Categorized | Jewish History, Rotto_Gary, USA

U.S. should take down all Confederate symbols

By Gary Rotto

Gary Rotto

Gary Rotto

SAN DIEGO — Since the murders at Emanuel AME church a few weeks ago, I’ve struggled looking for the right words to express my feelings on the so called “Southern Culture” as symbolized by the Confederate flag.  It is amazing to me that we tolerate the rewriting of history as a way to “mend” the divisions witnessed by the attempted secession of slave states in the mid 19th Century.  Supposedly, the victors get to write history.  But why do Americans tolerate the whitewashing of evil perpetuated on our soil?

I’ll paraphrase what my daughter rhetorically asked “they fought us, they lost. Why does that flag still fly anywhere?”  More that the simple winning or losing a war, this flag, symbolized slavery.  The whitewashing (pun intended) of the intent of the Confederacy suggests that this war was about State’s Rights.  The Confederacy was about State’s Rights as much the Nazis were about rebellion from economic sanctions from the rest of Europe.  The Nazis war was to promote one race over another, about the extermination of the Jewish people and about an ideology.

As Professor James  W. Loewen points out in the Washington Post, President Franklin Pierce and President James Buchanan, the two presidents immediately preceding President Lincoln, were part of the pro-Southern wing of the Democratic Party.  During their time in office, the federal government passed and sought to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, an act that mandates that if a slave escaped to a free state that state must return the slave to his or her master in the south.  Any federal official who did not arrest a runaway slave was liable to pay a fine.  States such as Iowa, Pennsylvania and Maine passed laws – state laws – to prevent the federal government from enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act.  Slave states were incensed and demanded that the Federal government impose its power to override those state laws and enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

The Texas secession statement expresses the true intent of the Confederacy:

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of various States, and the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

Take out the last part about “existence in this country” and substitute “Jewish” for “African” and what do you have?  Nazi Germany.   One may ask, “Which is a greater evil:  enslavement of a people or extermination?”  The point is that both are pure evil.

My friend, Will, was born and raised in the South.  He points that there has been a “de-nazification of Europe”.  “There are no monuments to Hitler in Germany.  It’s illegal to make the Nazi salute.  It’s illegal to fly the Nazi flag.”  He notes that anti-Semitism in Europe is still alive and well, “but it has been handicapped by making it impossible to celebrate its clearest symbols.”

Besides Confederate flags flying in several state capitols until the past few weeks, we have “Civil War Re-enactments.” You can buy the grey hats of the Confederate army, and there are monument to Confederate generals in many states.   These symbols of evil have been allowed to persist well beyond the time during which they should have been ultimately destroyed.

As Jews, we have strong, visceral feelings when we see the swastika or an image of Hitler.  It hits us in the pits of our stomach, sends chills down our spines, and evokes strong images in our minds.  We must understand what it means to those whose families, whose histories were affected by slavery, by what the Confederacy stood for and what that flag symbolizes.

It is but a day before the Klu Klux Klan of North Carolina mobilizes to hold a pro-Confederate flag rally at South Carolina’s capitol. We should work to eliminate these images in America, to remove those names from schools, to take down those monuments, to pressure retailers from selling symbols of both the Nazi and Confederate government.

We would not allow the history of Europe during World War II to be whitewashed.  Neither must we allow the history of the Southern Confederacy to be laundered or exonerated.

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Rotto is a freelance writer based in San Diego.  You may comment to gary.[email protected]

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