There’s a silver lining in this flag debate

Wait! I think I see a silver lining beginning to shine through as the nation continues this debate over the meaning of a flag.

Americans — all of us — finally might begin to understand the meaning of the Confederacy, why it was formed in the first place and why its place in history has to be put completely in its proper context.

The debate has ignited in the wake of the Charleston, S.C., church massacre. South Carolina legislators have agreed “to debate” whether to take down the rebel flag that flies on the statehouse grounds in Columbia. Let ’em debate, then take the thing down.

But the broader issue must be to determine the Confederacy’s place in American history.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Atlantic magazine: “The Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. This claim is not the result of revisionism. It does not require reading between the lines. It is the plain meaning of the words of those who bore the Confederate flag across history. These words must never be forgotten. Over the next few months the word “heritage” will be repeatedly invoked. It would be derelict to not examine the exact contents of that heritage.”

I’ll stipulate here, as if it needs stipulation, that I am not a Southerner by birth. I was born and reared in Oregon, way up yonder in Yankee territory. Oregon became a state on Feb. 14, 1859 and sent troops to battle to fight to preserve the Union. But for the past 31 years, my family and I have lived in Texas, which was one of those Confederate States of America, those states that committed the treasonous act of seceding from the Union and fighting tooth and nail to preserve something called euphemistically “states rights.”

It has been papered over by Confederate apologists ever since that the underlying reason for going to war in the first place was to keep black Americans subjugated. The individuals who governed these Dixie states wanted to maintain the right to flout federal law and that if state officials felt it was OK to allow slave ownership, then they would be willing to fight to the death to preserve that right.

They did. They lost that fight. Yet the justification for going to war remains central to this discussion of “Southern heritage.”

The article attached to this post lays out clearly the intentions of those who decided to go to war with the United States of America. Read the notations taken from that time and you’ll understand why this discussion is important to have and how the tragedy in Charleston has opened up this effort to remind us of why Americans went to war against fellow Americans.

The shooting has stopped but the battle endures. Those who keep insisting that the Civil War was about protecting state sovereignty are going to lose this one, too.