There are white Southerners who venerate their Confederate ancestors as heroes, even patriots. One of mine was a deserter. I wish he hadn't fought at all.
My great-great grandfather was conscripted into the Confederate Navy and assigned to a ship guarding Mobile Bay, in Alabama. In August 1864, after Union vessels sank his ship in a battle that would close the Confederacy's last port, he swam to shore and walked home -- a distance of about 400 miles, according to research my father did a few years ago.
I don't know much else about him, other than that he owned a small farm and that he did not own any slaves. That he was drafted into the military may suggest he was not eager to fight for the South, but I don't know whether he believed in the cause -- only that when he saw his opportunity, he abandoned it.
The Confederacy was the most vile and harmful political invention in United States history. It was founded on the explicit principle that slavery is the "natural and normal condition" of black people, and that they should be ruthlessly exploited to the benefit of their white masters. More Americans died in the bloodletting that followed than in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.
Where in that story arc is anything worth celebrating? Yet 150 years after the Civil War ended in utter defeat for the Confederacy, a flag of that failed pseudo-nation still flies on public property. And once again, following the killing of nine black parishioners by an apparent white supremacist inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina, we are talking about whether it should.
This isn't at all a difficult question. There is no place for the flag of a rebellious breakaway region on public property anywhere in the United States.
It certainly does not belong above a memorial steps from the South Carolina statehouse, where apparently it cannot ever be lowered -- under force of law.
White Southerners who support the display of the flag claim it is a symbol of their "heritage," when what they really mean is it reminds them of an imagined past where white people held all the power and minorities were kept properly in their place. They say it honors their ancestors, though most likely know less about theirs than I do about mine.
These are the things they say when they are trying to be polite. On Friday, the website of the Alabama Media Group created an ill-conceived forum for readers to "debate" the Confederate flag issue. Not surprisingly, the nasty side of the Internet showed up in force, with the poor employee assigned to moderate the comment section required to put in a CrossFit-level workout just to keep up.
Pulling down a few Confederate flags isn't going to help families of the victims of the Charleston shootings, nor will it erase the legacy of racism and hate that sadly persists to this day. But at least there will be fewer visible reminders of it.