A Lexington counterfactual

Those of you who follow the Civil War blogs are probably aware of the SCV’s recent legal defeat.  Those of you who don’t can get up to speed by clicking here.

I’m afraid I can’t give you my opinion on the city’s ordinance or the judge’s ruling because I don’t really have an opinion about either one.  As I’ve said before, the sight of a Confederate battle flag doesn’t offend me; I have about the same reaction to it as I would to the flag of Argentina.  On the other hand, a law against the flying of any flags on municipal poles except those of official government entities doesn’t offend me, either.  It sort of seems like common sense, actually.  So whether the SCV won or lost this one, I’d be cool with whatever.

Let’s indulge in a counterfactual exercise with this very recent bit of Civil War history.  Suppose the law had been overturned.  What then?

What would the SCV have gained from the effort?  They would’ve gained the right to fly the Confederate battle flag from municipal poles in Lexington, VA.  Would it have been worth it?

Sure, Lexington has symbolic value to devotees of Confederate heritage, since it’s the final resting place of both Lee and Jackson.  But anybody who wants to go to Lexington and wave a Confederate flag, plaster a Confederate flag sticker on their car, or march around in a Confederate flag t-shirt can still do so.  Your right to display a Confederate flag in Lexington is as secure as it was before the ordinance, if I understand the situation correctly.

I know the SCV’s raison d’être is to maintain the legacy of the Confederacy, and that perpetuating the display of the Confederate flag falls well within those limits.  And, again, I’ve got no problem with the display of the flag, so long as it’s not done with blatant insensitivity toward the feelings of people who might legitimately be hurt by it.

But when I think of all the causes that the SCV might take up—battlefield preservation, monument restoration, scholarships, etc.—I can’t help but wonder whether this was time well spent.

Then again, it wasn’t my time.

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1 Comment

Filed under Civil War, History and Memory

One response to “A Lexington counterfactual

  1. Michael, your understanding of the ordinance is correct. It does nothing to restrict the display of the flag by private individuals, business, or its use in parades and ceremonies. As Judge Wilson said in his ruling, the “SCV and other groups may therefore carry their flags in parades, fly them from the flag poles at their local offices, or wave them while walking to the grocery store.”

    The Confederate heritage folks who fought (and continue to fight) this ordinance have routinely and consistently misstated the actual scope of the law and its impact. Phrases like “Confederate flags banned in Lexington!” get tossed around wildly, with the inevitable effect of getting the base riled and outraged. But it’s not particularly honest, and how much of it is just carelessness and how much is willful manipulation is unclear. What is clear is that most of the folks huffing and puffing about the ordinance show little real understanding of the specific facts of the case, or the questions of law that attain. All they know is that they can’t have what they want, and (therefore) their own, personal rights have been violated.

    Getting back to your larger point, the Confederate heritage crowd has gradually painted itself into a corner by (1) pushing the whole “heritage violation” theme, and (2) focusing it almost entirely on symbols, specifically the Confederate Battle Flag. Thus you have folks venting their spleens — and opening their wallets — to go into literally years of litigation over some kid who wore a CFB t-shirt to school after having been warned not to, or some moron who refused to take a Confederate flag with the word “REDNECK” emblazoned thereon off his truck while it was parked in his private employer’s lot. If that’s where they want to devote their time and money, fine, but it doesn’t do a damn thing to preserve an historic site, or tell the stories of their ancestors they’re supposedly so determined should be remembered.

    I doubt my Confederate ancestor who endured eighteen months in the pen at Rock Island would have much use for a teenager’s whinge about not being allowed to wear a Confederate flag prom dress, but then again, he was a real Confederate who had nothing to prove to anybody.

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