There are plenty of flags the world could be flying, if it wanted to cling to Lost Causes and rally ’round “heritage”. I can only really speak to one:
(Because I’m sorry, I’m not going to display the flag of the Third Reich even to make a point. You can go see it for yourself, or imagine: Gules, on a plate a swastika sable.)
Germany also had a war over “economic causes” that were really an excuse to subjugate and, in our case, murder anyone whose face didn’t fit. Let’s not beat around the bush here. I’m from the place; I ought to be able to say by now what we did. As many black people as the South took as slaves, that’s how many we managed to exploit, then kill for some reason or another, in a far shorter period of time.
The thing is that we got better.
The world brought us to heel for our crimes against humanity. We never forgot: how could we? The scars were everywhere. The Soviets kept my grandfather until about 1950, and my grandparents were thus not wed until 1951. Here, I’ll give you that photo.
My little city took its share of bombing. My grandfather helped rebuild it. But he never would speak of the war to anyone but my father, who had seen war himself. His inner world was so far inside that to access it was a veritable Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
Even those whose families were, by and large, bystanders understand that they were lucky to have that option. You couldn’t be a bystander if you were a Jew. To this day I wonder how my little grandmother escaped scrutiny:
And I’d guess that my deaf great-aunt was sheltered by those nuns, though her condition was not congenital but induced by a childhood illness.*
Nobody with decent intentions displays the flag of those killers anymore. I never tire of hearing about the town that pranked its Neo-Nazis into donating to an anti-fascist charity. Wunsiedel, I salute you. And not with my right hand.
We don’t cling to any Lost Cause because we know the price that was paid, and no pride can be worth so many lives. We don’t care about Aryan heritage. “Never forget” — indeed, never forget what those who lose sight of basic humanity can do to one another, never forget that it’s best to leave a legacy of kindness, not hate. Never forget, grandchildren, that you will be the bridge between those who knew the witnesses and those who will never meet them.
It is precisely because of my heritage that I look with disdain upon those who cling to the Confederacy, as if proceeding to wage war for the sake of “states’ rights” (to… what?) were anything to treasure in one’s heart. Set brother against brother and you had better come up with a very good reason why you did it.** Endorse the systematic dehumanisation of a group because their faces do not fit and I will judge you as harshly as I judge my own forebears — and I include them all because it is too convenient to disown the Nazis in the lot.
Romanticise this history to the point of flying the old battle flag, choose to fail to learn how to treat your designated Others as human, choose to blame everyone but yourselves for what you have wrought? You are deluding yourselves if you believe you are any better than any of the white supremacists who claim your lands as safe harbor. The South will never rise again in the way the Confederacy intended. It should never aspire to do so.
Have you not shame enough to teach your children what mistakes you made in pursuit of the ownership of people? Can you not now reach out, you who whistle Dixie, and remember that you are no better and no worse than that person who mourns a fallen sibling/spouse/parent/child?
And if you have not enough shame, can you at least ask your state not to foist your views on the rest of the populace through its symbolism?
Taking down flags is a start. It’s not a solution. It won’t change anyone’s hearts or minds. But it’s an acknowledgement that those flags, and those symbols, are slaps in the face to people you persecuted well after you should have been brought to justice, the way my people were brought to justice and all those who allied with them besides.
I should not have to pull out the most extreme example to make my point. Unfortunately, with the number of Americans blathering on about pride and heritage and such, I cannot help but be reminded of my own history, and how pride and heritage wrought such destruction. Such unnecessary, unfathomable destruction.
How in this country, we still wreak that havoc — but somehow that’s okay.
* VACCINATE YOUR KIDS
** I make jokes about New York joining up with Canada in protest, or petitioning the UK to take us back, but it’s never a violent uprising, and usually I make these jokes when I sense that people are being failed utterly on basic rights.