By Scott Robertson
I’m pained by the arguments from both sides in the Confederate Battle Flag flap going on right now. Liberals seem to think they have the right to police ideology. That notion poses a greater threat to liberty than any argument put forth by the “hillbillies and rednecks” the liberals demonize. Yet flag-bearers appear to think they know all the history and that everybody who stands against their ideology is either corrupt or ignorant.
Let’s look at how this recent “debate” got started. A demented white man with a gun killed several black people in South Carolina. Generally the reaction to multiple homicides in the U.S. is for the left to demand tough new gun laws, which do not pass. But with both houses of Congress under GOP control, the likelihood of new gun laws even being brought to the floor for a vote is virtually nil.
Still, the liberals can’t afford to appear impotent at a time when emotions are running high, so what do they attack?
They can’t change the hearts and minds of people who equate guns with liberty, so they charge a more vulnerable hill, a symbol that hasn’t been relevant to most Americans for more than 100 years.
Oh it matters in the Deep South, and for some ‘round these parts it matters too. But for the vast majority of Americans north and west of Tennessee, it’s a relic that very few people would miss.
So for liberals, it must have seemed an easy target.
But does removing that flag from public use do a single, solitary thing to dissuade racists like the killer in South Carolina from rallying ‘round it?
The liberals say it’s indecent to let it continue flying. So let the individual governments flying it decide, and let the voters respond.
But an en masse attack on that flag won’t take the standard of General Robert E. Lee’s old outfit away from racists. If anything, such an attack will sanctify it. The liberals won’t have killed it. They’ll have martyred it.
Now, as for those who have started flying the flag in the backs of their pick-up trucks or at their homes since this started, let’s be clear about one thing. Regardless of your heritage, it is wrong for one race to enslave another. I hope we can all agree on that, regardless of anything else.
I understand that, to you, that flag may have little or nothing to do with slavery. It may represent the memory of an ancestor’s valiant service to the ideals he loved. It may represent a political movement in which states tried to take back control of their own destinies from a tyrannical federal government. It may represent freedom. Frankly, it may represent as many things as there are people who fly it.
But that flag was flown by units of the army of a nation that held slavery as central to its survival. Mississippi, in justifying its secession, said, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.”
So the Confederacy saw slavery as the issue thoroughly identified with its position, and we all agree slavery is wrong. If you can’t see how the descendants of slaves (and many, many other people) take that one step further and say, “flying that flag is saying you identify with a Confederacy that fought for the institution of slavery ¬– which makes you wrong,” then I can’t help you.
But here’s where I’ll stand in lock-step with you anyway. As an American, you have the right to fly that flag.
Even though that flag stands for a Confederacy that declared war on the very country that has always allowed you the freedom to fly it, you have every right to do so. Freedom of speech must apply to all, even those whose speech the majority finds wrong, or it is a false freedom.
By that same token, though, if you fly that flag, you must realize that everyone who disagrees with you has the right to call you whatever names they care to, and you have to be big enough to take it.
Finally, you should understand that Johnson City as we know it would not be here if the citizens of Northeast Tennessee had aligned themselves with the Confederacy, instead of being sympathizers to the United States, as they predominantly were.
At the turn of the 20th century, Northeast Tennessee’s economy was entering a decline. The economic downturn of 1893 had scuttled grand plans for the region to become “the Pittsburgh of the South.” Iron production in the region was beginning to decline, and Johnson City’s Cranberry Foundry would never make the transition from pig iron to steel.
But Representative Walter Brownlow convinced Congress to abandon its plans to stop building veterans’ hospitals for Civil War era union soldiers and instead build one more in Johnson City. Brownlow argued that since Northeast Tennessee provided 30,000 soldiers to the United States Army during the Civil War, the U.S. should take care of its veterans here.
Congress was swayed and in 1903, the Mountain Home Branch of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers opened. As 19th century industries faded in the next few decades, that hospital became an economic driver. Without it, other key economic catalysts, such as East Tennessee State University, would never have developed here.
So when you fly that flag, know you’re going against 30,000 East Tennessee American soldiers who made the community you live in possible.
All I’m saying is, maybe just because you have the right to fly that flag doesn’t mean you should. But since the South lost the war, this is still America. So it’s your call.