The essence of communication is that both the speaker and listener understand what is meant. Sometimes words and emblems, formerly benign or meritorious, can be adopted and used by miscreants and thus become symbols of bad causes. They convey messages that may not be intended by the speaker, but are widely understood differently by listeners. Two of the most odious political causes in living memory were Communism and Naziism. But the hammer juxtaposed on a sickle was originally a symbol of industrial and farm workers’ aspirations; the swastika was an Indian religious icon. Both became feared symbols of totalitarianism, oppression, and evil. For too many of us, the Confederate battle flag—based on the cross of St. Andrew, as is the flag of Scotland, has acquired similar meaning.
Secession and the establishment of the Confederacy was a bad idea from the start. Starting war by the attack on Fort Sumter was an even worse one. The size and unity of the United States within a federalist system is what has made the nation so strong and prosperous. Capitalism and the free market would not have survived in the semi-feudal South had secession succeeded. In any event, it became a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight, like all wars.
Men who fought under the Confederate battle flag (which was NOT the “Stars and Bars”—that flag was replaced for the battlefield because it was confusingly similar to the Union flag) generally fought honorably, even if their leaders’ cause was flawed. For that, they deserve to be respected. The leaders may have started the war to preserve slavery, which they believed necessary to produce cotton, which was the source of their wealth, but the soldiers themselves fought for the reason soldiers always fight—self preservation, and then for their fellow troops. To many of their descendants that what the flag means. Unfortunately, it has been co-oped by racists in recent decades, and acquired the meaning of their cause.
The most revered Confederate hero Robert E. Lee, whose name also has been hijacked by racists at times, sought reconciliation after Appomattox. “Furl the flag, boys,” he said to his troops after his surrender. It was a well taken admonition then; it is now.
See also: http://www.bobreagan13.com/2011/04/blood-and-money.html