Webster’s defines terrorism as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” Armed with torches, the Ku Klux Klan infamously adopted the Rebel Flag as their standard in the late 1860’s following the end of the Civil War. Their main aim was to overthrow the United States government during the Reconstruction. Of course their methods included lynching African Americans and burning their churches to the ground- all in the name of calling for new southern revolution. These anti-governmental plots would surely land such folks on a government watch list today where they would be labeled domestic terrorists.
For those crying, “It’s our heritage:” I'm sorry friend but it’s just too late to take it back. One of the most emotionally charged symbols in any human language is the swastika- so much so, the image is banned in European countries today. The original Sanskrit meaning of this symbol was “well-being.” Of course, when Hitler adopted this as the logo of the Third Reich, it became associated with the attempted genocide of an entire race of people. You can't take the swastika back. Likewise,the Rebel Flag was adopted by the KKK of the 1860’s and 1920’s and flew high while crosses burned and families were murdered. The flag still blows in the southern winds which cross paths of protesters today in 2015. Most recently, on the State House steps of South Carolina protesters antagonized a crowd of black demonstrators with racial slurs and monkey sounds. The same racism powers the arm waving the flag today as it did yesterday. It’s the ultimate symbol racial terrorism. If the Rebel Flag really does serve as a symbol of Southern Heritage to you, I’m sorry. Everyone else before you and next to you today distorted this. You can’t take the flag back any more than you can the swastika. The damage is done, the precedent is set and when you fly the flag on the back of your truck, you terrorize, frighten and enrage an entire race of citizens. These same citizens have pledged their allegiance just as you have to stand under one flag- the American Flag.
We find ourselves buoyantly floating in a sea of irony around this issue. Many of the same folks who decry our first black President for “taking away their rights” at the same time relish in the freedom of flying a symbol of race hate on porches, on pick-up trucks, on street corners and on the steps of government buildings. If these demonstrators were immigrants waving ISIS flags claiming it was their Middle Eastern heritage, they would be rounded up and interrogated for plotting against the government. Whether you call it a Confederate Flag, a Battle Flag or a belt buckle- the Rebel Flag stands for the same anti-governmental values and even anti-religious values as a terror group such as ISIS does.
If you are flying a Rebel Flag today, I challenge you to find a better means of getting in touch with your roots. There are countless ways to represent and celebrate heritage which bridge community gaps rather than widen them.
About the Artwork
For my illustration, I drew from a few sources of imagery. The Confederate Soldier’s posture in his state of despair is from the movie Platoon. This stance was made iconic by actor Willem Defoe as his character was abandoned in the jungles of Vietnam by his own comrades to die in a blaze of friendly fire. Similarly the soldier in my illustration captures the feeling of Confederates being abandoned by their own and left to burn. During the Civil War, many atrocities befell the homes, buildings and lands of southerners. It took many years of reconstruction and government help to rebuild the wide-spread destruction.
The image of the segmented snake on the ground is borrowed from Benjamin Franklin’s political cartoon, Join or Die. The Founding Father illustrated this political statement with each segment of the snake representing a State in the Union. It was a cry for unity in the infancy of our country when so much of our future was uncertain.
Of course, the Rebel Flag burning above symbolizes letting go of our sordid history of violent race relations. Burning a flag is the only proper means of disposing it according to the United States Flag Code of 1976. Burning is an honorable means of retirement to our United States Flag. It is not meant with disrespect but as an honorable retirement.