*Originally published in The Clarion Ledger on September 1, 2017
“The most effective way to destroy a people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history,” said George Orwell, author of 1984. Today we are seeing this right before our eyes. Whether it is monuments to honor our Founding Fathers or soldiers of the Confederacy and their revered battle flag, Leftists across the country are demanding the destruction of our history to appease their guilty conscience.
Sadly, two of Mississippi’s most influential national political leaders, US Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, have bought into these emotional arguments and have called for the removal of the state flag with its Confederate symbol.
The present dispute seems moot since Mississippians have already spoken on this issue in a statewide referendum in 2001, when they voted overwhelmingly to keep the flag. That should be enough to end the argument.
But it hasn’t. New movements have emerged. After the horrific shooting in Charleston, South Carolina by Dylann Roof in 2015, the current assault began on Southern symbols, which Wicker and Cochran both eagerly joined. The emotionalism spread quickly and resembled what President James Buchanan once called “a disease in the public mind.”
But why is it that we are being asked to remove our monuments and symbols after every tragedy? No other group is required to do that.
Senator Wicker then appeared on CNN with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and again publicly called for Mississippi’s flag to be placed in a museum. This only fed the frenzy of radical leftist groups like Antifa and Black Lives Matter, a movement focused on violent protest.
Since the violence in Charlottesville last month, Wicker has doubled down on his knee-jerk, flag-grab stance. But in doing so, he has only strengthened and emboldened those who seek our historical obliteration. Now all of Mississippi’s public colleges and universities, save Delta State, have taken down the state flag in an act of appeasement.
With the possibility of a serious primary challenge next year from Senator Chris McDaniel, Senator Wicker seems to have realized his unpopular mistake. Now he has come out in favor of protecting Confederate monuments, while continuing his call for a flag change. His contradictory position is political posturing at its finest, a way for him to have his cake and eat it too.
But at least two state politicians have had the courage to stand up for Mississippi’s rich heritage and history – Senator McDaniel and former Senator Melanie Sojourner. Both have publicly called out Wicker’s hypocritical, vote-grabbing position.
And for their courageous stance in the face of such wild emotionalism, McDaniel and Sojourner have faced some criticism. In a recent column in the Clarion Ledger, Rev. William H. Smith, who is a native of Florida and currently resides in Virginia, defended Wicker’s position and called out both McDaniel and Sojourner. For Smith, the flag and the monuments are different issues so it’s not hypocritical for Senator Wicker to oppose the flag, yet seek to protect monuments.
But those issues are not different; they are intrinsically linked. The monuments honor the sacrifice of those who wore the gray, but the Confederate battle flag, which Smith, on his blog, has linked to “Southern secession, the Dixiecrat Party, the Ku Klux Klan, resistance to integration, and racism,” was as much a symbol of the common Confederate solider as the memorials. The flag was created by the troops and for the troops, and was never adopted as the official flag of the Confederacy or the Confederate army for that matter. It was a flag for Southern soldiers, a battle flag. Nothing more.
The use of the Confederate symbol in Mississippi’s state flag came in 1894, not during the upheavals of the 1950s and 1960s. It has been linked to racism and Jim Crow only out of historical ignorance. Even today, the battle flag is recognized around the world as a symbol of resistance to tyrannical government, not slavery and racism.
Calling for the removal of the flag, especially by politicians, begins a dangerous precedent and puts us on a very slippery slope, as agents of the violent leftist movement now seek the elimination of everything deemed “offensive,” with no end in sight. This is something McDaniel and Sojourner understand perfectly and have warned against repeatedly. We should heed their warnings.
In the old Soviet Union, history was constantly altered to suit the needs of that tyrannical regime. A favorite joke among Russian citizens went like this: “The future is known. It’s the past that keeps changing.” Let us not do likewise.
Ryan S. Walters is an independent historian, editor of Mississippi Conservative Daily, and a writer for the Abbeville Institute. He is a native of the Free State of Jones.