By Lexicon, Vikrum (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
The Gadsden Flag, pictured above, has at least two main, distinct uses. The first is as a flag used in the American Revolution. Those who fly it today, though, usually are not really commemorating the Revolution, they are showing support for the "Tea Party" movement. The main points here are as follows.
- Despite the name "Tea Party" and the use of this historical flag, the connection between the modern political movement and Revolutionary ideals is mostly imaginary. This kind of game has been popular among grown men for as far back in time as we can see. Other examples include Freemasons pretending to be the continuation of the Knights Templar, the American founders pretending to be a kind of restoration of the Roman Republic (hence the "Senate" and "Capitol Hill"), Himmler pretending that the SS was a kind of reinstitution of Medieval orders of knights, Mussolini pretending to re-found the Roman Empire, modern Druids pretending that their rituals are those of the ancient Druids rather than the fantasies of Victorian romanticists, and -- yes, you knew I was going there -- modern racist groups pretending to be the heirs of the Confederacy.
- The modern use of the flag by the Tea Party movement should not be allowed to completely redefine its history.
- The Tea Party movement produces moderately strong emotions, both in its supporters and its detractors.
- For full disclosure, I am not really either a supporter or a detractor of the Tea Party movement, so I don't have much of an emotional reaction to them. I can agree with much of what they say, but I think they put too much emphasis on taxes and other economic issues, and I don't really agree with their stance on immigration. However they started, they now seem to be a sock puppet of the Republican Party.
Imagine, then, that someone chose to fly a huge Gadsden Flag where it would be visible on a busy interstate highway. The purpose of our imaginary flag-flier is to reclaim the Gadsden Flag from its association with the Tea Party and educate the public about its original, historical meaning. That purpose really would not matter in this context: drivers would come up on the flag, have an emotional reaction to it, and then drive past. There is really not enough time in this brief encounter to educate anyone on anything, but what will happen is drivers will be distracted, and this will increase the likelihood of a wreck.
I don't recall seeing huge Gadsden Flags flown near the interstates, but I have seen huge Confederate Flags flown that way. Now the Confederate Flag has a wider range of meanings than the Gadsden Flag; for some it stands for the historical Confederate States of America, for some it is a symbol of home and family, for many (I'm thinking of the country music / NASCAR types here) it is little more than an act of mild defiance against the powers that be, and for many others it is a symbol of racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. In the summer of 2015, when the governor of South Carolina, Walmart, and others took it upon themselves to decide for everyone that the one and only thing that the Confederate Flag (and all things Confederate) stood for was racial hatred, this amped up the emotional conflict to the extreme. I know; this was what prompted me to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans and to begin researching my ancestry, so I am clearly not one who is ashamed of the Confederate Flag. However, this is not an issue of shame; this is an issue of prudence. In today's society, the Confederate Flag is as big a distraction as a completely naked centerfold model on a billboard would be.
The debate about the meaning of symbols and about the meaning of history is a debate worth having. Let's have it in a place where people can stop and think without putting lives at risk, though.