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I was born in the Deep South[1] to parents who had migrated from north of the Mason-Dixon. My interest in the debate over display of the Confederate battle flag is limited to its place as a relic of a seminal event in American history. I have no vested heritage tied up in that history. However, I’ve decided to weigh in on this debate because I see in it echoes of a greater ill that plagues society and reaches even into such cultural kerfuffle as #GamerGate.

releeReminders of the Confederacy are everywhere. For the past 20+ years I have lived in the capital of the Confederacy. My kids go to schools named after Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis[2]. A downtown street is lined with huge statues of Confederate leaders. So, go ahead, get rid of the flag, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Confederates were also Americans, and that cannot be erased no matter how much we try. It is baked into our cultural memory because we are all descendants of both sides of the conflict. The Civil War was a struggle that exemplified a problem that continues to infect society today; and, no, I’m not talking about racism. Rather, it is the belief that people who disagree are better off dead.

In 1854, the US government created the states of Nebraska and Kansas. The Act called for popular vote in each new state to determine whether the state would permit slavery. Activists from outside the states immediately went to work, especially in Kansas. In May of 1856, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts gave a blistering anti-slavery speech on the situation in Kansas, and delivered disgusting insults to a couple of Southern senators. House Representative Preston Brooks, cousin to one of the impugned senators, entered the Senate chamber three days later and beat Sumner half to death. Both Brooks and Sumner were praised as heroes. Two days later, John Brown led a group of men into a house in Pottawatomie Creek, KS and hacked five pro-slavery men to death.

The bloodshed had begun. It would end almost ten years and 650,000 lives later.

The Civil War began because one group of people decided another group of people should be put out of their misery. In the past 150 years, American culture—indeed, the culture in most countries around the world—has changed little. You can hear echoes of Civil War mentality in rhetoric surrounding race relations, gender identity, abortion, immigration, climate science, gun control, terrorism, religious freedom, healthcare, welfare…yeah, verily, even videogames.

Two thousand years ago a Jewish carpenter[3] stood on a hillside and told an assembled crowd that just calling someone a fool was equal to murder. Today, every minute, thousands of these verbal murders are committed in the press, in blog posts, on social media, in private conversations. If we are ever to deal with these problems in a non-violent way, it will not be in removing a flag, or changing the name of a sports team, or putting the picture of a woman on our currency. It will be when we stop vilifying people who disagree with us and have honest, open, peaceful discussions about our disagreements.

No, the Confederate battle flag should not be flown over government buildings; it is a symbol of separation and segregation. But we can’t—and shouldn’t—bury it. So let us display it in appropriate venues, and when we see it, let us point to it and remind ourselves and our children this is what happens when you decide other people are better off dead. Then let us work toward living in peace.

[1] Florida; sort of the Cleveland Browns* of the Confederacy.
    *Maybe not the best analogy any longer. Let's say, sort of like the Jacksonville Jaguars of the Confederacy.

[2] My kids have graduated from those schools, and the school names were changed at the beginning of the 2020 school year.

[3] Jesus (like his father, Joseph) was probably a stonemason, not a carpenter.