Bolton’s Bias: A tale of two symbols

Opinion Editor Will Bolton discusses his opinion with anyone who will listen, in person. This column gives him a place to do it where people can escape from his tirades on everything from school programs to American politics by just putting the article down—although given a chance they probably won’t want to.


Although the toddler-like attention span of the American media and public have moved past the Confederate flag conflict, I would like to bring it back up before an important American symbol’s name is Mudd.

It would seem as if those crying out against the evil of the flag have been victorious. Just as it was removed from Lee Chapel, which stands above Robert E. Lee’s final burial place at Washington and Lee, the college where he was president and which obviously bears his name, so too was it removed from the grounds of the state house in Columbia, S.C. after lengthy and emotional debate.

Those who called for these removals and continue to try and hide the flag in shame undoubtedly do so with good intentions. They are crusaders trying to move past a history of slavery and racism. They are men and women who see what they believe is hate and fight it at every level. Despite their good intentions, the reasons to keep the Confederate flag visible are far too important for it to be left in history.

The recent series of events surrounding the Confederate flag can be best understood by looking into the story of another taboo symbol. How ironic that those looking to see the Confederate flag left in tatters often used comparisons to the swastika to accomplish their aims.

When this comparison is examined, I mean really examined, more thoroughly than through a mere scroll past a Facebook meme, the history of the swastika exemplifies why the flag should be held up as opposed to torn down.

5,000 years before Hitler established it as the symbol of the Third Reich, the swastika was esteemed as a symbol of good luck, and it is still a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Odinism. The word, translated from Sanskrit, literally means well-being or good fortune and across much of India and Indonesia swastikas on temples are as ordinary as crosses on churches in America. Swastikas are even painted on walls or kept in homes to wish visitors a happy day.

Because the protestors against the Confederate flag are mostly reasonable, I seriously doubt that they would even dream of telling a Hindu that they were being hateful towards Jewish people. The point is that by their own logic, they should. To understand why requires a discussion about the nature of symbols.  

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a symbol is “an action, object, event, etc., that expresses or represents a particular idea or quality.” The question is, can the same material thing represent different abstract concepts depending on the context in which it is used?

The answer, of course, is yes. Any scuba diver knows that thumbs up means ascend while to the general non-scuba diving population it means okay or good. This is just a simple example of the principle behind the far more complicated flag debate.

The intent of the scuba diver changed the meaning of thumbs up in exactly the same way that the intent of the Nazis took a religious symbol and turned it into an oppressive one. In both cases, the changed significance of the respective symbols did nothing to change the original significance. For those using it as a symbol of good-luck and peace all across India and Indonesia, the swastika is still that symbol.

Now, we have come full circle. The principles behind the swastika and scuba-diving also apply to the Confederate flag. Because the flag was not created as a symbol of hate, but instead was perverted later in its history, it is a totally acceptable form of expression if, and only if, the intention of the person is to remember southern heritage and pride. This becomes clear upon examination of the flag’s history.

The original intent of Battle Flag of Virginia, as it was called at the time, was to distinguish General Lee’s Northern Army of Virginia from Union forces and prevent friendly fire. Men and women from all over the Confederacy served and died under its colors every bit as honorably as Union soldiers did. Just as the flag of the 506th infantry, arguably the most famous army in World War II, is flown in remembrance of the 506th’s fallen soldiers, so too should the Confederate flag be permitted to fly to honor the fallen soldiers of the Confederate States of America who paid the ultimate price.

It was not until after the war that Dixie-crats, Southern Democrats whose political platforms were hugely anti-civil rights, and the KKK took the Confederate flag and perverted its meaning for their own purposes just like Hitler would later do to the swastika.

In some ways, removing the confederate flag allows hate to win. It shows that racists and murderers did such damage that they overshadow the sacrifice of veterans. The Confederate soldiers should be honored along with the victims of slavery and racism.

They were not fighting for racism. The majority of soldiers who fought for the South did not own slaves. They fought because they believed that their homes and families were under attack, and no one can blame them for defending their livelihoods. They were not traitors. At the time, the Constitution allowed for secession, and the people fighting to create the Confederate States of America were only two generations removed from the individuals fighting to create the United States of America.

Instead of removing these flags, hold them as symbols of Southern pride and heritage. Take the symbolism of the Confederate flag back from the racists and murderers and make it respectable again. Get rid of Nazi swastikas and put up Buddhist ones. Get rid of flags with “South will rise again” and fly flags with “heritage not hate.”

I will not argue that everyone flying a Confederate flag is doing so for good reasons. I will not argue that if you see someone with a Confederate flag that reads “the south will rise again,” as some do, that the person is not seriously morally impaired. But if a scuba diver gives thumbs up, it’s the symbol for ascend, if a Hindu has a Swastika, it’s a symbol of luck, and if a Confederate flag says, “heritage not hate,” it’s a symbol for that saying.  

Will Bolton is a Perspectives Editor for The Patriot and