Some wars are not fought on battlefields these days. They are fought on social networks with the weapons of Twitter feeds and Facebook memes.
In the current war over the Confederate battle flag, one of the generals is Charles Kelly Barrow, the vice chairman of the Georgia Civil War Commission who is also “commander-in-chief” of the Georgia chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Barrow tried to rally his troops all across the internet last week as South Carolina marched inexorably toward removing the Confederate flag displayed on its capitol grounds.
As Barrow put it, this wasn’t just a disagreement over displaying a flag at government buildings: it was a fight for the country’s very soul.
“We are in a war to save American culture,” the SCV Web site warned ominously. “And we don’t have much time.”
Right away, you’ll notice an inconsistency. While the SCV proclaims it is vital to “save American culture,” it was the Confederacy that attempted to destroy America by starting a war that killed more than 300,000 U.S. soldiers.
Setting aside that inconvenient truth, Barrow also sounded the alarm on the real enemy: all those liberals who never liked the Confederate States anyway.
“The forces arrayed against us are formidable,” Barrow posted online. “Their first declared goal is to remove the Confederate Battle flag which flies beside the Confederate Soldier’s monument in Columbia . . . But do not be fooled into thinking they will stop there. The radical leftists who are driving this crisis are committed to the complete eradication of all things Confederate.”
Barrow was about as successful as one of the generals his organization venerates: George Pickett, whose troops were cut down in the ill-considered charge at the battle of Gettysburg, which was considered the high-water mark of the Confederacy.
The South Carolina legislature passed the Confederate flag bill by overwhelming margins in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill Thursday afternoon and by Friday morning, the flag was taken down for the last time and transferred to a “relic room” for storage.
To add insult to injury, in the same week that South Carolina voted to furl the St. Andrew’s Cross, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens had his lawyers in court fighting another group that likes to wave Confederate flags: the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
The KKK outfit from Union County wanted to adopt a portion of a state highway so that they could have an official road sign bearing their name. After the Department of Transportation rejected the request, the KKK sued the DOT. The attorney general’s office is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed.
Olens’ argument: if the DOT granted the KKK’s request, it would be required to erect a sign that includes the official state seal. “This seal of approval required by the State sends a clear message that what is being communicated through the sign is sanctioned by the State,” Olens said. The state of Georgia wants no part of communicating a message of racism and white supremacy.
It is said that some years after the Civil War, when he was asked why the grand charge at Gettysburg failed, Pickett remarked: “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”
Pickett’s comment still applies today, if you substitute the words “business executives” for “Yankees.” In the end, the flag fight is all about corporate CEOs and whether they want to do business in a state where KKK-endorsed symbols of racial hatred are put on official display.
I suspect that Nikki Haley received a phone call or two from executives at Volvo, which recently announced plans to open an auto assembly plant in her state.
No multi-national corporation wants to get dragged into a racially-charged controversy like the one involving the Confederate flag. Forced to choose between a flag and a major business development, it’s easy to see which way a governor would go.
The same thing would happen here. If a corporate CEO approached Nathan Deal or some future governor and said, “I’ll move my headquarters to Georgia, but only if those carvings on Stone Mountain are removed,” you would see the Confederate memorial sand-blasted smooth within 24 hours.
Heritage may be important, but business is business.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.