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When It Comes to the Confederate Flag, Business Trumps Tradition

Some wars are not fought on battlefields. They are fought on social networks with the weapons of Twitter feeds and Facebook memes.  

In the 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 last week as South Carolina marched inexorably towards removing the Confederate flag 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 soul. “We are in a war to save American culture,” the SCV website 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. “The forces arrayed against us are formidable,” Barrow posted online. “Their first declared goal is to remove the Confederate Battle flag… 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, who led the ill-considered charge at Gettysburg, the high-water mark of the Confederacy. The South Carolina legislature passed the flag bill by overwhelming margins. Gov. Nikki Haley quickly signed the bill and by Friday morning, the flag was taken down for the last time and transferred to a “relic room.”

To add insult to injury, as 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. Olens’ argument: If the DOT granted the KKK’s request, it would be required to erect a sign that includes the official state seal. “The state of Georgia wants no part of communicating a message of racism and white supremacy,” Olens said.

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.” The flag fight is really about corporate CEOs and whether they want to be in a state where KKK-endorsed symbols of racial hatred are 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. Forced to choose between a flag and a major business development, it’s easy to see which way a governor would go.

If a corporate CEO approached our 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.