Confederate is defined first as “joined by agreement or treaty.” The synonyms include: cooperating, combined, and united. Flag is defined as “a piece of cloth or similar material, typically oblong or square, attachable by one edge to a pole or rope and used as the symbol or emblem of a country or institution or as a decoration during public festivities.” Therein synonyms include: banner, standard, and streamer. Both seem harmless enough. In fact, one might argue that they have a bias towards the positive. How can a cooperative streamer lead to violence?
But like much of the human condition, the whole is far greater (and much different) than the sum of its parts. Through what has been a largely civil reframing of the Confederate Flag – more accurately known as The Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia – has been repositioned in our collective understanding. What represented to some the violent oppression of fellow humans by the immoral institution of slavery to others suggested dogged independence and self-reliance. Several states continued to employ the flag and many memorials were dedicated to it.
Whether you call the war between the states a quelling of rebellion or the “war of Northern aggression,” the battle is over and all can predict the silencing of the symbol – the flag is retiring into the ash heap of history. Most say it is time. Yet, why do we imbue so much in these wispy shreds of fabric? Can a bit of cloth just be a bit of cloth?
Symbols are powerful. Television and other advertisements for upcoming political decisions, bombard us with them. Candidates wrap themselves in flags to show patriotism or sniff stinky shoes to show, one can guess, solidarity with the common stinky-footed man. But, who owns these symbols. And, who gets to decide their meaning?