Flags are important to a national identity; they are seen as embodying the heart and soul of the nation. This is why right-wingers get worked up into knots about the American flag, and when someone flies a different flag — say, the Mexican flag — on American soil. And it’s why they declare people who remove those flags heroes.
They’re like this about every foreign national flag except for one: the Confederate flag.
Make no mistake about this: the Confederate flag is a flag that represents a foreign, non-American power. This is a foreign power that went war directly with the United States; unlike Mexico, for its entire existence, however short, the Confederate States of America was an entity hostile to the United States. It was the enemy.
The only reason they make this exception is because the bulk of Confederates were white Southerners — and that’s where the racism starts with this flag, not where it ends.
Of course, I can hear the protests now: liberals don’t mind the Mexican flag, so who are you to criticize the Confederate flag?
Ignoring the fact that it side-steps the right’s hypocrisy on the matter, it would be a legitimate criticism — providing the Confederate flag and the Mexican flag stood for the same thing. They don’t; and as much as conservatives hate to hear it, to find the nearest analog to what the Confederate States of America represented, you have to go back to the 1930s.
There is a reason the Stars and Bars are called the American Swastika.
There are few direct parallels with the Confederacy and the Third Reich. Both were Christian entities, or used Christianity to justify their crimes against humanity. Hitler’s rise to power didn’t include seceding from Weinmar Germany. The South, being a backwards, agrarian region, lacked the technological advancement of the Nazis. That said, they also lacked Hitler, which didn’t hurt.
The most salient parallel, however, is that both committed widespread crimes against humanity.
Nazi Germany, of course, orchestrated the Holocaust. But something that we don’t hear about all that much is that the Nazis used slave labor. For instance, one of the architects of the Third Reich, Siemens, made widespread use of “forced labor” — that is, slaves. Siemens was far from alone; most companies associated with the Third Reich, like Volkswagen, made use of “forced labor.”
Nazi Germany did not consider these slaves to be fully human — in fact, they didn’t consider them to be human at all.
And then there’s the medical research — or, rather, “medical” “research” — done on these slaves.
One would find almost the same exact thing in the Antebellum South. Slavery was so widespread and important that the Confederacy felt it necessary to include the rights to own slaves in its Constitution. The Civil War wasn’t a battle for some abstract notion of “state’s rights” — unless you suffix that with “to own slaves.”
Likewise, slave owners preformed medical experiments of their own on black slaves. There is a whole history of unethical medical experiments being preformed on African-Americans; Todd Savitt, a medical historian at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, noted, “Medicine is an integral part of the story of slavery.” According to Savitt, these horrifying medical abuses were “systematic.”
This is your heritage? This is the hill you’re dying on? There’s no honor in attaching tumors to a person’s head; no more than there is injecting dyes into the eye of Jewish or Roma twins to change their color.
But the South didn’t have the mechanized death camps that the Nazis had, you may argue: this is true to a fault. You’re a fool if you think they didn’t kill slaves simply because they were slaves. If this is the best argument you’ve got, I want nothing to do with your race to the bottom. I want to celebrate something more worthwhile than, “Well, at least we didn’t have mechanized death camps.”
But the American Flag, you may contest — Old Glory has seen some horrible things. That’s true. The United States flag flew over Wounded Knee, it flew over Manifest Destiny, and it flew over the bombing of civilians during World War I and II. It flew over the same halls of power that backed anti-Communist dictators like Pinochet, Franco, and Saddam, all of whom carried out unspeakable atrocities on their populations.
Hell, it’s right there in the United States Constitution — slaves count as 3/5ths of a person.
So why give the American flag a pass?
Maybe it’s just me being hopelessly optimistic, but I like to think that, unlike the Confederacy, the United States was built on the capability to change. That’s what the Bill of Rights is for. The Constitution is a living document; just because of how it was in the past doesn’t mean that’s how it has to be in the future.
I want to think that the United States can change and work to repair the damage that it caused, in the process engendering a better future.
But it won’t so long as the unbending specter of the Confederacy continues to demand our attention and dictate our policies. Because unlike the United States, the Confederacy has never changed.
And I say this in full confidence, because it’s had 200 some years and it still hasn’t moved. It’s still about white power. It’s still about slavery and historic abuse of minorities. It’s still about a fantasy world that never existed.
It stands for all three of those things, just like the Swastika does.