Debate Forum: 06/30

Flag, you’re it!

The future of the Confederate banner

By Sarah Sidlow

There’s been a lot of talk these days about a certain flag. You know… red, white, blue, some stars, some stripes—that’s right, the Confederate banner. Apparently, it’s going down, and not just to half-staff.

The news—well, most of it anyway—comes straight out of South Carolina, where Gov. Nikki Haley announced last week she supports removing the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds. (That’s not enough to do the trick, though—it will still take a simple majority in the state legislature to change a current law requiring a two-thirds approval to remove the flag. Whew, you got that?)

This announcement comes on the heels of tragedy in the Palmetto State, still reeling from the shooting deaths of nine black victims inside South Carolina’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by 21-year-old white shooter Dylann Roof.

“For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble,” Haley said in her announcement. “Traditions of history, of heritage, and of ancestry. At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”

Haley’s announcement punctuates a national debate over the Confederate flag, which has been rekindled as the nation’s eyes have turned to South Carolina and its history of racial unease. To many, the Confederate flag represents racism and bigotry—the same message Roof, who has publicly claimed he was trying to declare a “race war,” apparently intended to send by positioning himself with the flag in pictures that have surfaced online.

Those who cry “take it down” see the flag as a symbol of painful oppression, much like the Nazi swastika, and believe the possible hurt the symbol could cause is enough to warrant its removal from the grounds of the state Capitol.

But to others, the flag stands for noble traditions and an ancestry unique to the southern United States. There are plenty of southerners who see the flag as nothing more than an emblem of regional pride, the same way someone from New England might proudly display a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.

Opponents of removing the flag say that taking it down is disrespectful to those whose heritage is wrapped up in it. Other opponents, including some lawmakers in South Carolina, claim this is a non-issue that doesn’t need to be discussed further. In fact, the Confederate flag has already been relocated once around the capital grounds. Until 2000, the battle flag flew over the Statehouse dome. In a compromise, legislators agreed to move the flag from the dome to a pole near the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the north side of the statehouse, just steps from Main Street in Columbia. (This compromise is also where the two-thirds vote requirement comes from.)

But the flag is being rolled up outside of South Carolina, as well. Just days before Haley’s announcement, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision by the state of Texas not to allow the Confederate flag to appear on state-issued custom license plates. This is not a free speech issue, the Court clarified, but an issue of government speech—what the state legislature chooses to endorse on government property. Private citizens are not barred in any way from displaying the Confederate flag in their homes, on their lawns or on their cars.

Wal-Mart, Amazon, eBay and Sears have all recently announced bans on the sale of Confederate flag merchandise. (Ironically, sales of three versions of the flag on Amazon were up 1,670-2,305 percent over a period of 24 hours, according to Amazon data.)

Mississippi’s state flag, which features the stars and bars, may also be in jeopardy, if a proposed resolution by Rep. Bennie Thompson, the only black member of Mississippi’s congretional delegation, moves forward. Even Alabama, the birth state of the Confederacy, lowered their flags by executive order.

Interestingly, the flag everyone seems to be fighting over was never the official banner of the whole South. What we call the Confederate flag today is simply a combination of several iterations—because the original design was so similar to the U.S. flag, it was confusing on the battlefield.

Reach DCP Editor Sarah Sidlow at

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Should the Confederate flag be removed from government institutions and properties?

Debate Left: A losing tradition

Response By Ben Tomkins

The kaleidoscopic carousel of nonsense Southerners ask us to buy a ticket for when they suggest that we don’t understand how the Confederate battle flag isn’t about racism is as patronizing as it is willfully ignorant. The thought processes and behaviors that are required for a human being with an otherwise reasonable, civilized moral compass to make such an argument reek of exactly the intellectual tradition I would expect from a people who spent 250 years convincing themselves slavery was merely a charming local custom, and another 150 pretending it still could be if Northerner liberals weren’t such rude roommates.

I’m not speaking from a position of ignorance. I’ve lived in South Carolina, and I’ve experienced first-hand the tradition of soporifically drawling out the superiority of southern hospitality. The origins of this are two-fold. First, it’s very easy to make sure every visitor gets a few finger sandwiches and a mint julep on a hot day when you don’t have to prepare them yourself, and second, the implicit request proffered by this pageantry is—if you would be so awfully kind, my dear sir—that you please refrain from drawing any frightfully disobliging conclusions and blissfully enjoy the goddamn sandwiches. All you need to know about the various arguments and justifications for continuing to fly the Confederate battle flag all over the South is the manner in which said arguments are forwarded. Either it begins with “it’s not about slavery, it’s (insert BS),” or “it’s a Southern thing (insert period and dismissive smile).” I’ve heard both with equal frequency, but these days the second goes over about as well as it would on any child asking why the sky is blue. We have the Internet, and there’s no such thing as a passing conversation any more.

The first is reducible to some variation of “it’s a symbol of states’ rights” or, alternatively, “it’s about Southern heritage.”

Allow me to dispel those myths.

It is a common Dairy Queen-esque coil of pseudo-intellectual poo for lawn chair historians to say that the Civil War started over the right to secede rather than slavery. This is correct only insofar as it is correct to say that the reason John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln was because he pulled the trigger. It answers the question by pretending not to understand what you were asking.

The reason the Civil War started is because slavery was injected into the Constitution as a compromise to get the South on board. It doesn’t take more than a five minute walk on a sweltering August day in Charleston to realize how easy it would be to rationalize enslaving an entire continent rather than standing in a field picking cotton all day, but that doesn’t exactly excuse it. As the conflict between the abolitionist and slave states grew, it became clear that the problem extended far deeper than arguing over the morality of the situation. Indeed, as time had passed, the justification for slavery was no longer a convenience of working conditions and socioeconomics, but the belief that the Negro was an inferior species and rightfully subservient to the white man.

This is not intellectual hubris on my part. One need only read a few lines of CSA Vice President Alexander Stephens’ Cornerstone Speech to learn all one needs to know. Here are some of the highlights:

“The prevailing ideas entertained by [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially.

“Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error.

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

In other words, it’s a Southern thing. As a matter of fact, the CSA constitution that was drafted shortly thereafter is almost a word-for-word reproduction of its northern contemporary but for the inclusion of tidbits like this:

Article IV (2) …the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired. and (3) the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress.

If anything, the CSA constitution actually added more restrictions to the states, not fewer.

The final racial insult in the matter of the Confederate flag is that white people have simply claimed the right to tell black people they shouldn’t be offended; they are slave masters of the mind. It’s sick, and to pretend that racists using the flag as a symbol is somehow a bastardization of everything it stands for is the biggest—er, second biggest—sandwich they’ve ever slid under our noses.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

Rewriting history lets racists win

Response By Rob Scott

In the wake of the horrific murders that recently took place in Charleston, South Carolina, a loud and growing chorus is calling for the removal of the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of the state capitol in South Carolina. The reasoning is that many feel the flag connotes racism and promotes hate against minorities, and specifically pushed the shooter in Charleston to commit the atrocious crime.

Going through school, in my history or social studies classes, teachers would always say the study of history is important so that we know our origins, remember from our successes and failures, and honor ultimate sacrifices.

Like most history, there truly are great successes and failures. There are parts of history with great leaders and horrific leaders. History throughout the ages is riddled with all of these aspects from the Roman Empire, Christian Crusades, the American Revolution and World Wars I and II.

In U.S. history, nothing symbolizes this more than the American Civil War, and the history that surrounds the era. The Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865 to determine the survival of the Union or independence for the Confederacy. Among the 34 states in January 1861, seven Southern slave states individually declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America.

The Confederacy, often simply called the South, grew to include 11 states, and although they claimed 13 states and additional western territories, the Confederacy was never diplomatically recognized by a foreign country. The states remained loyal and did not declare secession was known as the Union or the North.

The war had its origin in the fractious issue of slavery, especially the extension of slavery into the western territories. After four years of combat, which left over 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers dead and destroyed much of the South’s infrastructure, the Confederacy collapsed and slavery was abolished. 

The most prominent display of the Confederacy was their battle flag, which is the traditional stars and bars that is red, white, and blue. Many still display this flag on trucks, t-shirts and even tattoos.

Museums throughout America display the flag for historical purposes including Civil War reenactment routines. And, despite the recent outcry, several states display the flag as either part of their state flag or for historical purposes.

Ironically, the majority of the general public probably could not explain the flag’s relevance to U.S. history or the circumstances surrounding it. However, now, more than ever, there is a call to have the historical Southern flag removed from all public institutions and prevent its display.

Fundamentally, the alleged shooter who killed nine African Americans in the oldest African Methodist Church south of Baltimore, did not do so because of the Southern flag. One image from his Facebook page showed him wearing a jacket decorated with two emblems that are popular among American white supremacists: the flags of the former Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) and apartheid-era South Africa. The alleged shooter reportedly told friends and neighbors of his plans to kill people, including a plot to attack the College of Charleston, but his claims were not taken seriously. On June 20, a website that was registered to the alleged shooter called The Last Rhodesian ( was discovered. The website included what appeared to be an unsigned manifesto filled with alleged shooter’s racist diatribe about “Blacks,” “Jews,” “Hispanics” and “East Asians,” as well a cache of photos, including an image of Roof posing with a handgun and a Confederate battle flag.

Clearly the alleged shooter was disturbed and filled with hateful thoughts. His use of symbols was not only limited to U.S. History, but also expanded to those in the history of Africa.

The outcry to remove the Confederate battle flag from public institutions is wrong and impulsive. Ultimately, it makes those promoting hate win and lets them take martyr status.

The mere fact the battle flag has flown for all these years at our public institutions is an example of how far the U.S. has come. The battle flag is a symbol of a period in U.S. history when racism was high and slavery legal. Now, though racism is still around, it truly is not near the level rampant during the Civil War. Finally, the flag shows how far our nation has come from slavery and its abolition of it.

Though I’m not a fan of President Barack Obama’s policies and politics, I do acknowledge the U.S. electing him the nation’s first African-American president as a true turning point in American racial history.

By removing the Confederate battle flag, we our clearly erasing our history needed to remind all Americans that great sacrifice was made to overcome an evil practice in our country. By allowing a symbol of our history be condemned and erased is a destruction of liberty.

As political philosopher Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 

Rob Scott is a general practice attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is a Kettering City Councilman, founder of the Dayton Tea Party, member of the Dayton Masonic Lodge and Kettering Rotary. He can be contacted at or

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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