Editorial: Vexillology’s vexations and other historical ironies

Kingston Times Editor Dan Barton.

Kingston Times Editor Dan Barton.

Should the Confederate Battle Flag be taken off that capital in South Carolina (and any other publicly funded flagpole upon which it may be fluttering)? Of course it should, and as soon as possible.

The very best you can say of those who followed the Confederate flag into battle 150 years ago or so is that they fought with skill and courage for one of the worst causes ever. (Please, “Lost Cause,” get — and stay — lost.) The very best I think of someone brandishing the CBF, whether it be on a T-shirt, belt buckle of bumper sticker is that they’re woefully under and/or mis-educated about American history. Usually, the opinion goes downhill from there.

In the office today, one of my colleagues aptly compared the full-force retreat from the Confederate flag to the fall of the Berlin Wall in its cascading rapidity. (Mississippi? Alabama? Amazon.com? WALMART?! Will Lynyrd Skynyrd be next?) But as hard as taking down the CBF must be for some Southerners, it’s apparently a hell of a lot easier for them to do that than talk about either racism or gun control in any kind of seriously constructive (reconstructive?) way. “Bless your heart, we’ll take down the flags, but we’ll keep our bias and our guns,” seems to be the message from some down South. But let’s be honest — people up North, out West and back East can’t really talk about race or guns effectively either.


Symbols are more than symbols. They are abstractions that engage emotions, emotions which can cause people to make change both negative and positive. It’s not overly optimistic, perhaps, to think that the curtailing of the CBF, which shamefully could only apparently take place in the aftermath of the horror of Emanuel AME Church, might be the first step in some long-overdue attitude change in our nation. I mean, look at how getting a bunch of high school and college sports teams to change from Native American-themed mascots widely and markedly improved the lot of Native Americans, some of the poorest people in this country. (Oh wait. It hasn’t.)

I have read things on social media arguing that pressuring people into not selling or displaying the CBF doesn’t actually change their minds, and of course Civil War re-enactors need to display the flag during their battles. A compromise? Tweeted comedian George Wallace on Wednesday, “I call on Walmart to continue selling the Confederate flag in 2-ply, extra-soft rolls.” Sounds good to me.

Ah, but a moment, please. It’s easy for us here in the north (of Ulster) to deride Southerners for their foibles, but I read a piece on The Economist website about how the old Dutch orange-white-blue flag, which started life in the 17th century as a symbol of Holland’s resistance to Spanish tyranny, was appropriated by collaborators after the Nazis rolled in. (The official flag of the Netherlands is red-white-blue and has been for hundreds of years.) Now, the orange-white-blue prinzenvlag, as it’s called, is embraced by Dutch anti-immigrant groups as a symbol of national and racial purity. (As it was by the apartheid-era white South Africans.)

As we know locally, the flags of both Ulster and Dutchess counties are based on the prinzenvlag which, according to the The Economist piece, is now seen by the good people of its native land much in the way we up North see the Confederate Battle Flag. Oh, the ironies of history.


Considering the ongoing and thoroughly shameful pay gap between men and women, the news that Alex Hamilton will be bumped off the $10 for a woman rather than Andrew Jackson being bumped off the $20 for a woman is … I don’t even know what it is. An even grander historical irony? Treasury Secretary Jack Lew may know a lot about money but he don’t know jack about tone, or apparently the huge social media campaign entitled, “Women on 20s.” Alexander Hamilton was in many ways an elitist douchequill and his poop-talking Aaron Burr got him capped in the end, but he kept the Revolution going money-wise and, oh, wasn’t a war criminal. Revisit this decision, Mr. Lew.

There is one comment

  1. CP

    Let’s hope the Confederate flag issue isn’t the end of taking action on what needs to be done. The Civil War officially ended 150 years ago, but its long coattails haunt us still. How sad – and in this case (and too many others), how tragic.

    Re: the 10 and the 20, you said it all and are absolutely right.

    Amen to both points. Thank you for making them.

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