.

    But what if they repudiate the terms of surrender, and continue to behave just as badly, albeit in a slightly different form? What if they reject the family, and continue to espouse, and act upon, the principles that caused the initial break? What if overlooking that behavior results in a century of oppression, and denial of fundamental rights, of a significant percentage of other American citizens?

    People talk of the Civil War being about State’s Rights, but let’s be clear: it was about the states’ right to continue slavery — i.e. the right to enslave, whip, buy and sell, maim, rape and murder Negroes at will, not only with impunity, but with the explicit blessing of the State! And they were explicit in the contention that they had the right to do this because whites were the “master race”, and blacks were subhuman — yes, exactly the same rationale Hitler used to promulgate World War II, forced labor projects, and death camps, although he defined “race” a little more inclusively. And so, comparison of the Confederate Flag with the Swastika is legitimate. Many German soldiers fought bravely and well, and died for their country, but that does not in any way diminish the fact that the cause they fought for was abhorrent (I wanted to say “inhuman”, but history, and even contemporary political cant, show it is all too human), and the symbols of that cause and conflict are a matter for shame rather than pride.

    But not in the south. After the Civil War, state after state enacted Jim Crow laws, to reinstate white supremacy and deny the now-acknowledged citizens their constitutional civil rights — and the rest of us not only allowed it, but were often complicit (Calvin Coolidge, for instance, re-segregated the federal government). And so, for the next 100 years, blacks continued to be beaten, enslaved (arrested for little or no cause, sent to work gangs or prison), and killed at the whim of whites. And they continue to be today, as is becoming all too apparent in the era of surveillance video cameras and citizen cell phones — and a willingness of the news media to actually report these instances.

    The “historical” argument is no more than a segment of the “benign narrative”; it was also made by the South Carolina government — but that’s ridiculous. The confederate flag was raised over the statehouse in 1962 in response to the federal government’s civil rights push, and while the southern states were reacting with massive violence to black insistence on being able to attend the same schools, ride in the same bus seats, and drink from the same drinking fountains as whites. Suspicious timing, no? It was an overt symbol then, as it was in the beginning, that “them Yankees can’t tell us what to do — you still ain’t won, and you still ain’t equal”. Blacks know that, and most southern whites do too (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean?). So when it hits the fan, and South Carolina agrees to take it down, this Georgia police officer raises it on her front lawn. Suspicious timing, no?

    This is not about bleeding-heart liberals, people complaining about being offended, or “political correctness”; it’s about finally settling the issues the Civil War was fought over, so that 1/8 of the citizens of the United States can finally say, “Free at last!” While there may be some people who have relatively benign reasons for displaying the Confederate Flag, its primary function is, and always has been, a symbol of white supremacy. It belongs in museums, or on the graves of Confederate soldiers, nowhere else — and especially not on the lawns of employees of government organizations long notorious for white supremacist behavior.

  22. It’s “silly” because it is not actually the Confederate battle flag (there was never such a thing as *THE* Confederate battle flag — each unit had its own battle flag; there were hundreds). Meanwhile, the police department that fired her flies an ACTUAL Confederate flag (with the addition of the state seal). The Southern Cross is mistakenly called the Stars and Bars, but the ACTUAL Stars & Bars flies over every police station in Georgia (and the (square) southern cross flew over every station until 2003).

    She displayed (on her own property) a stretched southern cross (which was never a CSA flag), while the police department flies the original Stars & Bars. Who is flying an ACTUAL Confederate flag? You really don’t see the hypocrisy here? Don’t you think that this reaction is just one of the faces of Zero Tolerance?

    I’ve already clearly explained the evolution of the flag; it was on this page from the initial post. NO ONE has said that it’s “*THE* Confederate battle flag,” so your fake shock is an eye-roller.
    Yes, it’s true that I don’t have tolerance for institutionalized racism. No one should. The states that lost the war should absolutely be forced to remove the symbol from their official flags. It has always been an outrage, and the victors are finally putting their feet down now that it’s clear what the “proud history” is really about. -rc

  23. This is a bit off the commentary at hand, but I find it interesting that the Flag of a lost cause remains as “heritage” and “…a part of my proud history.” Since when? Did the losing sides of WW II continue to fly the Swastika (or “Crooked Cross”) or the “Rising Sun?” (Before anyone jumps down my throat, I am not sure about Japan’s “Rising Sun” Flag.)

    As I told a friend of mine, a female cop in this area, when I saw her riding with the Battle Flag attached to her vehicle, “All you’re doing is showing the rest of the world what a loser looks like.” She remains my friend despite that.

    Especially the Swastika, yes — and they’re sending the exact same message as the “Confiderate” flagwavers. -rc

  24. In response to Guy, Big Rock TN

    The Japanese Rising Sun flag is a military ensign and is still used by the Japanese Navy. The actual national flag of Japan is a red circle on a white background, and is the same as it’s been since 1870.

    What a lot of people forget is the Swastika flag was a symbol of the Nazi party not the national flag of Germany. While the actual German flag of black / red / gold stayed the same.

  25. Thank you for this really interesing debate. Just a little observation about all the flags and wars mentioned in relation to racism. There is one philosophy underpinning it all, the belief that people have evolved differently in different places. Unless this philosophy changes, people will always think that they are superior because they belong to a specific group.

  26. Linda, I think I’d describe the issue as a different one; the most virulent racists not only have no intellectual rationalization for it, but they don’t even believe in evolution! Yes, there are demonstrable trends based on origins — Italians tend to be dark-haired, shorter and somewhat swarthy, while the Nordics tend toward tall, blond and very white. The key issue is one which Yuri Bronfenbrenner raised in a class at Cornell in the ’60s. After spending several weeks poking holes in studies (largely published by Patrick Henry Press) purporting to prove that blacks were genetically different from whites (e.g. the “extra thigh muscle” that got Jimmy the Greek in so much trouble), Yuri said, “Of *course* blacks are genetically different from whites. In case you haven’t noticed, their skins are black! The real question is: What difference does it make?”

    I think the fundamental problem is a blend of an instinct for tribalism (defining a group to which you belong, and all else are “other”), and the effects of early conditioning. We are programmed to belong to a group, thus the power of peer pressure, community mores, etc. And we learn to *define* that group as children, from our parents, church, and school and community interactions. Humans can be flexible, and “belong” to different groups in different circumstances, but a substantial percentage are inflexible in core definitions, and are completely unable to empathize with outsiders, the first step in expanding the definition of “us” vs. “them”. The fascinating PBS series The Brain, with David Eagleman shows some of the development and subtler manifestations of this human tendency toward tribalism.

  27. I’ve seen photographs of the Confederate battle flag displayed by far right/neo-Nazi/white supremacy groups in Europe, right alongside the Nazi flag and other well-known symbols of racism, genocide, and white supremacy. The Confederate battle flag is inextricably linked with racism and white supremacy and always will be. It is a symbol of a time in the South’s history when several states seceded from the U.S.A. over the issue of slavery and were willing to go to war in order to preserve “that peculiar institution”. To fly the Confederate battle flag is to celebrate a time when treating human beings like cattle — cattle were often treated better, actually — was the norm and preachers assured their congregations God approved; here’s where the Bible says so. If you want to fly a flag in honor of your Southern heritage and the glory of Southern glory past, fly a replica of an old U.S. flag.

  28. Some of the comments about how the Star and Bars is a racist flag are based on how some people perceive them to be today, not on what they were when they were flown during the War Between the States. If it’s valid to place modern attitudes and perceptions on to the flags, then the US National Flag and all the flags of the US Army and the US Cavalry should also be removed and vilified, because they flew above the many units and organisations who spent decades murdering women and children of the Native Americans as part of an organised attempt at genocide of the Native Americans. The one thing linking both sets of flags is the great majority of people who rode and fought under them all did so in the strong belief they were doing what was right for their country; one group was fighting for states’ rights, and the other felt they were defending settlers, while they were actually invading other peoples’ lands. Both were pushed into action by powerful men in control of the government to retain or gain more money and power.

    I agree they should be judged on the symbolism of the time — which is why I was careful to quote contemporaries to make it clear what they intended from the start. -rc

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