By: Jane Calderwoood, Director of Congressional Programs
National Institute for Civil Discourse
There is an old saying that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The South Carolina State Legislature and Governor Nikki Haley took what history has taught them and took a stand for the future of their state and our country by removing the Confederate battle flag from the state house grounds this week.
I have studied and read about Lee, Jackson and other generals on both sides of the Civil War, and I’ve stood in Fort Sumter looking across the harbor wondering how the City of Charleston ever withstood the barrage of its cannons. I’ve visited the battlefields at Gettysburg, Antietam, and Bull Run among others. And when I stood on Cemetery Ridge and looked across at Seminary Ridge, I found myself saying a prayer for all those who died there, and couldn’t help but wonder what was going through the minds of those men as they charged over that long expanse of open ground. The Civil War Battlefields are somber places, and if they teach us nothing else, they teach us that we can never again allow our nation to be divided.
Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina stood on the House floor Thursday and noted that the flag that has raised the controversy is not the Confederate flag. It is the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, which was led by Robert E. Lee. And he explained that Lee, when he surrounded to General Grant at Appomattox, told his troops to furl their battle flags.
Lee’s advice should be heeded today. This battle flag threatens our union – not because it will cause another war, at least not in the traditional sense. But it has caused hurt, hate, fear, and death for well over a century, and it motivated a young man to walk into a house of worship in Charleston last month and gun down 9 innocent people.
When we, as Americans, place our hands over our hearts and pledge alligence to the flag, we are pledging our allegiance “to the flag of the United State of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”
The battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is a part of our nation’s history. It is not however, representative of our nation, our government or ‘we the people’ today. Place it in a museum and use it to tell the story of a nation divided against itself, and how, against all the odds, our union was brought back together and made stronger. And then tell the story of how our ancestors went on to fight together, against oppression, communism and genocide around the world – just as our sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers are doing today - under one flag, the Stars and Stripes.