I’ve been hearing a lot locally since the Presidential election about flag burning. It’s certainly a hot-button issue with emotions running high on at least one side, but I can’t help being somewhat perplexed. Eastern Kentucky seems to me to be one of the least likely places in the world where one might witness the burning of an American flag. The only regional tale I’ve ever heard of such, and it’s apocryphal at best, comes from nearly one hundred years ago when a small group of Communists were supposed to have attempted a rally not long after the end of World War I at some mountain county seat or other. After the local citizens’ response to their flag fire the Communists were apparently very glad to get out of the hills with their skins. In short, even though we are now told that a certain former KGB officer is actually the United States’ bestest buddy ever, and for the time being people are apparently swallowing the notion hook, line, and sinker, flag burning is still something that just ain’t done in eastern Kentucky. For which I’m very glad. It’s not only in poor taste, it’s stupid.
But admittedly,whether it’s right or wrong,the main reason that the act is so easy to condemn around here may be that flag burners are completely safe to hate, since almost none of us have brothers or sisters or cousins or any other kinfolk guilty of the practice. I guess the religious equivalent in terms of community consensus would be something like the issues of gayness versus divorce and remarriage. Gays are decidedly in the minority and therefore currently very easy to condemn, whereas divorce has become accepted a lot like the television set once was—when enough people got one, at least within the families of ministers, the churches pretty much quit quoting Scripture about it and preaching against it. And so the flag-burning issue remains alive and agitated locally, not least because our President-elect has recently “tweeted” the proposition that flag burners ought either to lose their citizenship or be jailed—while our state’s own Senior Senator, Mitch McConnell, vocally upholds the 1989 Supreme Court ruling that flag burning is an issue of Freedom of Speech and therefore a legitimate form of political protest. I won’t attempt to step in between the two on the issue. For the President-elect’s idea to be enacted, current Federal law would have to be changed, and if you don’t like McConnell’s opinion on the matter I suggest that you vote against him next time he runs, or for that matter, vote FOR him if you agree with him. What I’d like to leave with you is the idea that there’s a much better and more legitimate form of political protest available than the incineration of the Stars and Stripes. That is, at least as long as you don’t live in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi or Louisiana.
Simply put, why burn the American flag when you can light up a Confederate battle flag instead? Though “the Stars and Bars” is widely touted as some sort of beloved historical symbol, and in fact a great many of my own ancestors no doubt felt affection for it back when they fought under it, the Confederate flag isn’t the official emblem of any legitimate nation. However much the Civil War is romanticized now, all the Secessionist banner ever really stood for was organized rebellion, spearheaded by a rich planter class leading a great many simple, well-meaning small farmers gulled by the planters’ empty promises (like my forefathers were), against the lawful government of the United States. And I suspect that, even now, the Confederate flag remains a more potent symbol of everything worthy of protest against the wrongs and injustices of the American nation than the Stars and Stripes ever could be. In the five states listed above,the burning of a Confederate flag is illegal, but even in those the anti-burn law would be even more difficult to enforce than any similar prohibition against the destruction of the Stars and Stripes. That’s not to say, though, that a Confederate flag-burner wouldn’t run the same risk in, say, a rural Georgia or Florida panhandle county seat that the Communists once did with our own hill people over our true flag.
But we’re not in those states. We’re in Kentucky, and there’s no Confederacy any more. Only the United States. May we always remember that, especially since, only four short years ago, people from many Southern states, including several thousand in this one, were actually petitioning once again to secede.