Remember this solemn parole of honor?
The official surrender document of Lee’s troops to the Union Army, signed at the Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865:
We, the undersigned Prisoners of War, belonging to the Army of Northern Virginia, having been this day surrendered by General Robert E. Lee, CSA, Commanding said Army, to Lieut. Genl. U. S. Grant, Commanding Armies of United States, do hereby give our solemn parole of honor that we will not hereafter serve in the armies of the Confederate States, or in any military capacity whatever, against the United States of America, or render said to the enemies of the latter, until property exchanged, in such manner as shall be mutually approved by the respective authorities.
Done at Appomattox Court House, Va., this 9th day of April, 1865.
Translated into modern English, that says that the goddamned rebellion is over. You don’t serve in the Confederate armies; you don’t render service to the enemies of the United States of America, and you sure as shit don’t fly the banner of Robert E. Lee.
On your honor.
And if honor doesn’t mean anything to you, consider that General Lee advised his troops that “valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that would have attended the continuance of the contest.”
The victims in Charleston are just the latest losses that have attended the continuance of the contest. How many other victims have there been?
Do you know how small you look when you retail shop for Confederate merchandise?
Walmart.com currently carries the Confederate flag as well as attire featuring the flag’s design, such as T-shirts and belt buckles.
“We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer. We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the confederate flag from our assortment — whether in our stores or on our web site,” said Walmart spokesman Brian Nick. “We have a process in place to help lead us to the right decisions when it comes to the merchandise we sell. Still, at times, items make their way into our assortment improperly — this is one of those instances.”
When you meet an ambulatory belt buckle, you’ll be the first person to discover an “item” that can make its own way onto the shelves of Walmart or into your shopping cart. Blaming t-shirts for acting improperly is pretty sad, as is any “process in place” that profits off the dishonor of continuing a contest that can accomplish nothing that could compensate us for the damage.
But the focus on the Confederate Flag can have an unfortunate side effect. What, after all, does that flag mean when it doesn’t simply mean white supremacy?
It’s meaning in those cases in nearly identical to the meaning of the modern conservative movement. It’s about disunion, and hostility to the federal government, and state’s rights. It’s anti-East Coast Establishment and anti-immigrant. It’s about an idealized and false past and preserving outworn and intolerant ideas. It’s about a perverse version of a highly provincial and particularized version of (predominantly) Protestant Christianity that has evolved to serve the interests of power elites in the South. It’s about an aggrieved sense of false persecution where white men are playing on the hardest difficulty setting rather than the easiest, and white Christians are as threatened as black Muslims and gays and Jews.
“Those blacks are raping our women and they have to go.”
That’s what the Confederate Flag is all about, but it’s also the basic message of Fox News and the whole Republican Party since the moment that Richard Nixon promised us law and order.
But it’s not black people who have to go.
It’s this whole Last Cause bullshit mentality that fuels our nation’s politics and lines the pockets of Ted Cruz just as surely as it has been lining the pockets of Walmart executives.
Today, maybe the governor down there had an epiphany. Maybe this massacre was the last straw. But, tomorrow, we’ll all be right back where we began with Congress acting like an occupying Confederate Army.
If we solve a symbolic problem and leave the rest untouched, then what will really change?
You can’t bury the Confederate Flag without, at the same time, burying the Conservative Movement.
Let’s get on with it.