I recently saw on Facebook that a Civil War game, Ultimate General, had been removed from the AppStore. Now, I don’t own or play this game. I personally remain in favor of Confederate Battle Flags being removed from public places out of love for my neighbors who are dismayed by it. Yet, here is an example of what I find a regrettable; the impulsive reaction to very real racism, violence and hate in our world – such as banning a history based game.
Context in use of the flag should matter: in museums, art, education, and yes, even in some games (as they can teach history too). Will we burn all books that have the flag in it? Should all movies – even offensive one’s such as Birth of a Nation or Gone with the Wind still shown on American Movie Classics (AMC) and university classes – be deleted, banned or destroyed? Should all the Civil War print shops be closed indiscriminately in Gettysburg, PA or Fredericksburg, VA? Will we pretend the war never happened or abridge history to make it more palatable?
All the iconography of the Confederacy is not equally toxic. It is intimately entwined into our history and culture, and some symbols have lost their sting over time. This complicates our rightful discernment over these many signs and symbols of the past and how we use them (if at all). Still, we shouldn’t seek to cleanse our society of all our historic memories of things we find abhorrent. We can instead seek to place them in a more proper educational context and expand upon them with new memorials of yet unsung African American heroes in the 1860’s conflict, the 1950’s and 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, and since. We can appreciate their artistic, historical or educational merit even as we explore and reflect upon the evil and sin these items reflect.
Yes, the battle flag in particular has been used for hate, and the stories of the historic South have at times been grossly romanticized. (Consider reading the article How the South Lost the War but Won the Narrative to learn more.) Yet, this legacy and its images can still be used to educate and inform discussions in the academic disciplines of sociology, theology, history, political science, military science and more. It can be helpful as used by Richmond’s Slave Trail to sensitize us to the continued ramifications of such evil, much as the Holocaust Museum does with the atrocities of WWII. Even as art, some items such as the Confederate War Memorial at Arlington Cemetery or stained glass at the National Cathedral or Richmond’s Monument Avenue can be admired for their beauty even as we learn of their use as historic propaganda and a reflection of a culture and prejudice now passing. Or as with me, such games, books and art might serve to inspire an interest in history, public service and racial reconciliation.
Ancient ruins such as Palmyra (now being destroyed by Islamic extremists), the ruins of the Roman Empire through the Axis Powers (imperial powers associated with historic evils), and even the Confederate monuments of Richmond and elsewhere have something to teach us. In fact, a number (not all certainly) of the Southern monuments were put up as a sign of reconciliation and/or healing at the time.
For example, I’m proud and thankful to be a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute which fought in the war as part of the Confederacy. Yet, it also created leaders that fought for the Union. Before and after the war, it helped produce the likes of George C. Marshall (look up the Marshall Plan), Jonathan Daniels (Civil rights martyr), and educated countless military, civic and business leaders serving all parts of our nation and other nations as well. Its Jackson Memorial Hall was built at the instigation and funding of past Northern soldiers who fought the Corps and paid for by the Federal government out of respect for the bravery and military competence of the young Corps of Cadets during the Battle of New Market.
As a community, we need to try to avoid oversimplified, dualistic responses – life has never and will never be so clear cut. We are all “sinner-saints” in a sense; neither all bad or all good, some more bad or more good than others. This year, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s end. The United States of America won the Civil War (not just the North), but the truth and excesses of that war is found somewhere between the blue and gray of history. This painful period was no game, but along with the evil of segregation afterward, we need to teach about it, encounter and wrestle with it. We must seek to remember no matter how painful at times.
Let us listen to one another as we seek to honor ancestors and history or as we seek to share the pain of historic injustices. While we do, it would prove prudent for all of us to use thoughtful discernment as we evaluate any remaining Civil War iconography and seek to move forward together.
Sensitivity and compassion to our neighbors is one thing, but revisionist history proves to be everyone’s enemy.
A descendant of Union soldiers, a member of an extended interracial family, and history buff. Ultimately, an imperfect child of God just like you – still listening, learning, and repenting.
The above post is edited from what appeared earlier on my personal Facebook page. It is a personal opinion and should in no way be taken to reflect the opinion of any other agency, organization or church. I’m solely responsible for any errors or sin. As of June 26, 2015, the game was restored to the AppStore. Yet other cultural artifacts and educational tools remain at risk of what I deem an imprudent cleansing.
Regarding the ongoing work of racial reconciliation and issues of the Civil War, I recommend the wonderful work of Ben Campbell, Richmond’s Unhealed History and the many offerings of the Richmond Hill Community. I also offer this essay on reconciliation from the Taize’ Community in France: http://www.taize.fr/en_article6398.html
Please join my prayers for healing, justice, reconciliation and peace. Better yet, let’s all strive to love justice, offer mercy and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.