War, like no other phenomena, evokes a sense of national unity. The American flags flying from cars and store-windows are symbolic bridges between strangers. We are all in this together, the flags say.
It is another flag, from another war, that threatens unity at Lakeside High School.
The Confederate battle flag is a symbol that for some - me included - represents a romantic ideal for a simpler era in which the Southern homeland fought for its independence from an oppressive national government, just as the fledgling colonies had fought for freedom from English tyranny a century earlier.
For others, the flag represents ethnic oppression, a decidedly unromantic vision of the enslavement of members of one race by members of another race. Those who hold some marginal version of this view, if they dont struggle too much with the historical holes in their adopted perception, are more likely to simply see the Confederate battle flag as the corporate logo of racists and rednecks.
Unfortunately, as much as I detest racists, some of them have successfully hijacked the Confederate battle flag. Native Southerners who really do believe in states rights for too long all but abandoned the flags rightful place in history. Many are the times that self-proclaimed believers in heritage, not hate have called to applaud my defense of the battle flag and the fight over Georgias banner, only to slide in a bigoted remark that undercuts their denial of racist motives.
With one side choosing to see the Confederate battle flag only in racist terms, and with the other not only defending its heritage but often fueling its hate, students on either side at Lakeside or any other school are fighting a losing battle.
At Lakeside, last weeks racial face-off was exactly what had been feared in Seminole County last year, when officials banned the Confederate battle flag from students clothing. There had been no fights over the flag, but the high schools administration saw the divisions between students leading up to a confrontation - and kicked the flag off campus.
Like Seminole County, Lakesides dispute hadnt yet resulted in a fight, but it was close. They were yelling at each other and squaring off, says Principal Victor Lee. Three black students denounced two whites wearing T-shirts with the flag as racists, and the white kids responded in kind; all five were booted off campus, and nine more whites then tried to whip up emotions for an off-campus brawl.
So, like Seminole County, the flag is banned - for now. Given the disruption its causing in the school, we felt like we needed to take this stance at this time, says Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price.
A federal judge has upheld Seminoles ban while a free-speech lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union continues; if it werent temporary, Lakesides ban would probably get the same treatment.
Meanwhile, cooler heads really should prevail. Its unfortunate that some people will choose to react violently to the Confederate battle flag, and even more unfortunate that some people want them to do so.
Lakeside students consistently are among the countys top achievers. They dont have time to get bogged down in politically correct history and race-baiting histrionics. Its easily offended students who see the Confederate battle flag only in racist terms, and the flags bearers who honestly believe in recapturing the flags heritage, or who have less-than-honorable reasons for picking a fight, should all get lessons in Southern history to put their petty squabble in the proper perspective.
Then, with our shared and somewhat united nation at war, they should all wave the American flag - and save the fighting for our nations enemies.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com.)
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