The city of New Rochelle, NY has confiscated a Gadsden flag that flew outside a local armory due to “unspecified complaints” to the city manager and a request by the city council. This happened just after the city manager told a group of veterans the flag could remain in place. The situation is reminiscent of last year’s brouhaha over the Gadsden flags at Gettysburg.
As many commentators have pointed out, the Confederate battle flag is a symbol with multiple meanings because of the various groups that have appropriated it over the years. Depending on the context, it can stand the Confederacy, the South in general, rebelliousness, racism, segregation, or the “redneck” stereotype. If you’re going to display the CBF, you have to keep this multiplicity of meanings in mind; the meaning you intend to convey might not be the same one understood by the people who exposed to it.
In the case of the Gadsden flag, though, I think the case is a little different. The Tea Party adopted the Gadsden flag, but unlike the CBF, the Gadsden flag hasn’t been stewing in its more modern political connotations for decades. It remains primarily a symbol of the Revolution and America’s commitment to liberty and self-defense, and for that reason I don’t see anything wrong with flying it outside an armory. But that’s just my opinion.
A New Jersey man noticed Gadsden flag merchandise for sale at Gettysburg National Military Park’s bookstore and then went off on a three-alarm tear:
“It isn’t sold in a historically relevant context,” said Paul Gioni, a battlefield enthusiast from Mahwah, N.J., who contacted the National Park Service and The Evening Sun after visiting the park recently. “This is blatantly political merchandise.”
The nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation operates the bookstore and a spokeswoman said the Gadsden flag merchandise serves a goal of representing the broader context of American history. Furthermore, Cindy Small said, there remain connections between the Gadsden flag and fighting at Gettysburg.
“During the Civil War, the flag was used in some Southern states as a symbol of secession,” she said.
Personally, I think there’s a legitimate case to be made that a Civil War battlefield isn’t the best venue for selling a flag usually associated with the Rev War, but this isn’t it.
“The flag is legitimate in the proper context,” Gioni said. “The problem is this flag has been hijacked for the political stage. It’s definitely partisan and definitely inappropriate. The park should be politically neutral.”
Look, when it comes to historic sites, the Gadsden flag is pretty neutral. Unless you’re a monarchist.
Gioni doesn’t believe the Gettysburg bookstore is pushing partisan politics. Rather, he said, the items are probably stocked because they sell.
I think that’s a safe bet. Stores usually stock items because they sell.
“When you’re in an election year, you know this stuff is going to make a fast buck,” he said. “They’re disregarding what’s appropriate in the interest of money.”
The folks at Gettysburg denied any intention of pandering to present-day politics, and I don’t see any reason not to believe them. In any case, GNMP has only gotten one complaint about the Gadsden merch. So I’m not saying it’s just you, Gioni, but…it’s just you.
By Arman Manookian (Honolulu Academy of Arts) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons