Friday, 19 June 2015

Stars and bars behind bars?

An honest question, provoked by two news items from the US, one horrible and the other curious.

It's been widely reported that the alleged gunman from the Charleston church massacre had a Confederate flag bumper sticker on his car. At the same time, a closely-fought Supreme Court decision has held that the state of Texas may (as it wishes) refuse to issue licence plates with the Confederate flag on them, without infringing free speech.

Now I get that the Confederate flag is a very powerful symbol: it symbolises racism and white supremacy, but because it also symbolises more respectable causes - Southern identity, a certain wilful romanticism, affection for Gone with the Wind - it serves as a much more palatable wrapper for racism and white supremacy than, say, a swastika or the letters KKK would. For that reason, it's harder to marginalise and easier to defend, and therefore, a better vehicle for the racists and white-supremacists who want to use it. Hence the repeated disputes over it. Truly, I think I get that.

Here's what I don't get: that flag is also, very specifically, the symbol of the most serious armed rebellion the USA has ever faced, a rebellion which threatened the country's existence more gravely than any external threat since the War of Independence, and which incidentally cost the lives of more than half a million American citizens.

Now, OK, that was a while ago. But why isn't the display of that flag within the USA simply an act of treason?

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