Editorial: Flag displayed in poor taste

Published 10:39 am Friday, July 10, 2015

It has been exactly one week since a Hartland Fire Department firefighter flew a Confederate flag off the back of a fire truck in Albert Lea’s Third of July Parade.

It has been a challenge for us to determine a solid stance for or against this incident as there are many competing issues.

On one end it is hard for us to deny the ugly feelings and symbol that the Confederate flag is often known for, yet to be against it interferes with our platform of the First Amendment. We, as Americans, have the right to freedom of speech and to petition the government, but we also have the right — regardless of the color of our skin — to be treated with respect and dignity. To promote anything that is against that right also interferes with our beliefs.

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The question here is taste.

It was in poor taste for firefighter Brian Nielsen to fly the Confederate flag off the back of a government-owned vehicle and hijack one of Albert Lea’s signature summer events: the Third of July Parade.

Though Nielsen has apologized in the media and said he wasn’t looking to get as much attention as he received, we have to question if he had reason to know that his actions would upset or disturb others.

Another issue that has surfaced during this whole debate is that many people in Minnesota do not know the full history of the Civil War and the Confederate flag — or else we have become desensitized to it.

The Confederate States of America created several flags during its short-lived government in the 1860s. What we know now as the Confederate flag was actually a modified battle flag that was rejected as the national flag in 1861. It instead became a battle flag for the Northern Virginia Army under Robert E. Lee.

Yet the cross design was popularly used in several naval flags at the time and gained recognition as a Confederate symbol after the war.

What people regard as the Confederate flag didn’t become a symbol of Southern heritage until the 20th century, however. The Ku Klux Klan had already adopted Confederate symbols for its white supremacist activities, but it wasn’t until the 1948 presidential election that the Confederate flag became popular.

That was when the Dixiecrat Party, an off-shoot of the conservative Democrat Party of the times, tried to sway voters against racial integration and keep white supremacy policies in place. The Dixiecrat’s presidential ticket was headed by Strom Thurmond, a notoriously racist politican.

That campaign popularized what we now know as the Confederate flag throughout the South through Dixiecrat supporters and their campaign message: to keep federal policies out of Southern states and, in essence, to protect what they called the South’s way of life.

Like it or not, the Confederate flag has become appropriated as a symbol of hate, similar to the way a Buddhist and Hindu symbol, the swastika, was appropriated by Nazi Germany as a symbol of hate. Before the Nazis, the swastika was generally understood to be a sacred religious symbol or a symbol of good fortune throughout Asia.

That’s why so many people see the Confederate flag as a racist depiction of a bygone age. That’s why various white supremacy groups around the U.S. use Confederacy-related symbols. And that’s why a young white man who murdered nine black people on June 17 in a South Carolina church wore the Confederate flag on his jacket.

Many of us do not know the full impact that one simple flag can have.

While we believe the Confederate flag carries important historical significance, we believe it belongs in a museum, not on government property and certainly not on a fire truck during a celebration of the United States. Just because you can fly a Confederate flag doesn’t mean you should.

We should celebrate the American flag and how it represents our freedoms. It — not the Confederate flag — should be a reminder of our rights.