Flags of Some of Our Fathers, Part 1: Ideas Don’t Die Easy

By Matt LaRoche ’17

I lied in the title. Ideas don’t die. Period. Once thought, they stay thought, failing the death of the species. However, that’s not to say that they stay recognizable, as time and circumstance make use of them in unforeseeable ways. And that is not to say that symbols are not co-opted and recycled with regularity. However, it is to say that no generation can allow a lack of foresight, or the complacency of memory, to allow such ideas and symbols to go un-scrutinized.

The so-called Rebel Flag. Wikimedia Commons.
The so-called Rebel Flag. Wikimedia Commons.

What am I on about? I would say that, for Americans, no ideas could afford to go unexamined more than the ill-defined ones that fall under the notion of “Confederacy.” I cannot say that, however, because these ideas are global, and even our familiar symbols—the flags that hold sway over some of our hearts as attractive faces of a positive good or a personal, emotional history—are no longer ours. They belong to the world and to the ages. Thus, it is everyone’s urgent responsibility to call to attention and scrutinize ideas—and their hallmarks—that do not reflect our modern conceptions of morality or sensibility, or that simply don’t make sense.

As always, the burden of proof is on me to explain why any of what I’m saying matters—why all that was ever dangerous or irresponsible about the Confederacy is not dead and buried. I offer this:

At this moment, the “Free-Dixie Project” is raising funds to purchase and terra-form a number of Pacific atolls into larger, fully habitable islands—they want to “[purchase] a chain of Pacific atolls that can be terra-formed into 3-4 man-made islands that are between 20 and 30 square miles in size. These new islands will be purchased legally from existing Pacific Island nations that have no use for the atolls, or from European Empires that waste millions of dollars a year by sending out naval vessels to check on the atolls. In the even[t] the FDP can’t purchase its first main island, it will instead seize an abandoned one and worry about the consequences later.” This sort of response is not typical, but it is also not unique. Clearly, there are more than a few people who feel as if to live in the South is to live under “Yankee occupation,” even if they do not advocate a Pan-Pacific Re-Secession. Certainly enough to warrant a newsletter, and enough to give Tony Horwitz Confederates in the Attic.

This would be comical if not for the extent to which the FDP has planned its operations out, and the fact that this “massive triangle that will start just South of Hawaii, stretch South to a few miles north of Antarctica, and then jut Northeast to the warm waters of the Pacific just a few thousand miles off the shore of Mexico,” bound by “the bonds of the Confederacy,” aims to “restore the Confederate States Government and the freedom of Confederates living in occupied Dixie in our lifetime by creating a series of island nations in the Central and Southern Pacific Ocean where our people can live in exile and in peace and work peacefully towards the liberation of the 12 occupied Confederate States and the Republic of Texas from Federal control.”

Whatever the merits of the ideologies that would be enshrined in the resurrected Confederate States of America—whatever one thinks of the FDP—one cannot escape the fact that the Civil War is clearly not over for some. Battle lines are still being toed, and some are still gathering to a flag that some of our forefathers followed long ago. In the following series of posts, I aim to report some of the less familiar history of the lingering Confederate flag and cause, in the hope of furthering conversation. Hopefully, this post has raised awareness and interest in the flag, which clearly has yet to be furled for the last time. Hopefully, even without turning to the mountains of scholarship and observation, from McPherson to W. E. B. Du Bois, that show how many loose ends still have yet to be tied up, it is obvious that the Confederacy of yesteryear is still alive and kicking in many hearts—and perhaps is coming soon to a Pacific island near you.

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