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By Jim Kempton

Once again the subject of Confederate flags has stoked a divisive debate.

The arguments on both sides seem to have missed the actual function these flags filled.

Disregard for a moment the fact that these colors were used by a culture bent on continuing to enslave African Americans. Put aside that they are memorials to brave southern soldiers or that they symbolize a way of life that devastated millions of humans by making them chattel.

The larger question is this: Weren’t these flags flown by armies attacking the United States? Weren’t they raised after the bombing of a U.S. Naval port and brandished by assassins of a president? The secessionists express the reason for declaring war on the United States of America was “hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery.”

The justification for displaying rebel ensign on state flags is, “We just want to honor the brave men who fought on the side of the South.”

Memorials to the fallen men are fine. Yet gallantry is not an automatic excuse for celebrating an unjust cause. No doubt there were brave Nazi soldiers, courageous Korean reds, valiant Viet Cong and tough Taliban fighters. Should we have special commemorations and a special flag for each of them?

Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, Alabama and Georgia incorporate rebel banners used to kill “Yankees” and enslave African Americans. Are battle colors used to bomb Fort Sumter any different from Pearl Harbor? Aren’t they the same as a swastika, rising sun or crescent moon of ISIS? Hitler, Tojo, Bin Laden and Jefferson Davis do have one thing in common, they all attacked America.

Invading Rebel regiments tried desperately to reach Washington, D.C. and burn it to the ground. Wouldn’t that be classified today as terrorism? When U.S. citizens today join an opposing army and take up arms against our country, isn’t it considered treason?

My forefathers died defending the Union—and these festivals, license plates and flags celebrate men who bayoneted them. Confederates were responsible for the deaths of over 600,000 Americans. That’s more than Germany, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Confederate flag supporters honor ancestors who were on the side that assassinated our greatest president. Wouldn’t they be described in today’s terms as traitors? Rebel armies killed loyal Americans so they could keep their slaves. In the process they tried to destroy the home of the free and the brave. Is not flaunting these symbols a declaration of defiant disrespect to the brave men who still defend us; a statement of arrogant hubris and an insult to the USA?

As with all righteous American wars, the USA and freedom triumphed. The slave owners lost. The greatest nation on earth was saved. If we are true patriots, isn’t that what we should all celebrate?

Jim Kempton is a writer and 35-year resident of San Clemente. He loves southern food, southern music, southern servicemen, southern hospitality, southern horse races, southern humor and Southern Comfort. But he sees no place for Confederate colors in our state capitals.

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About The Author Dana Point Times

comments (10)

  • A resounding “YES!” on all points! The Confederate “cause” was to be an enemy to the United States government.

  • “Are battle colors used to bomb Fort Sumter any different from Pearl Harbor? Aren’t they the same as a swastika, rising sun or crescent moon of ISIS?”

    Is this a serious question? Is it necessary to point out that the Nazis are not our ancestors? Nor the Japanese who today are our friends and allies, even after they committed atrocities against us?
    Let the Viet Cong, Nazis, and the terrorists of ISIS raise flags and memorials to their own soldiers…they are not OUR ancestors!
    Ever heard of the USS Stonewall Jackson (SSBN 634)? How about the USS Robert E. Lee (SSBN 601)? Do you need to be reminded just who these folks were? And yet this nation they fought against honored them with war ships named after them. You don’t see any American ships named after Hitler, or Tojo, or Ho Chi Min do you?
    You do a disservice to America by comparing the service of OUR ancestors to the beasts of WW2 and the monsters of ISIS today. Considering the tone and point of your article, your claims to love all things southern, aren’t worth warm spit.

  • David, please read this slowly and digest it: “…gallantry is not an automatic excuse for celebrating an unjust cause.”

    And you have a decidedly lily white/southern bias about who is an American. Everybody here has ancestors, including millions of Japanese-Americans and German-Americans. When ancestors attack the government and attempt to secede, there is no glory in that. As for the naval vessels you mention, perhaps it is time to re-christen them.

    • “When ancestors attack the government and attempt to secede, there is no glory in that.”

      Would this include our ancestors who attacked the British and DID secede from Great Britain?

      “…you have a decidedly lily white/southern bias…”

      I think Germans fit the definition of lily white. The point is, the confederate soldier was an American and he is among our ancestors. The Germans, Japanese, and Viet Cong who fought against us, were NOT Americans nor are they our ancestors. Indeed, there were multiple thousands of Americans of German descent who fought against both the Germans and Japanese during the war.

      For southerners, the confederate flag is a symbol of THEIR heritage regardless of whether we or anyone else agrees with that heritage. In the 50’s and 60’s that symbol was hijacked by racists and became a banner for them. If it were up to me, I’d remove the flag from state capitals AND no more. Let southerners themselves decide if the divisive nature the flag has become for some, outweighs the recognition of their heritage. I don’t like the far left brow beating a section of the country to tow the politically correct line.

      What I found thoroughly repugnant in Kempton’s article is the moral equivalence suggested in claiming there is no difference between the stars and bars and a swastika, rising sun, or crescent moon. This is not only an insult to southerners, but an insult to all the victims of Nazism, the Empire of Japan, and ISIS. It is philosophical non-sense.

      Kempton’s statement “Rebel armies killed loyal Americans so they could keep their slaves” is just a load of crap. Although the issue of slavery was the main cause of the war (though far from the only cause), most confederate soldiers didn’t own slaves and were fighting to defend their state, not to keep slaves they didn’t have. I’m not defending their position and we are far better off for having defeated the south than the reverse, but Kempton’s description is a-historical and an insult. He asks “Is not flaunting these symbols a declaration of defiant disrespect to the brave men who still defend us…” is equally, a load of manure. Does that statement include the hundreds of thousands of military personnel who come from the states that have flown the stars and bars?

      Finally, it is a moot point regarding the vessels SW Jackson and RE Lee for they have been scrapped in favor of a less muscular Navy. However, your suggestion of re-christening them motivates me to ask if you would also favor removing George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from our money and from Mt. Rushmore because they were slave owners?

      • David, you’re logic is failing you on multiple accounts. First, in reference to Kempton’s statement ,” “When ancestors attack the government and attempt to secede, there is no glory in that”, you ask if the same thing could be said about the American Revolutionaries. When the Americans decided to break away from Britain and form a new country and fight a war with the British they were no longer accepted as British citizens by the British government. They didn’t continue to be both British and American and fly the flags of both countries. Secondly, you state, ” The point is, the confederate soldier was an American and he is among our ancestors.” By definition, the confederate soldier lost all claims to being an American when he fought for the Confederacy; he became a traitor. As for Kempton’s point that flying a flag associated with the Confederacy is akin to flying the flags of Nazi Germany or the Empire of Japan, I don’t see this as “philosophical nonsense” at all but an apt comparison. As Kempton correctly points out, the flags of “Hitler,Tojo,Bin Laden and Jefferson Davis have one thing in common, they all attacked America”. Finally, the revulsion many of us have with the “Stars and Bars” and other flags of the Confederacy has nothing to do with “brow beating” southerners or towing the “politically correct line”. It has everything to do with recognizing that the Confederacy and the war they waged with the United States resulted in the deaths of over 6% of the American population. Taken as a percentage of today’s population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls. As we celebrate the 4th of July today, I’m grateful that the Union prevailed!

        • @ Grant,

          I had ancestors who fought on both sides of the conflict, but like yourself, I rejoice that the Union was preserved. I do not, however, disparage the memory of those who chose to leave the Union anymore than I would disparage the Founding Fathers (FFs) who chose to leave the British empire.
          Where did you get the idea that the British didn’t regard the colonists as British? The British practiced the principle of indelible allegiance, ie., once a Britain always a Britain. The crown was extracting taxes from America, not tribute. As the United States strove to keep the CSA within the Union, so too did the British strive to keep our FFs within the empire. If Britain didn’t view Americans as her children to be scolded and returned to the fold, then why did she fight? Why at war’s end did Britain bring the Torries home if they were not British?

          As for the charge of being traitors, it needs to be recognized that no Confederate, including Jefferson Davis, was ever charged much less convicted of treason. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily hang my hat on that for I can think of many traitors who were never brought to trial (American born Japanese couple involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor comes to mind). However, Southerners, as I stated in a previous letter, felt that because they had voted to join the union, they could vote to leave. Historians still debate the legality of the claim but it must be recognized they intended no harm, they simply wished to part ways. Although I agree with the Lincoln administration’s efforts to preserve the union, it is they who pushed the issue to the point of war. Folks can make up their own minds whether they merited the pejorative “traitor” but should do so with the understanding that Americans at that time owed allegiance to state first, then the nation. One cannot project upon mid 19th century society the values and feelings of 21st century America. Remember also, the North seriously contemplated secession during the Madison presidency.

          I double down on my claim that equating the Confederate flag with the Swastika, rising sun of Imperial Japan, or the flag of ISIS, is philosophical non-sense. To say that because in each case the participants were at war with America and therefore equal, is like failing to discern the difference between murder and self defense because the result is the same…death. When you see the Mexican flag on a home or at a rally, do you find it offensive?

          In the Pacific Island campaign during WW2, my uncle experienced inhuman amounts of combat including hand-to-hand where no quarter was asked or given. To equate the rising sun of Japan with the Confederate Battle Flag of his Grandfather would cause him great distress. Are you really comfortable maintaining that the flag of the mass murdering ISIS terrorists or genocidal Nazis is no different than the stars & bars? I repeat, philosophical non-sense and an insult to the victims of these monsters.

          The war has been over for 150 years…revulsion is a pretty strong word for an event taking place that far back. Again I ask, does the display of the Mexican flag inspire in you the same revulsion? My opposition to the flag on state capitols (not peoples’ homes) has only to do with the racist and divisive message some see in such a display. The KKK and their sympathizers hijacked the flag and in the minds of many, has become associated with racist oppression.

          For the sake of peace and tranquility, the Confederate flag shouldn’t fly on the capitol, but neither should it be an object of “revulsion.”

  • 1. No, our ancestors who fought the British created our nation. Of course there is glory to that…I’m not a monarchist.
    2. I see we agree on the removal of the confederate flag from state government offices. If yahoos want to fly it at their home or from their pickup truck, they are free to show their insensitivity.
    3. You’re right about another thing…not all confederate soldiers were rich enough to own slaves. But their rich landowners, (under whom they struggled as sharecroppers) convinced them to fight on their behalf and they fell for it….so very similar to the Koch brothers managing to rally the less educated Tea Party members of today, with promises of improving their lot just by sticking with them despite the fact that the Koch’s have done disastrous things environmentally and promote big business welfare queens all while shipping jobs overseas.
    4. Well, glad to hear the Jackson and Lee were scrapped. No, I would not remove Washington and Jefferson from our money or Rushmore because they were slave owners. It is an unpleasant fact that they were, and we can acknowledge that. It is crystal clear as to their difference from Lee and Jackson however: They were never self-declared enemies of the UNITED STATES.

  • 1. The British viewed our Founding Fathers as traitors and the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, had WE lost, knew they were signing their death warrant.

    2. Was Jimmy Carter a “yahoo” and was he being “insensitive” when he had pictures taken of himself with the stars & bars displayed prominently behind him? Were, or are Bill Clinton and Al Gore “yahoos” and “insensitive” when in ’92 they campaigned with their names spread across a Confederate flag? And given the subject matter under discussion, particularly the use of the word insensitive, isn’t referring to a group of people as “yahoos” a bit ironic?

    3.Don’t you find that dividing people along racial, sectional, and economic lines is itself divisive? You seem to suggest that people of limited financial means can’t really think or act on their own behalf. Furthermore, sharecropping was a phenomenon that occurred AFTER the war, not before it, and was far more common among blacks. What makes you say the Tea Party members are less educated? What do you base that on? And do you feel George Soros rallies the “less educated” on the left to further his leftist ideals?

    4.Robert E. Lee was a great American who loved and served his country well. However, when Virginia seceded, Lee felt his greater duty lay with his state. People up to this time felt greater affinity for their “state” than the nation as a whole. To side with the country against one’s state was itself, viewed as treasonous. Indeed, Union General George Thomas “The Rock of Chickamauga” was considered a traitor because he didn’t resign his commission in the US Army and join his native state in support of the Confederacy. His family never forgave him.

    It was Jefferson and Madison, who, with the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, provided the legal foundation upon which the south seceded. Southern sentiment was that they voted to join the union, they could vote to leave. They didn’t want war, they wanted to be left the heck alone. The far left refuses to learn this lesson as today, more and more people just want the government to leave them the heck alone.

  • 1) Exactly. You make my point. We didn’t lose to the British, therefore our Founding Fathers became heroes to the NEW nation.
    2) Yes, Carter, Clinton, and Gore standing in front of the stars and bars is repugnant. We are all, as individuals and a nation, evolving all the time. Let’s not stop the evolution and start acknowledging when something is divisive and hurtful like the stars and bars.
    3) My grandfather was a white sharecropper….and illiterate racist. Not all Tea Party members are less educated, just most of them, otherwise they couldn’t possibly follow lock-step into their handlers snares in the manner that they do. This is an opinion, I realize. I cannot prove much except that more education one has (Masters, Doctorates), the more likely they are on the left. THAT is a fact.
    4) Well, aren’t the generals who served under the Confederate flag fortunate that the United States government did not execute them? Even after that government sent them to military academies, paid them to be soldiers, and then they took their expertise to use against the hand that fed them.
    5) Sure, everybody wants the government to “leave them alone” until they want something. And those southern states continue to be a drain on the pool of federal monies…always taking more out than they put in.

  • @ Nancy,

    I am overwhelmed by your display of sensitivity and aversion to divisiveness particularly when referring to those who fly the confederate flag as insensitive “yahoos” and declare the southern states “a drain on the pool of federal monies…always taking more out than they put in.” You accuse me of “white bias” invoke class warfare suggesting the economically challenged are easily duped, and that TEA party folks must have fallen into the snares of some unnamed “handlers.” Apparently, sensitivity is a commodity you expect only from others, not yourself. So where exactly do you find yourself on that evolutionary process you described?

    You said:

    “I cannot prove much except that more education one has (Masters, Doctorates), the more likely they are on the left. THAT is a fact.”
    Yes, and we saw that brilliance clearly displayed at the Occupy Wall Street event where these geniuses assaulted their fellow female participants and trashed the city.  
    Remember Jonathan Gruber, Obama’s Obama Care man who claimed Americans were too stupid to understand they were being lied to? And just who was it that fell for their duplicity? It wasn’t Tea Party folks.

    “You make my point.”
    But you missed mine.  Both the FFs and Confederates wished to separate from their former associations, ie., similar situations.  One you glorify, the other you vilify. To base this glorification on the fact they won ignores the role played by the French.  Without French aid and support, our FFs would have been swinging from ropes.  80% of the firearms and powder Americans used were supplied by the French, and then there is de Grasses’ fleet which bottled up Cornwallis.

    Those who desire the world or nation to comport to their personal ideas of civility and sensitivity would be more successful if they refrained from searching for opportunities to be offended.

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