The threat posed by armed lunatics draped in Confederate flags is one that will spur any prudent society to action.
Fortunately, this country has risen to the challenge as a consensus builds about what should be done. The answer is obvious. Get rid of the flags that fly over statehouses in several parts of the old South, and the violence will subside.
The proposition is a shaky one, for removing the flag may be just as likely to inspire a racist backlash as to usher in a new spirit of harmony. But we clearly have to give it a try, for there is nothing else we can do.
Let us not waste time debating gun control. It ain’t gonna happen; and besides, it is by no means sure that any law Congress might pass would have prevented Dylann Roof from buying his Glock semi-automatic legally. With 300 million guns in circulation, a lunatic always will be able to lay his hands on one anyway. If he is bent on mass murder, he won’t hesitate to evade background checks if he has to.
Roof chose to gun down nine parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina, church, not far from where the Civil War began. The first shots, on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, were fired by troops under the command of New Orleans’ own Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, whose statue now guards the entrance to City Park.
A visitor from Mars would be struck by the number of Civil War monuments in New Orleans. He could, for instance, wander from the Beauregard statue down to the parkway named for Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and admire the bust of Gen. Albert Pike in the neutral ground. From there, it is an easy hop down to the pièce de résistance, Lee Circle, where the hero of the Confederacy stands on his lofty column.
“Wow,” our Martian would say to himself, “these people are obviously very proud they won the Civil War.”
Such an error might not be repeated by any future Martian, for there is a move afoot to purge all Confederate symbols. While legislators in various Southern states ponder pulling the flags down, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu joins the call for Lee to be toppled and all the other Confederate statues to be removed from the streets of New Orleans to a museum.
That would be a major public works project; to take away the tributes to the Lost Cause, New Orleans would become unrecognizable. Black people might, however, find it easy to adjust to the new look.
They would certainly be glad to see the back of the so-called Liberty Monument, which commemorates the White League’s bloody insurrection in the Reconstruction era. The monument was the focus of great resentment even before David Duke adopted it as a racist totem when he briefly made a splash in state politics 20 years ago.
Putting the likes of Lee and Beauregard in storage, however, likely would be denounced as an attempt to rewrite history. Like it or not, the argument goes, the Civil War looms large in the city’s history and posterity would be remiss not to honor the deeds and sacrifices of the Southern forces. Besides, let us not forget that elegant and superior antebellum civilization. It may be largely a myth, but don’t tell the guy who drives a pickup truck with a Confederate flag across the back window.
Black people can hardly be expected to honor a society that enslaved their forebears, so the Confederate flag over a campus, or any government embrace of a Confederate symbol, constitutes a gratuitous insult to a large percentage of the population. We didn’t need the Roof atrocity to tell us that, but it has evidently provided impetus for state governments to dissociate themselves from the Confederacy. Louisiana is not a major offender, but it does issue Sons of Confederate Veterans specialty license plates, which may now disappear in the rush.
But let us not kid ourselves that erasing Confederate allusions will stem the tide of racist violence. Roof, after all, seems to have been spurred on as much by the white minority government that ruled Rhodesia until it became Zimbabwe in 1979. Whatever, it wasn’t any flag that made him dangerous.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.