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I write in response to an opinion piece entitled "Confederate Flags Must Vanish" (March 4, 1996) written by David W. Brown. As a Texan and a Southerner, I was offended by what seemed to be the latest installment in your series of opinion pieces degrading the South. I abstained from entering the recent argument over the issue of memorializing Confederate soldiers on the Harvard campus becaue I agree that it is not only Harvard's right, but obligation to preserve the memory of the students who gave their life to save the Union.
However, I felt that the inflammatory nature and sweeping generalizations that filled Mr. Brown's article merited a response. I disagree strongly with his contention that the Confederate flag only represents "murder, lynching, rape and treason" and only embodies the "vilest capacities of man." I will not deny that those hideous actions occurred underneath that flag, nor will I hide from the fact that the "vilest capacities of man" were manifested under the Confederate flag in the form of slavery. Yet, all of these actions also have occurred underneath the American flag. Slavery was practiced underneath the American flag decades before the Confederate flag came into existence, and the Africans who perished during the "middle passage" did so on ships flying the Stars and Stripes or Union Jack, never the St. Andrew's Cross of the Confederacy.
These facts of history are a shame to the entire nation, not only the South. Even in our own century the American flag has stood for the support of merciless dictators that served our nation's need, and it is the flag of the only country to have ever used nuclear power to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. As an American, I acknowledge and regret the tragedy in my nation's past, but the Stars and Stripes still represents the flag of freedom to me, and I choose to focus on the good my nation is capable of doing, not the evil it has done.
The same is true for the Confederate flag, for it represents the courage and sacrifice of men who fought and died to protect their home, their family, their state and the belief in honor. My great-great-grandfather lost his arm fighting under that flag, not to protect slavery for he was too poor to even consider owning a slave, but to protect what he understood to be the rights extended to his state by the Constitution.
I would also like to take issue with Mr. Brown's generalization that all Southern gentlemen were merely rapists and "craven degenerate[s]." Though it might be painful for the righteous to admit, our nation's father, George Washington, was a slave owner, as were Thomas Jefferson and numerous other prestigious Americans. Their greatness does not legitimize the fact that they owned slaves, but that ownership does not make them degenerate rapists. I also though that it was a bit presumptuous of Mr. Brown to call two sitting United States Senators "jabbering Neanderthals." Lord knows that many people disagree with Sen. Jesse Helms' and Sen. Strom Thurmond's views, but I believe that the office they hold deserves some respect, even from the Harvard-educated.
I realize the fact that I am only a six-generation Texan does not nearly qualify me to discuss the "perversity" of the South's "inbred cultural" beliefs with Mr. Brown, who knows "firsthand" of the region having "traveled through it a bit." Yet I do feel that Mr. Brown's accusations are not only offensive generalizations, but they are wrong. The Confederate flag is a flag of heritage. It represents to Southerners not only the undeniable shame of slavery we inherited from our forefathers, but also the pride in family, honor and state we recieved from their legacy. It serves to remind the South of the barbarity it has been capable of, of the tragedies it has overcome, and of the importance of the tradition of loyalty to family and state. --Andersen Fisher '99
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