I didn’t post any fresh content yesterday because I didn’t have anything on my mind that I was just burning to write about. Ever since I moved my blog from Blogspot, I’ve decided it’s better to post quality content over quantity. I realize that some readers may not think the content is necessarily better on this blog. I used to post less about politics and more about Mormonism and steplife issues than I do now. I no longer need to write as much about either of those topics, so I have noticed some formerly loyal readers have moved on. Some people used to like reading my posts about true crime. I do still write about that, but not as often. Maybe it’s because the president is a criminal and writing about him is kind of like writing about true crime, too.
As time passes, priorities change. Right now, I’m fixated more on politics than I’ve ever been. I used to not care at all about politics. Donald Trump changed that. I often like to say that good things can come out of almost every situation. Maybe one thing Trump has done is make people less complacent about their leadership. As people are less complacent about leadership, they also become more vocal about other issues.
Last night, I saw an article on Military Times about how Iraq War veteran Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md. introduced a proposal to ban the display of the Confederate battle flag on all Department of Defense sites. Exceptions would be made for museum exhibits, state-approved license plates and grave sites of Confederate soldiers. However, the ban would include military work spaces, break rooms, living quarters, bumper stickers and personal apparel. Disobeying the order could lead to disciplinary action.
This measure comes up as the Marine Corps recently banned the display of the Confederate Battle flag. The Marine Corps’ decision was actually fresh news in April of this year, but it’s recently come up again as the Army has not followed suit. Ten Army installations are named after Confederate generals and many servicemembers, particularly those who are from southern states, identify the “rebel flag” as a symbol of regional pride and their heritage.
The battle flag issue also coincides with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been raging for the past few weeks as people have been protesting police brutality toward people of color as well as the general issue of racism that still pervades American culture so many years after the Civil War ended. There have been lots of protests and riots, but I’ve also noticed some good conversations amid ridiculous displays of false bravado. I’m sure a lot of people reading this post have seen the pictures of St. Louis lawyer Mark McCloskey and his wife, Patricia, in their bare feet as they brandished weapons outside of their historic mansion. McCloskey claims that he and his wife were frightened for their lives as they pointed loaded weapons at about 500 protesters on their way to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house.
I only know what I’ve read in the news and seen in pictures. For all I know, Mr. and Mrs. McCloskey really were terrified for their lives. However, if the crowd was really that huge, it seems like the McCloskeys’ two guns wouldn’t be enough to stave them off for long if the crowd actually threatened them with violence. If it came down to it, maybe the McCloskeys would have managed to pick off a few people before they were overcome by the huge mass of people. Moreover, in the photos I’ve seen, the McCloskeys don’t look especially frightened. They look angry and aggressive. But I will grant that I wasn’t there and I’m not them, so what they were actually feeling and experiencing, I don’t know.
After I read the Military Times article, I read some of the Facebook comments. I noticed one posted by a German woman. I knew she was German by her first name, Hannelore, but she also identified herself as such when she rather smugly pointed out that Germans are doing better because Nazi symbols such as the swastika are illegal to display in Germany (unless it’s part of an art exhibit or civic education).
I have noticed this self-congratulatory attitude quite often among many Europeans, but especially Germans. They are quite proud of themselves for confronting their past history and trying to make amends. And I would be the first to congratulate them for doing that. I do think it’s admirable that Germans are not afraid to express their shame regarding their not so distant Nazi past. However, just because they’ve banned Nazi symbols, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem with racism in Germany. Moreover, I have actually seen the Confederate flag displayed in parts of Europe. So far, I’ve seen it in Italy, Ireland, and Germany. In fact, there’s a Harley-Davidson themed bar in the very next village that has recently had a “rebel flag” prominently displayed.
So I pointed this out to Hannelore, who came back at me with vehement defensiveness. She pointed out that it’s not illegal to display the rebel flag in Germany. That may be so– and, in fact, it’s not illegal in the United States to display the rebel flag or swastikas, though that may soon change in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, even in America, if you display one of those symbols, it says something about you. I wouldn’t say most Americans would be alright with a business displaying a swastika, whether or not it’s “legal”. And although I do recall seeing businesses in the Deep South flying the rebel flag, nowadays it’s not a particularly smart business move.
Another German woman piped up, claiming that the Confederate flags were brought to Germany by American G.I.s. But even if that’s true, it’s not like Germans don’t have access to the Internet. It’s not like the owner of the Harley-Davidson garage in Wallau, who is mostly likely German or a resident of the European Union, doesn’t have access to information about the Confederate flag and what it stands for… or what it means to many, especially black, Americans.
I don’t think less of Germany or Germans because I’ve seen the Confederate battle flag displayed here. It doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to Europeans as it does to Americans. They don’t have the same history with that flag that Americans have, just as many Americans don’t have the same history with the swastika that Germans have. Moreover, it really hasn’t been that long that the Confederate flag was that controversial. I grew up in the southern United States seeing that flag everywhere, not just in my neighborhood and at school, but also on television.
When I was a child, one of the most popular shows on prime time television was The Dukes of Hazzard, which featured a 1969 Dodge Charger with a rebel flag on the roof dubbed “The General Lee”. The show was so popular that there were toys, games, and other merchandise sold everywhere– I remember having a Dukes of Hazzard TV tray (exactly like the one pictured) and a board game based on the show. I seem to remember McDonald’s even had Dukes of Hazzard themed Happy Meals for sale. The 1980s may seem like ages ago to younger people, but I remember that time well, and I’m still under 50.
I went to graduate school at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. I had an apartment on campus and could see the Statehouse from my window. In 1999, when I began my studies there, the Confederate flag still flew on the Statehouse dome. I watched from my window and on CNN as the flag was finally lowered on July 1, 2000, only to be moved to the Statehouse grounds, where it remained until just five years ago. Republican Governor Nikki Haley ordered it moved to a museum after white supremacist Dylann Roof shot up a church in Charleston, killing nine black church members. As of July 10, 2020, it will have been just five years since the flag was moved… and the United States still has a state that includes the battle flag on its state flag, although it looks like Mississippi has finally decided to change their state flag to one that is more acceptable for modern times. Georgia also used to have a Confederate symbol on its state flag, but that changed in 2001.
I also remember that when I was in graduate school, Maurice’s Piggie Park, a South Carolina barbecue chain restaurant, had Confederate flags in front of its locations. I believe Maurice Bessinger has died since I left South Carolina and his descendants have taken down the flags. But I didn’t finish grad school until 2002. That’s still less than twenty years ago.
Many people are changing their hearts and minds about the prominent display of racist symbols like monuments and flags, but meaningful change takes time. Some people will never change their minds, and we’ll just have to wait until they pass on to the next existence. The United States is also a much younger country than Germany is. It’s only existed for a mere few hundred years, and there are bound to be “growing pains”. Germany has a much longer history and has already had a lot of growing pains. Moreover, while Germans don’t display the swastika because of their deep shame regarding Hitler’s era, the fact that some Germans embrace the Confederate battle flag tells me that they’re not necessarily any “better” than Americans are. However, to their credit, they do seem to be willing to check themselves when their hypocrisy is pointed out.
Hannelore and I managed to end our discussion on a friendly note, especially when I told her that I’m grateful to be in Germany, especially right now. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity to experience living abroad. I have really loved living here, and have made some friends and memories I hope will last for many years to come. But racism is a worldwide problem. It’s not just a U.S. problem. And just because swastikas are banned in Germany, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem with race based hatred here.
I told a German friend about my conversation with Hannelore and another German lady last night, and how they claimed that the battle flag was introduced by American G.I.s. My German friend, who is a research superstar, provided me with a link to a German news article about how the Confederate flag is being embraced in East Germany, particularly by bikers and truckers. There’s a great love of 19th century North American culture in the east… and there are no American G.I.s posted there. They love cowboys, line dancing, and yes, some of them love the Confederate flag, which is less of a cowboy thing from out west than it is a southern thing. I think sometimes Germans forget how huge the United States is. Yes, Texas is considered a southern state, but it’s a different kind of southern, particularly as you head west, into the newer part of the country.
When we lived in Germany the first time, there was even a (laughable) American style restaurant near where we lived, which featured the German interpretation of American style Old West food and decor. It was once called Sitting Bull, but when we were there, it was known as “Buffalo Bill’s Saloon”. That restaurant eventually closed down, but I seem to remember there were two flags flying in front of it. One was a German flag… the other was American, I think. Bill used to get very upset every time he saw it, because it was extremely threadbare and worn. As a Soldier, he wanted to retire it properly. We ate there once or twice and it didn’t necessarily satisfy our cravings for American style barbecue. But it was fun seeing the western style decor. I don’t remember if it included Confederate flags, although it does seem that some Germans think the Confederate flag is an Old West thing. It’s really more of a southeastern US thing, which isn’t necessarily cowboy land.
Anyway… I’d really like to see people focus on being less hateful and judgmental all the way around. I think that significant progress toward equality can’t come until people have honest discussions with each other and learn to be more accepting of visible differences while also understanding that, underneath it all, we really aren’t as different from each other as we think we are. We’re all made of the same stuff, and when it comes down to it, your shit stinks just as badly as mine does.