By Steven Semmel ’16
The world of social media has been buzzing over the topic of the Confederate flag, creating a scary divide of opinions over it. The whole debate/argument started over the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooter had the Confederate flag posted all over his social media sites, creating some disturbing images of hatred. Instead of focusing on the race war the shooter was trying to start, many focused on the Confederate Flag he had in his pictures online. Tempers flared and many sought the removal of the Confederate flag from in front of the Capital Building in Charleston during the funerals of the victims.
However, this was just the beginning. Soon many people wanted more, to remove the flag all across the country. Apple, Amazon, eBay, and Walmart joined the event by removing Confederate flag items from being sold. The announcement made many people feel that their “Southern Heritage” was being suppressed and people were “too soft and offended by too many things in today’s society.” Then the Gettysburg National Park Service announced the removal of sole Confederate flag merchandise from their book store. The same people now thought that the government was trying to oppress the Southern perspective of the Civil War and were going to remove Confederate flags from all museums. The people for the removal thought it was about time that the flag was removed because it stood for slavery and a national divide. They also brought in the argument that Germany banned the Nazi flag from flying, so why was the Confederate flag still flying to this day. But what does this flag mean and what is the appropriate way to respond to this debate?
An individual with a background in the Civil War was probably ripping his/her hair out watching some of the arguments their friends on Facebook make for/against the flag being removed. My hometown is in a back-woods area in Pennsylvania where the Confederate flag flies around and is worn because many associate it with being a symbol of being a rebel and the “country life style” stereotype. I live in the town of Gettysburg this summer and have witnessed many tourists arguing over what is the right thing to do. When I was walking down Steinwehr Avenue this weekend, I still saw the different versions of the Confederate flags flying from the stores. They were still selling Confederate flag items as well. I had a couple friends ask me this past week what my thoughts were since I have a decent knowledge of the Civil War. I told them that they can look at it in a couple different ways but ultimately, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to look and deal with this conflict.
The appropriate way to deal with this debate is to understand what the flag actually stands for to different groups of people, and not to take destructive action in spite of the decisions being made. The Confederate Flag stands for a belligerent nation made up of Southern states that were protecting the institution of slavery. The tricky part comes in with the “States’ Rights” issue. States’ Rights during the Civil War Era still meant slavery, no matter what way you look at it. The Lost Cause has morphed the idea of States’ Rights into this ugly mess of the war not being about slavery. Instead it focused on the idea that the North oppressed the Southern way of life and the South left to stop this oppression. There are other arguments of what the South stood for, but it all comes back to slavery. Many in favor of the Union and the African American community have been fighting to remove the Confederate flag from government locations for a long time. This flag should not belong in front of government buildings because they are a part of the United States, not the Confederacy. The flag is definitely offensive to the African American community because of their ancestor’s experiences being enslaved. The Reenacting community is also very split on the debate, but many of them believe that they should still use the flag for historical purposes. The unfortunate part of this entire debate is the extreme and immature actions of those on both sides.
There have been reports of vandalizing Southern monuments immediately after the shootings, most saying “Black Lives Matter.” However, Northern locations/monuments were also vandalized this past week, even some on the Gettysburg battlefield. Sach’s bridge was vandalized last week in the heat of the debate and left a beautiful place marked with profanity on the bricks of the bridge. No matter what the monument or location represents, the criminal act of vandalism should not be taken to make a point. The opinions to remove the monument or relocate can be asked for by the local community but it does not need to be spray painted on. South Carolina ultimately listened to the citizens and removed the flag to not create a distraction. There were even extreme cases of moving the body of Nathan Bedford Forrest from its current location. Every action you take will created repercussions in some way when you make it publicly. Be aware that people will get angry if you post or do something against their beliefs.
The Confederate Flag debate brought out ugly arguments that ripped friends a part and created a bigger divide over the Civil War discussions, ironically a little over 150 years after the end of the Civil War. The Civil War should be remembered from both perspectives because men from both sides died for the creation of what this country is today. The way that the Confederate flag is being used today does not reflect the way it should be used. The flag should be used in historical context, not in the country stereotype and flow to show that you are a Rebel. Government locations should not fly the Confederate flag on the premises but have them behind display cases if the location covers the Civil War era. I leave you with this, please watch what you post on social media, it can create something bigger than you expect.