When we first moved into our house, one of the first things we noticed was that our neighbors proudly displayed a rather large Confederate flag in their garage.
As my wife and I both grew up in this area of rural Minnesota, we’d seen Confederate paraphernalia before, but that was primarily from yokel high-schoolers, kids who would skip class to go hunting or come to school via snowmobile. And while I detest the Confederate flag, you know what—that’s forgivable. Sophomores in high school rarely (never?) consider the implications of their actions.*
But my neighbors are adults—and if you’re an adult and fly the Confederate flag, that means something else entirely. This is especially true in the North. Minnesota was a Union state. It was the first state to respond to Lincoln’s call for volunteers in 1861. The 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry played an especially important role in helping the Union win the Battle of Gettysburg, which helped win the war. So, if you’re flying a Confederate flag in Minnesota, you’re literally flying the flag of an enemy nation.**
Oddly enough, my neighbor’s Confederate flag is flanked immediately by a large American flag. It’s like dueling banjos. Even though we’ve lived here for three years, despite my misgivings, I haven’t reacted publicly to my neighbor’s flag.
Then, this week, as I was heading to work, I noticed that a Confederate flag was displayed in a different neighbor’s garage.
That makes two houses on our block—in Minnesota!—that had Confederate flags. I decided I had to act.
I figured the best way was to fight fire with fire: Since so many of my neighbors (about 17 percent) have decided to fly the flag of a country that was once our enemy, I’m going to do the same.
The problem is, I can’t decide which flag to fly. As I see it, there are several distinct options of snarkiness, but some are more obvious than others. Help me decide.
Option #1: The Union Jack
As the British were our country’s first enemy, the Union Jack would be hilarious to fly next to the Stars and Stripes. Plus, there are so many other benefits. While flying the Union Flag, everyone in the house—even the dogs—could wear a variety of a red coats, those fun tri-corner hats, and we’d all only drink tea. When we saw the Confederate neighbors across the way, we’d waive, and say things like “’ello Governor!” and “God Save King George III!”
Option #2: The French!
Part of me really, really wants to fly a French flag. I suppose some of that comes from the bizarre Franco-hate that seems common on the right—and which may be shared by my Confederacy-admiring neighbors. The problem is, we haven’t really fought the French much. Other than fighting Vichy France, they’ve usually been our pals. Except, of course, during the “Undeclared War with France.” (Thanks Wikpedia!)
Long story short, the French supported us during the Revolutionary War, but we came to a too-speedy resolution with the Brits, France’s enemy. They got miffed and decided to harass our shipping. In the process, they captured a couple thousand vessels.
Major war or not, I’d say it’s enough to merit flying a French Flag. Plus, I could offer my neighbors French wine and cheese at every opportunity, laugh only au Francais, and make incessant references to the national motto of France, with special emphasis on égalité.
Option #3: The Nuclear Option—Deutschland über Alles
I’m only including this option for its shock value, but it somehow seems the most fitting. Let me explain: My grandfather served in World War II, and while he served in the Pacific Theatre (in the Philippines), when he got back, he traded a few souvenirs for a trophy from Germany—a big goddamn Nazi banner.***
It’s terrifying: It’s eight feet long, and even though it’s over seventy years old, the red is as vibrant as blood from a fresh wound.
When I asked a few friends on Facebook how to respond to this whole matter, a number of folks said that I should hang that flag up for a day. And it’s true, I could make the most of that—I speak German, and I could go buy a few brown shirts for the occasion.
But no, I think if I hung a Nazi flag up—even in jest—my neighbors would glare, maybe even openly jeer or cuss me out. After all, the Nazis worked their prisoners to death or killed them outright.
But the same goes for the Confederate flag. A Confederate slaveholder and a Kommandant don’t differ all that much in terms of worldview. Both hold similar views about race, about blood, about what an idealized world would look like.
In either case, repulsion is the right reaction, I think.
* Proof: I once believed all sorts of things as a sophomore that I disagree with now; hell, on one occasion in high school, I tried to get a book banned from our school library because of its “insensitive language.” It dropped the N-bomb nearly constantly; immature-Me thought that this was a sign it was racist. No, it was simply quoting material directly. Nothing’s easier than being self-righteous at 18.
**Now I know some readers may immediately object: they’d argue that the Confederate flag is a historical object. I might buy that in the South, and if one’s forebears served in the Civil War that would be one thing, but almost always, people fly the Confederate flag because they agree with the repugnant worldview behind it, not because they have a historical/family connection with the military battles of the Civil War. It’s no coincidence that the Confederate flag is a favorite symbol of white separatists and neo-Nazis.
*** One time after the war, my grandfather was cleaning out his basement and found the flag. It was musty, so he hung it up in his back yard to air it out. He apparently scared the hell out of the neighbors.