In the aftermath of a recent attack by a white supremacist who butchered nine African Americans in the US, the debate over the use of the Confederate flag has intensified.
Its use appears to be ever less popular among American citizens and calls for banning it are becoming more common.
As The New York Times put it:
"The massacre of nine African-Americans in a storied Charleston church last week, which thrust the issues of race relations and gun rights into the center of the 2016 presidential campaign, has now added another familiar, divisive question to the emerging contest for the Republican nomination: what to do with the Confederate battle flag that flies on the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol."
Banning the Confederate flag would be a step forward. However, the current outcry over the Confederate symbol begs further comment.
What determines whether it is acceptable to display a flag, be it a flag of a state or a flag of a non-state actor? Regardless of how one would want to assess that, there seems to be glaring dishonesty or, at any rate, immense confusion when it comes to applying those standards across the board.
Let us assume that the determining factor on the legitimacy of displaying a flag of a state or a non-state actor is human rights record of that entity. Also, let us put aside the somewhat real possibility that genuinely applying such a criterion might render displaying flags of every single state as illegitimate.
Instead, let us focus on some particularly abhorrent cases.
For obvious reasons, displaying the flag of, say, Rhodesia, apartheid-era South Africa. Russia or Israel is not necessarily the most efficient way to make friends among Western progressives, liberals or leftists. Fair enough. But what about of the flag of the United States?
If there is a country with a more obsessive relationship to the official state flag than the United States, then I have yet to hear about it. More importantly, there is not a single state in the post-WWII era that has illegally invaded and destroyed more countries, overthrown more governments (including democratically elected ones) and directed more military, diplomatic and economic support to other human rights violating countries than the United States.
To the best of my knowledge, the conventional attitude towards the US and, accordingly, the American flag is more positive among Western liberals and leftists than that towards Rhodesia, apartheid-era South Africa, Israel or Russia. Yet, the track records of the above countries combined doesn’t even remotely approach that of the US.
Consider just one single instance of illegal US military aggression. The US dropped more than twice the amount of bombs in South Vietnam than the total amount of bombs dropped by all sides in Second World War put together, destroyed twelve million acres of Vietnam’s forest and 25 million acres of farmland. Over 70 million litres of herbicidal agents were sprayed over the country. The US onslaught wounded 5.3 million Vietnamese civilians and up to 4 million Vietnamese fell victim to toxic defoliants used by the US in large parts of the country. When the US was finally forced to withdrew, Vietnam was left with 200,000 prostitutes, 879,000 orphans, 1 million widows and 11 million refugees. All that on top of the at least 3.8 million Vietnamese killed by US military aggression. And this unspeakable crime is still praised lavishly in the society that carried it out.
That wasn’t the Confederacy. That wasn’t Rhodesia. That was the United States of America.
Besides directly and indirectly overthrowing dozens of regimes all over the world, think about the numerous human rights abusing governments that have enjoyed and/or currently enjoy vast support from the US. Be it Saudi Arabia, Indonesia under Suharto, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Iran under the last Shah, various Latin American military juntas or apartheid South Africa, it is probable that a number of authoritarian regimes after WWII would have collapsed sooner, and some would never have emerged, was it not for massive US involvement.In a WIN/Gallup International poll the results of which were publicized early 2014, the US was named the gravest threat by the international community. No other country even came close. Alas, whatever the future holds for the Confederate flag, perhaps the US public might also want take a moment to ponder its culture of worshiping that good ol’ Stars and Stripes.