First, as a cultural American icon, the "Confederate Flag" might also be considered a sort of second flag of the USA. The fact that it is a divisive, politically-charged, polarizing and deeply offensive icon to a lot of people makes it even more typically American. People who are not Southerners use it, so in order to address this question we have to look at who uses it and the context of that usage. In my experience as a Southerner, you get these types of people sporting the Confederate Flag:
- Southerners who know their history and fly this flag as an emblem of Southern culture. They may not mean to be divisive or offensive because they know the Old South was built by black and white people together...but consider this a minority usage.
- People who think "being a rebel" is kind of cool, drunks, idiots, fans of NASCAR and all sorts of folk who don't know the history behind this symbol and don't care...I consider this to be the majority or 'redneck' usage. These folks might not be racist but some are, as are some people who proudly display Old Glory.
- The Confederate Flag has been used as a protest icon, an anti-federal government marker. Folks who use it this way are usually politicians who choose a deliberately divisive symbol. I'll observe that scoundrels wrapping themselves in a flag, any flag is not a new thing. Lots of scoundrels put an Old Glory lapel pin on when going out to campaign.
If you hear someone refer to the "Stars and Bars" here is the flag that a strict Traditionalist would envision:
--Oh my goodness, you say, that looks a lot like the Stars and Stripes but with big fat stripes. This is the official flag enacted by the legislature of the Confederacy in the first flush of new statehood. Southern folks wanted a flag as much like that of the "old country" as possible because they claimed they were the true heirs of the American Revolution. (The version pictured shows 13 stars including the border states of Kentucky and Missouri. Other versions show 7, 9 or 11 stars.)
The problem with the Stars and Bars was that it looked TOO much like the Stars and Stripes. At the battle of Bull Run or 1st Manassas, Southern General P. G. T. Beauregard (stands for Pierre Gustave Toutant -can yawl tell he's from Louisiana?) got rather annoyed because he couldn't tell who he was supposed to be shootin' at. He listened to a frustrated flag designer whose idea had been rejected by the politicians. The general wound up adopting a "Battle Flag" which became closely associated with the Army of Northern Virginia and Robert E. Lee. Eventually this design became widely popular: Please note that it is square. The overwhelming number of Confederate forces used the square flags as their battle flags. A couple of Southern states even incorporated this square battle flag in their own flag design to celebrate this heritage.
Folks who want to bask in the glory of the Lost Cause and celebrate their history and tradition should at least be using the square design. Lots of people admire Robert E. Lee as a man, an engineer, a general and an educator. Folks whose ancestors fought under his command might justly want to display his battle emblem. I can sympathize. Some USA military units in WW2 used the Confederate Battle flag as a mascot in the early days of the conflict. By the end of the war, they'd stopped.
In our modern era, I don't condone any use of the Confederate flag. This is a result of my own history and experience which tinges this design in any shape with the taint of racism and the blood of men and women struggling for their freedom and their civil rights. The Confederacy was born of the desire of the wealthy to continue to exploit other human beings for material gain. The cry of "State's Rights" was a charade--the only right they cared about was the so-called right to own slaves. If you doubt me, look at the speeches of the Secessionist Conventions. That image of the Southern gentleman and his hoop-skirted belle is not so romantic when one realizes that the wealth and ease of the few were obtained by suffering and deprivation of the many.
A flag is a square of cloth; it has just that symbolic importance one attaches to it, but it remains cloth. To celebrate and preserve your history, educate your children. The states who have flown this flag over their capitals or incorporated it in their own state flags also have a history of trying to deny equal education to ALL children within their borders. It's great to have a history but without a future what are you preserving the history FOR?
And being cool, drunk or ignorant doesn't excuse bad behavior. Most uses of the modern rectangular version of the Confederate flag are just plain rude. Putting the emblem on your belt buckle, beer can holder or pickup truck license plate is a cheapening of a symbol that men once fought and died under (which should offend the Traditionalist). Trying to ignore that this is a symbol used by and for racists is just plain stupid as well as offensive...Southern culture includes Southern courtesy and my mother said that meant being nice to everybody no matter what they looked like or where they came from. I don't think that anybody's flag should be used as a belt buckle or mudflap.
My harshest criticism is reserved for those politicians who would embrace the flag of Dixie as a symbol to set one group of people against another. Evil, vile and despicable are too mild. After 9/11, there is no excuse to raise the flag of a failed rebellion of 150 years ago for any reason. Our soldiers serve overseas in harsh conditions. I'm a Southerner and I'm proud not only of my heritage but of the civil rights movement and the modern progress hard fought and hard won. The flag that hangs off my front porch is the Stars and Stripes...Forever. I'll stand with Captain William Driver and here's why:
Captain Driver and "Old Glory"