Two hundred people butchered … my mother was cut by a saber from her privates to her neck. My sisters were just babies, and they had their heads bashed in with boot heels so the army could save bullets."
— Chavez Y Chavez, Lou Diamond Phillips’ character in "Young Guns."
Hollywood fiction? Far from it. It was, in fact, a recounting of the massacre at Sand Creek, where Native Americans were butchered by United States soldiers — soldiers who were flying the American flag.
Despite that, and numerous other atrocities against Indians, the American flag still flies.
The prisons were located in scorching deserts, bitter cold plains, and malaria-ridden swamps. Conditions were deplorable, with 25 inmates crammed into spaces designed for four. Unsanitary facilities led to food poisoning and dysentery, and medical care was woefully inadequate. Thousands died. But this was war, and these prisoners had to be incarcerated! Their crime? They were of Japanese ethnicity, a whopping 62 percent of whom were American citizens. And during America’s internment of its own citizens during World War II, the Stars and Stripes flew proudly over every relocation camp.
To their credit, the Japanese-Americans persevered, with many successfully rebuilding their lives. But you don’t hear them, or their ancestors, calling for the banning of the American flag.
These are but two examples of injustices where America was on the wrong side of history. But the flag still flies, and rightly so. While many have ample reason to view that flag with hatred, most look at it as the symbol of a nation that tries to right its mistakes while preserving its past, both the good and bad, so that we can learn from history.
From that perspective, it seems evident that the controversy over flying the Confederate flag has been blown vastly out of proportion in relation to the bigger problems we face.
After several weeks of vitriolic debate on both sides, here’s a sober look at the situation in the hope that rational heads will prevail:
1.) Foremost, this is for individual states to decide. Period. In no way, shape or form should it be within the domain of federal courts. Fail to heed the constitutional principle of states’ rights, and we might as well throw out the American flag, because it will no longer represent the country our Founding Fathers envisioned.
People certainly have a right to influence the court of public opinion, from letters to the editor to social media to boycotting (or patronizing) states that fly the Stars and Bars. We’re a free country; let’s remember to effect change using those freedoms, not resorting to all-encompassing bans every time we don’t like something, since that always comes back to bite us — all of us — in the derriere.
2.) Flying the flag on the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol had nothing to do with the Charleston church massacre; to think the shooter killed people because of a symbol is ludicrous. Sure, he espoused hatred, because that’s how irrational people operate, regardless of props. Bottom line: He has a serious mental illness, which needs to be further investigated.
Instead of impulsive wild goose chases looking for a reason that conveniently fits into our comfort zone as to why tragedies like Charleston occur (and Sandy Hook, Columbine, and the Colorado movie theatre massacre, etc.), we should be looking at why so many of our young people are going crazy. Not that long ago, mass shootings were virtually nonexistent, despite far less restrictive gun control laws. What has changed over the last two decades?
3.) The Charleston murderer could have bought his own Confederate flag, saw it in a textbook or the Internet, or looked at it in a museum. So what? He, and only he, is responsible for his actions. Not a flag, not a symbol, not a gun. Just him.
So why the call to outlaw and ban everything? Because it’s easy.
For South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, it’s all about political grandstanding. She served in the state House for five years, and has been governor since 2010, yet only now, amidst the controversy, she calls for the flag to be banned? Such naked political calculation is a disgrace, especially from someone often mentioned for higher office. Political expediency is rarely rewarded, a lesson Haley will learn down the road.
The issue should not be addressed for at least six months so that it can be debated in a less-emotionally charged atmosphere. That way, mass murderers don’t get to affect public policy and become martyrs, and a more constructive dialogue can occur. Of course, since that also means the media coverage would disappear, it would tell us who is serious about the issue, and who is only concerned about how they look on TV.
4.) Private industry can do as they please, but it’s worth noting the hypocrisy of some companies. Jumping on the "ban-the-flag" bandwagon, Wal-Mart has stopped selling the Confederate flag. Gee, isn’t it great that Wal-Mart has a conscience?
Well, except for the fact that, if Wal-Mart were a country, it would be the world’s sixth-largest trading partner with China. Yes, "that" China. The one that engages in forced sterilizations and abortions. The one that regulates the Internet and bans Facebook. The one that doesn’t allow freedom of religion, assembly, political dissent, the press and host of other basic human rights. So let’s review: It’s OK for Wal-Mart to support China, but selling a flag most people buy for heritage and historical purposes is anathema? The lack of consistency is staggering.
5.) If we take the Confederate flag litmus test to its logical end, we must destroy the Jefferson Memorial, two-dollar bills, and delete the Thomas Jefferson presidential legacy, since Jefferson was a proud slave owner. We should demand that the Ivy League’s Brown University close because it benefitted tremendously from slave-trade money. We should outlaw the Communist Party in America, and ban every group we find offensive, from the Klan to the Black Panthers to gangs. In fact, we would be remiss if we didn’t destroy every episode of the "Dukes of Hazzard," since Bo and Luke rode around in the "racist" General Lee car emblazoned with the Stars and Bars.
Where does it end?
6.) If the flag inspired the shooter to be a racist and killer, are we to assume that if he lived in the north, he wouldn’t have become mentally ill? And under that rationale, you would think there would be no race-based attacks in states that don’t fly the Confederate flag.
Except there are. Our job is not to ban, but to educate and win the day with ideas.
When did we become so scared of ideas? When did we become a people who look to laws and bans instead of a civil, free-flowing exchange of ideas? When did we resort to using unprintable labels on those with opposing viewpoints?
This column is not advocating flying or not flying the Confederate flag. Instead, it is a wake-up call to a nation that has fallen asleep, imploring it to stop accepting hypocrisy as our standard operating procedure, and urging it to address the real problems — not invented ones — that affect all of us. So instead of seeing everything as black and white, let’s try focusing on the only colors that matter: The red, white and blue on Old Glory.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].