May 30, 2024
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The Confederate Flag: Historical or Diabolical?

Is the Confederate flag a purely historical symbol? Or does it represent something far more sinister? Ever since the horrific shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that occurred in mid-June, the entire country has been grappling with that question. There’s not much I can say about the shooting itself that hasn’t been said already. It was an act of terrorism, plain and simple, and my heart and prayers go out to the victims’ families and anyone else affected by the tragedy. But I’d like to give my own perspective on the flag controversy.

There’s no denying that the killer in the murders, Dylann Storm Roof, used the Confederate flag as a symbol in his life. The pictures that the authorities uncovered from his social media accounts make that pretty clear. But was it a clear element in motivating him into his terrorism? That may never be known; it’s impossible to get inside his head and to know for sure. The question then becomes: what is the place of the Confederate flag in our society now?

I mean, I just took an American history course; secession, the Civil War and Reconstruction are all major (and painful) elements. The Confederate States of America, and by extension, the Confederate flag, hold a crucial place in the history of the United States. We can’t deny that they existed. Those who argue that the flag has historical value, thus, have a point.

But celebrating the flag? Keeping it on top of a few southern statehouses? Is that really all necessary?

I think I can illustrate the issue with an anecdote I remember from my childhood. It’s not something that directly occurred to me, but the whole flag controversy brought it back to my mind.

Back when I was younger, I was absolutely obsessed with the video game series Pokemon and its corresponding hyperactive TV show. I probably spent more time looking up information on the video games online than actually playing them (…and nowadays my Xbox is gathering dust so nothing really has changed). One thing I remember reading about online was an odd controversy that occurred with a Japanese Pokemon card. During the original run of the cards, there was a card with a bat Pokemon that had a Japanese omote manji symbol to the side of the card. The thing about the omote manji symbol? It looks just like a Nazi swastika, only inverted.

The creators of this card almost certainly had no neo-Nazi intentions. The omote manji—that is, the swastika, before it had any other connotation—is a representation of good luck and even of a Buddhist temple. For hundreds of years, in various cultures, it had various positive meanings. But the symbol had been corrupted. It now represents horrific suffering, bottomless evil, the Holocaust, the terror of the Nazi party… And understandably, many were upset to see this symbol on a card meant for a kids’ game.

The card created a huge controversy; many Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, spoke up to Pokemon’s parent company Nintendo. Nintendo agreed to stop circulating the card, according to CBS News, saying, “What is appropriate for one culture may not be for another.” A Pokemon wiki shows that the design was later revised to have a different symbol that doesn’t look like a swastika.

My point with this anecdote is that sadly, a symbol—no matter what it initially means—can be corrupted, even if it ideally has historical value. We all wish that symbols such as the swastika and the Confederate flag didn’t have the negative connotations that they carry—we all wish the horrors of the Nazis and the Holocaust and slavery and the Civil War never happened. But it’s impossible to escape those connotations, and thus I believe there is no reason to celebrate symbols like those. They shouldn’t be forgotten; we need to remember our world’s history, no matter how dark it got. But they shouldn’t be defended or placed on a pedestal.

The Confederate flag once stood for slavery and oppression. It now stands for not only that, but for murder and terrorism. Take down the Confederate flags, and raise the future in their stead.

Oren Oppenheim, age 17, is a rising senior (yes, he did survive junior year!) at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist, but currently is drowning in emails from colleges. You can email him at [email protected] and see his photography at facebook.com/orenphotography.

By Oren Oppenheim

 

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