Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Swastika or Confederate flag: which is worse?

Not long ago some doof got nailed by the justice system for showing up at a court hearing in a Nazi uniform. You wear the Nazi uniform, you put on a swastika, and you’re going to get hammered.

But in a few weeks people will be dressing up in Confederate uniforms and waving the Confederate flag at Gettysburg, and everybody thinks it’s just a quaint hobby, like stamp collecting.

So why don’t we see the Confederates and the Nazis on the same moral plane? Why do we sell Confederate battle flags at the mall, hang them from houses (and trailers), hang them from the gun racks in trucks, put the flag on bikinis, coffee mugs, shirts, bumper stickers, belt buckles, sunglasses, shower curtains, bandannas, wallets, knives, ties, hats, blankets, dinner plates, iPhone cases, jewelry, whole stores devoted to selling CSA flag swag -- while a Nazi flag can essentially end your social life forever? Ever see swastika merchandising anywhere?

Slave owners who flew that Confederate flag in the 19th century established a record of behavior and treatment that was morally indistinguishable from that of Hitler, treating an entire class of people as rubbish to be consumed and discarded at the pleasure of other human beings. Sending hundreds of sailing ships on a dangerous trip across the ocean, so that slavers could enter the African jungles and towns for the specific purpose of kidnapping twelve million innocent people and destroying their lives. Mistreating them so egregiously aboard ship that more than a million slaves died even before reaching shore. Leaving behind a legacy of economic devastation and broken families in Africa.

And on the Atlantic shores, establishing a written doctrine that slaves should be given harsh discipline, made to feel inferior, made to live in fear, and kept uneducated, helpless and dependent. The constant threat of violence as the only tool that could impel slaves to perform hard labor for long hours. Punishing slaves by castration, shackling, hanging, cutting out eyes and tongues; decapitation, cutting off ears, slitting noses, knocking out teeth, beating, scalding, flaying, amputation, burning, branding and imprisonment. Whipping slaves frequently, and sometimes rubbing turpentine, gravel and pepper in their wounds. Punishment with guns, knives, sticks, dogs and farm tools. Punishment by putting spiked collars and bells on slave’s necks for months. Performing medical experiments on slaves. Depriving slaves of food and doctors. Forcing such long work days of hard labor that finally Maryland imposed a limit of 15 hours per day.

Needless to say this was all supported by the obsessive efforts of government and the force of law, just like Nazi Germany: laws banning the education of slaves and imposing up to 39 lashes for a slave learning to read; punishing slave owners for not punishing runaways; laws treating slaves as legal nonpersons except when they committed crimes; denying slaves a jury trial; and rarely enforcing laws protecting slaves. Virginia codes banned slaves from self-defense even when attacked; arguably the worst of all were the Carolina codes forbidding slaves to leave their plantation, imposing the death penalty for runaways, searching slave quarters for contraband, banning slaves from planting their own food or wearing decent clothes, banning slaves from working as clerks, and restricting the freeing of slaves.

The worst impact fell upon women and families: enthusiastically sending white men into rape black women, while castrating or executing black men who had sex with white women; killing the women who resist rape; rape for stock-breeding purposes; girls sold into prostitution; breaking up families for profit or punishment; punishment of black men by raping or selling their wives while they watched; selling the black sons of white fathers into slavery; and the rape of male slaves by male masters, which is ironic since the sons of these masters now hate gays with a passion.

Under this system, millions were killed, maimed, whipped, imprisoned, raped, worked to death, separated from their spouses and children, prostituted. Not for ten years like Hitler, but for two hundred years. Entire generations destroyed; all connections to their home culture suppressed.

Another 600,000 died in the war to end slavery, and hundreds of thousands more were wounded, maimed, unable to work or support their families – after the war, the leading industry in the state of Mississippi was the manufacture of artificial limbs. An entire generation, black and white, devastated. An entire nation impoverished. Southern men with blood on their hands.

Some folks just don’t want to remember what that flag really means. Or they want to deny it.

Have they even learned their lesson? At least today’s Germans have the good manners to hang their heads in shame whenever their Nazi past is mentioned. But southerners?

 “SOUTHERN PRIDE! That war had nothing to do with slaves – we were defending our rights! And we’re gonna keep flying that flag too, just so those colored folks know how we still really feel!”

And they really do feel that way. They insist on flying the Confederate flag over the state capitol in South Carolina, 150 years after the Confederacy ceased to exist. Four states incorporate all or part of the Confederate flags in their state flags: a Mississippi referendum on keeping the Confederate part of their state flag passed two to one – and since the state is only 59 percent white, that essentially means that the pro-flag vote among white people was unanimous. The Georgia governor who wanted to shrink the size of the Confederate part of the state flag – not to get rid of it, but just to shrink it -- was thrown out of office. Five states passed laws making it illegal to desecrate or even show contempt toward the Confederate flag. Eleven states allow drivers to get Confederate flags put on their license plates. The United Daughters of the Confederacy even wrote a pledge to the Confederate flag, just like the pledge to the American flag – 150 years after the war, they still pledge allegiance to the Confederate dream, while still claiming they are loyal to the United States. These people are hell-bent on never letting go of the dream. Clinging bitterly to it.

They clearly haven’t learned their lesson – their hate for blacks burns as hot as ever, a century and a half later, and it has expanded to include Mexicans, gays, Muslims, northerners, liberals, women who don’t know their place, and anyone who questions their outlook on life. They wish they could go back in time and fight the war over again – they wish their “way of life” reigned supreme again. And now they want their fear, hate and intolerance to dominate national policy – gays, abortion, criminal justice, drug laws, programs for the poor, immigration....

These people can rejoin civilization, on the day when they look back on the 19th century with shame, not with pride. Until that day…no. 

Northerners don’t do stuff like this. Northerners essentially ignore the civil war, with the exception of a few uniform-fetishist reenactors. Northerners also played a central role in helping to win a much more recent conflict, World War II, but they don’t go parading around in battle helmets dressed like Patton’s tank drivers, singing the Marseillaise. They know that war is long over too. But for southerners, the civil war is never over. The battle is still raging on. With their tiny crazed minority, they still seek to impose their will, their policies, and their “values” on the whole country.

So why don’t we treat these flag-toting rednecks with the same contempt we give to the whackaloons who wish Hitler had won the war? Why are the Nuremburg laws against the Jews different from the Carolina codes against the slaves? Were these people morally superior to the Nazis, simply because Hitler managed to ruin more lives more quickly, by being more efficient and systematic with modern technology? Do the Confederates get a free pass because they kept their slaves alive only so long as they could extract every last ounce of labor out of their bodies, instead of gassing them the minute they got their hands on them? Are they superior to Hitler because they only managed to murder two or three million, instead of six million? Do they get a mulligan because today they pretend to believe in America and freedom and equality?

PS that Confederate flag they sell at the store, isn’t even the real Confederate flag. It’s the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee, which got their asses kicked in every campaign they fought. It was also used for a while by the Confederate Navy, a ragtag nautical embarrassment that achieved little other than wasting Jeff Davis’ money.

No comments: