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Immediately after the Civil War, slavery was held, by the South, to have been peripheral to the conflict. Remember, slavery actually was the central question, appearing repeatedly in articles of secession and writings by Confederate officials. Slavery had been consolidating from 1840 on, transitioning from practicality to ideology. The 18th century had found it difficult to justify philosophically except as some kind of transitional state and even that seemed tenuous. The innovation in the mid-19th century was white supremacy: the idea that blacks were inherently inferior coupled with the notion that domination of them was the rightful order of the world. You can detect in it traces of many different ideologies agglomerating into it and perhaps someone will lay those out elsewhere. But shortly after the Civil War ended, slavery was abandoned as a justification, replaced with comparatively minor political and economic disputes.

This wasn't a churn, either, with slavery's defenders retreating from view while those who'd never seen slavery as central becoming more prominent. It was a widespread, nearly uniform revision of history throughout the South. Even Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, who'd said in 1861 that "[o]ur new Government is founded ... upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition" would later argue that this wasn't the case. Rather, the Civil War was held to be about personal and local interests in the face of depersonalizing industrialization and national centralization. It's a powerful theme which draws on a deeper, older tension in American life developed by Thoreau and the other transcendentalists. It was genuinely difficult for America to industrialize and the reimagination of the Republic in its face was a leading concern until it was finally overtaken by imperial* questions after World War II.

What motivated Southern revision of Civil War history was the genuine shock of their loss. As the ideology of slavery was consolidating, it was held to be a great strength of the South. While the laws passed suggest, rather, that it presented a constant risk of insurrection and was a source of existential fear, within the ideology of slavery it was an expression of natural order which ensured white equality and civilization. That was coupled to the notion of aristocracy and feudalism. For the South, their military leaders were men of immense virtue, modern knights whose command of battle and sense of honor fated them for victory.

But they lost and they lost badly. After the Civil War, the South was a smoking ruin under occupation. How to explain this defeat? Quickly, an interlocking narrative developed: Northern industrial might coupled with local backstabbing destroyed the Confederate cause of states rights. In this narrative, the Union represented the depersonalizing and centralizing forces of 19th century America pitted against the personal and local. To put the full rhetorical flourish on it, to give insight into the power of this mythology, I would say "it was a war of steel and steam against blood and bravery". That phrasing conjures well the romance of this narrative, even though it was entirely false. For the revisionist South, the Confederacy faced off against implacable, inhuman forces and lost.**

There are other elements as well, like downplaying the cruelty of slavery and characterizing Jim Crow as a solution to racial tension rather than a systematic oppression, which add up to a myth known as the Lost Cause. That myth would become central to the great disappointment of the 19th century, the end of Reconstruction to facilitate white reconciliation. As I demonstrated before, it's a narrative with power. If you can sweep aside the question of slavery, you can frame the Civil War in way sympathetic to the Confederacy. As it happens, this is what education in the South tends to do, presenting the Civil War as arising from complex economic, cultural, and political causes in which slavery is only just one issue. Other components make their appearances as well, like the idea that Southern generals were superior and Grant simply fought a war of attrition.

While the Confederate battle flag at South Carolina's state capitol went up specifically as a response to the civil rights movement, it had been used prior mostly for honoring Confederate veterans. Within the history, this seems as fraught and perverse as honoring German soldiers in World War II. While it is true that many acted bravely and sought only to serve their country or were simply conscripted and had no choice, the manifest evil of the enterprise they fought for corrupts any virtues they might possess. That is in the nature of evil, under its banner our saving graces become our damning faults. But within the revisionist history advanced immediately after the Civil War, it makes sense. Within it, the Civil War was stupid and should never have been fought. In the coloring most favorable to the Union, Southerners were hot-headed rebels who should have thought it through a little better. The trope "brother against brother" carries, through this revision, the implication that they remain brothers at the end.

But why downplay slavery specifically? Because it was a manifest evil. Downplaying slavery creates a sense of moral equivalence. Even if you thought slavery was right, decentralizing slavery halted the great question and tossed the war's causes into murkier details, robbing the North of moral ammunition. Thus, over time, the Confederate flag was sapped of its original meaning in the eyes of whites throughout the country. The Lost Cause became America's main structural idea of the Civil War, facilitating white reconciliation even as newly freed Americans were crushed under an essentially totalitarian state.

For the current debate, the relevant effect is smaller: the deracialization of the Confederate battle flag. Think back to the revisionist narrative and ask what, to a person believing it, that flag represents. It's obvious that, for them, it represents what they earnestly say it does: heritage, history, a sense of old-fashioned rebellion. And its use, in context, bears that out. It's largely used as a sort of rural punk emblem, as if to say "fuck y'all, I'm going to have my own fun". A look through the most common representations shows that side every time it's not about an Arcadian idyl. When people say that whites using the Confederate battle flag are being disingenuous or dissembling, I cringe. I come from a place where it was common growing up and I rarely saw it used as a consciously racial symbol; it was about rural pride, localism and naturalism against the great forces set against them. Perhaps one time in a hundred was someone intending a racial message and that person never got any acceptance. For whites, the deracialization of the Confederate battle flag was all but total, the symbol of a New South, rural and industrial, authentic and modern.

That totality is recent, however. The current plethora of Confederate flags in the South actually dates to the Civil Rights Movement. They're explicit protests of black equality. You could be forgiven, thanks to the revision, if you didn't realize that, however. After all, if you are not old enough to remember the Movement or the fights following the Civil Rights Act well, the revision is all you really know about it as a white Southerner. Thus my sympathy for the flag's defenders declines as they come from ever elder generations; they know better, they quite likely waved that flag as an explicit symbol of white supremacy.

That totality arises from a new revision, that racism was defeated with the Civil Rights Act. Contrary to the view advanced so often, the Civil Rights Act was extremely controversial. The mobilization of segregationists wasn't simply a last ditch effort, it was a massive movement throughout the South. So hot was Southern fury that they kept supporters of the Act off ballots and five states went for George Wallace in 1968.† This opposition has not yet totally played out, but it's not my focus here. Just as there was a seed of disingenuousness which kicked off the Lost Cause and the New South, so too is there one for the new mythology in which the Civil Rights Act ended racism. It is often presented as dying of natural causes or, by my school years, as if it were something whites hadn't really given a lot of thought to imposed by unknown actors in government or, perhaps, nefarious actual racists who held everyone in terror, black and white alike. That sounds nearly insane, but less so when the alternative is to admit complicity in the nation's gravest evils. Deracialized and desegregated, the South stands for its noblest ideals of courage, independence, loyalty, and honor. That's still not quite true, but the steady stripping of racial components is a good thing.

I've been writing about all this because I'm surprised by the speed at which opinion has shifted against the Confederate battle flag. Stores are pulling it from shelves and governments are pulling it from state houses. The flag's remaining defenders seem largely exhausted rather than adamant, resigned to the reality of the flag's meaning for the nation's 42 million black people and a growing number of its whites. I read in so many defenses of the flag simply defenses of what they had wanted it to mean. There is nothing wrong in the desired meaning, it would have been a far better reality if slavery had been a dying and largely benign institution, Jim Crow some mutual oppression imposed by racial busybodies, and the cause of the Confederacy as home-and-hearth against implacable economic forces. It would be, as I take pains to conjure, authentic, meaningful, and ennobling. It would be, it simply wasn't.

But gripping the truth firmly can be hard. There's always an undercurrent of disgust when the rest of the nation discusses the South. A characterization of its people as rednecks and yokels. Certainly, there have always been a few in the South as everywhere and we each have occasionally donned that identity in rebellion or fun. However, as it plays out in the real world we often feel put upon. Years ago a professor of mine from Louisiana and I were discussing how people immediately perceived us differently, how to be taken seriously we often had to take care and cover accents or avoid certain turns of phrase. That sense of being a second class citizen is profound and depends on a mischaracterization of how white Southerners perceive themselves and their heritage. I grew up in the foothills of the Ozarks, my father's family come that generation from Arkansas. I carried my gun down through the bottoms and have been to Branson more times than I care to recount -- or, in certain company, even admit. I've unloaded on people for calling my home state flyover country or disparaging the South. I feel I can do that, and they can't, irrational as that sounds. There's nothing up my sleeve, no secret coastal liberal condescension.††

I've taken pains here to balance reality with myth, to give my historical and visceral insight into this debate. So I arrive at my hoped explanation for this sudden turn: the realization that the truth  never lived up to the revision, a desire to live out the nobler ideals in Southern heritage under a banner they deserve.

*Whether this was the right empire or the wrong one is not an opinion I've been able to keep for long on either side.

**And who can't sympathize with that narrative after losing out to an enemy zerg? Don't you feel like the noble player who did everything right only to be overwhelmed by mistakes of game design?

†Of "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" fame.

††Or wider audience, as some may have figured out, that my journal entries are often essays doesn't actually make them anything other than journal entries.

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I watched North by Northwest for the first time in many years. I liked it a lot more than I remembered, especially the desolation of the crop duster scene's prelude. It took guts for Hitchcock to film that long of a scene with no music and no action. It's the ultimate in less is more.

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I love the incremental auth feature - ask for permission only when I trigger an app feature that needs it. Score one for logging in with Google!

Our government only spies on people to keep us safe. Conclusion: Angela Merkel is a terrorist.

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So true. I'm not looking forward to Apple's new spaceship building in my locale.

" That size may be appropriate for a downtown metropolis or a rural setting with little else around it, but it doesn't belong smack dab in the middle of single-family homes and strip malls. Would you want the Empire State Building or the Pentagon in your backyard?"

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Some fun reading just came in the mail. Where to start?
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