Thursday, July 2, 2015

In Defense of the Confederate Flag

No, not the Confederate flag that flew over battlefields where brave men struggled to settle the question of slavery once and for all. Not the Confederate flag in the hands of Dylann Roof, who waved it on his website before he shot up the Emanuel African Methodist Church in downtown Charleston. I'm talking about defending the Confederate flag on top of the General Lee in the show The Dukes of Hazzard.

The Dukes of Hazzard is a TV show that came out in 1979 and ran until 1985. The main characters were Bo and Luke Duke, a couple of country boys who were on parole for running moonshine and lived on the family farm with their Uncle Jesse and their cousin Daisy Duke. And they drove around Hazzard county in their Dodge Charger, which they named the General Lee and had a Confederate flag on the roof. They weren't racists. They didn't hurt people. Quite the contrary, the Dukes were considerate and compassionate people who helped everyone who needed it. They even helped and protected their enemies Boss Hogg and Sheriff Roscoe P Coltrane. The younger Dukes said "Yes, sir," and "No, sir" to their uncle Jesse. They knew how to say please and thank you as well, and they were also adept at taking personal responsibility for what they did. Seems like every other episode the Dukes were raising money for the local orphanage, and the show is notable for its lack of gunplay. The Duke boys were not allowed to have guns because they were on parole, so they used bows and arrows. They never shot a person with an arrow. They went to church and prayed before eating and tipped their hats to ladies and gave back to their community. They were good people in every sense of the word.

The Dukes of Hazzard provided endless hours of family fun, first for me growing up and then in later years when I was raising my son. We would watch the show together, and discuss such points as the younger Duke's respect for wise old Uncle Jesse, their kindness to strangers, their willingness to extend a helping hand to all in need. We also discussed the Duke's work ethic, because that was a big part of the show. The boys worked on the farm and took other jobs as needed to pay for what they wanted. Daisy worked at Boss Hogg's place, the Boar's Head. Like I said, these were people with a strong sense of personal responsibility, as well as family and community.

Does the Dukes of Hazzard deserve to be labeled racist because of the Confederate flag on top of the General Lee? I am aware that some people look at the Confederate flag and see nothing but the symbol of a people who wanted to preserve slavery in the United States. Such people seem to think that white American southerners invented slavery, no country before or since has ever had slavery, and that the Confederate flag can mean nothing but what they say it means. To many southerners, the Confederate flag is a symbol of their heritage. They have ancestors who fought and died under that flag. That doesn't mean they support their ancestors fighting to preserve slavery. Southerners understand that you can deplore the history of slavery in the south and still be proud of the courage of your ancestors who fought to defend their homes. It's a nuanced viewpoint, I admit, but a valid one.

There's nothing nuanced about the Dukes of Hazzard, though. The Dukes weren't attending KKK meetings. Uncle Jesse was not a Grand Wizard of the Klan. They had black as well as white friends, the toughest and most competent sheriff on the show was a black man, and even the guest-star villains were usually a pair of men, one white and one black. The General had the Confederate flag on his roof as a symbol of regional pride, nothing more. The Dukes were proud of their heritage as southerners, which included Dukes who had fought for the North. And for more than thirty years, the General sported his Confederate flag without a problem, because anyone who watched even one episode of the show knew perfectly well that particular flag did not symbolize anything but a strong loving southern family.

Now the thought police have decreed that the Confederate flag is unacceptable no matter where it turns up. I can understand taking it down from official government settings. It's not the flag of the United States of America. It's the flag of a defunct nation that went to war with the United States of America. It is entirely right and proper that it should be removed from official buildings and symbols. But to take away a TV show? A TV show that never hurt anyone, that millions of people have watched and loved for decades? Whatever will be next? Will the Dukes reappear with a sanitized General with the Confederate flag digitally edited out, and will the thought police next decide that the cow horns on Boss Hogg's car have to be taken out because they might offend Hindus who have literal sacred cows in India? Will the social justice snowflakes then want to cover up Daisy Duke's spectacular legs because the image of a woman in short shorts might offend Muslims? Will Boss Hogg have to be digitally slimmed down, lest the obese be offended? I'm afraid if the politically correct are not stopped, they're going to insist that in Civil War reenactments, the soldiers on the Union side use real bullets.