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Define Why the Battle Flag Flies - December 16, 1996

Richard Brian McCarty

On a cloudy morning this week, I visited the cemetery for the unknown confederate dead in Montgomery, Alabama. As I stood looking at the confederate battle flag whipping in the wind over the graves, the Ku Klux Klan did not cross my mind. Martin Luther King's brave stands for civil rights did not cross my mind. My mind was filled with images of the lives of men who still lie unknown but to themselves, God, and the family and friends who missed them.

Those men, and the majority of others who fought for the Confederacy, were poor and simple men whose ordinary lives were interrupted by war. They were poor farmers and laborers, with families to support and defend. They owned no slaves, and lived little better than most slaves. When they were told to go fight by their government, they went. And, in their minds, they probably were not fighting for slavery, or for the Southern cause of states rights. No, they were fighting for something far more simple. They went to war to defend their homes and their families and friends.

Their sacrifice in defense of their homes is not unlike any war veteran's throughout history. But, in a losing war, if they returned home, they returned home to a harder life than they had. And, if they did not, they left widows and orphans without pensions to make their way through life. Thus, generations of Southerners were left to recover after losing everything the previous generations had worked for.

The battle flags those men fought and died under deserve to be flown and shown to honor them and to remember the fight they made in defense of their families. And, they should be flown to honor those families who had to go on without them. There is no more fitting a tribute than to honor a soldier with the flag he went into battle with.

But, unfortunately, in the South, and outside of it, the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee, which has become the Confederate battle flag of reference for modern America, has become a symbol without definition. And, as such, every group with a political agenda, from the Ku Klux Klan to the NAACP has come to define the flag in their own way for their own agenda. By not giving the flag a definition, we, especially in the South, have dishonored the confederate veterans' memories. We should be ashamed we have not had the courage to define the battle flag and take it away from the political interest groups to define.

In South Carolina, the Confederate battle flag flies over the state capital in a vacuum, as it does in any place in the South. Protestors come to the capital to define it. Businesses make up their own opinions about it, and choose to not come to South Carolina in some instances. The only way to ever stop that is for politicians in Columbia, and throughout the South to stand up and take the flag back and define it.

Governor David Beasley, along with Lt. Governor Robert Peeler, of South Carolina, have stood up for the Confederate veterans' honor in their support of the Heritage Act in the South Carolina General Assembly. The act, as I understand it, will define the Confederate battle flag once and for all as a symbol of honor for the men who fought for the confederacy, and for their families. Though it does remove the flag from the top of the state capital, it does define the flag's place in society atop the Confederate Memorial on the South Carolina capital grounds.

Governor Beasley faces an uphill climb in passing the Heritage Act, but it is the right thing to do. If members of the South Carolina legislature truly honor the confederate veterans, then they will act with the courage of the Confederacy and take the flag from the political interest groups with an official definition. And, in doing so, I believe, they will begin a process that will define the battle flag throughout the nation.

We will see in the coming months what stuff the South Carolina General Assembly is made of. Will they be men and women who allow the racist groups and liberal groups to maintain their hold on the flag's definition, or will they stand up for those boys buried all over the South by giving them their flag back?

For almost the entire twentieth century, the battle flag has been defined for political purposes. During that time, the honor of those men long since past has demanded it be taken back. I felt it standing there in Montgomery, picturing the crying widows, the painful winces of death, and the horrors of war. Those men, each with their own story and tragic death, along with thousands of others, leave the politics of hate and of liberalism in a pale shadow. The honor of those men should be restored before the next century. So, now is the time for us to define why the battle flag flies.

Richard Brian McCarty has worked on several political campaigns of conservatives. He holds a Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina and a BS degree from Lander University. An experienced writer, McCarty's columns are written from a distinctly Southern point of view. He is sometimes Southern, sometimes conservative, sometimes humorous, and sometimes all three.

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