It Was The Flag Of Robert E. Lee

Alan Keyes Former Assistant Secretary of State
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[This is Part I of an essay in which I ponder the demand that South Carolina cease its display of the Confederate Battle flag.  Part Two will be published as my column this week for WND.com. It will be linked here, after 8 PM ET on Friday of this week.]

I think my father was a man who, in some respects, had an almost Biblical belief in the power of names. Like the other heirs of his body, the name he gave to me, Alan Lee Keyes, renders the initials ALK, which were his own (Alison Lester Keyes). He was also a great reader who would sometimes ask us questions about what he was reading as a way of encouraging us to read. (Nothing impels us to seek relief from the discomforting weight of ignorance like being saddled with a question that reveals it.) As I remember it, he read a lot about war, including and especially the Civil War. He once told me that when he chose my middle name, he was thinking of Robert E. Lee, the inimitable commander of the Army of the Confederacy.

I have never met anyone more adamantly opposed to slavery than my father, a trait he passed to me, as it were, with his DNA. So it puzzled me when he shared this information about my middle name, and the puzzlement only grew, at first, as I developed my own fascination with the people, events and great issues involved in the crisis of America’s history that eventually became the War Between the States. When I spoke with my father about it, he admitted that, as a military man, he had great admiration for Lee as a strategist and commander of men.

He was also prey to the view (prevalent at the time) that Lee didn’t fight for the South because he believed that the Confederate cause was slavery. He fought for Virginia because he believed that Virginia’s cause was liberty. He fought for Virginia, because he put loyalty to the community of kith and kin above loyalty to a Union he thought some were seeking to maintain at the expense of the principles upon which it was founded.

As I learned more about Robert E. Lee over the years I have concluded that, like most iconic views of historical figures, my father’s sense of Robert E. Lee was more straightforward than the complex human being it purported to describe. Lee  wrote that “There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil … I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former.”

We can pretend if we like that we do not understand Lee’s distinction between his feelings and his sympathies. But in fact it has much in common with the view Hillary Clinton professes to take of abortion. She has stated the opinion that it isn’t a good thing. But she sympathizes with women who conclude that their situation makes it necessary. So, as a matter of public policy she concludes that because some people must have the freedom to decide that it’s necessary, others must be obliged to accept it as a reality with which they cannot interfere. In effect, Clinton’s stance puts the woman’s freedom to choose above the nascent child’s God-endowed right to life, just as Robert E. Lee put the enslaver’s freedom to choose slavery above the enslaved black’s God-endowed right to be free.

Both Clinton and Lee fall prey to the misunderstanding that confuses God-endowed right with unlimited freedom. Both of them disregard the vital distinction between the two. As the label implies, God-endowed right is the freedom to do what’s right “as God gives us to see the right” (to use Lincoln’s truthfully succinct phrase). By nature, however, human beings are free to ignore the meaning of right substantiated by the information God shares in our nature — our programming, as it were. This freedom is one of the defining attributes of our humanity.

But because our self-consciousness puts us in a position to choose, the freedom that characterizes our nature can be employed in ways that contradict the limits instituted by God to form and define our existence. Those limits respect the distinct way of being that constitutes our existence. They set it free from the background of all things, much as the sculptor’s careful regard for the lines and surfaces that define the subject he envisions sets his subject free from the marble block that otherwise obscures and imprisons it. In this sense, the law of God is freedom because it informs us in the way we are supposed (“from Latin, supponere, set in place, ground) to exist by the understanding of God, the Creator, whose power is what substantiates the world in which our existence is possible.

With all this in mind it’s almost comically ironic that the very people who are so adamant that South Carolinians must tear down the Confederate Battle Flag (which many inaccurately call the flag of the Confederacy) have the effrontery to call on Christians and others to be more forgiving as they battle in respect of life and the God-endowed rights of the natural family. Leftist ideologues and GOP quislings are unwilling to tolerate any trace of evils now repudiated by the decent conscience of all our people. They take the actions of a deranged, drugged out post-adolescent as proof that those evils will live as long as anything remains to remind us that they were once practiced and tolerated.

Yet the actions they take as their excuse could as easily be ascribed to the brainwashing influence exerted by the entertainment culture, a culture these same so-called “liberals” create, extol and otherwise set up to be the cynosure of creativity. The theme that it takes evil to fight evil is everywhere rampant in that culture. Honors are heaped mainly on the actors and actresses who can most sympathetically portray the complex of cold depravity and warm affections that supposedly exemplifies this specious “truth.” This portrayal claims that for the sake of the good they do, we must forgive evildoers. It claims for the sake of the good that comes from the deployment of evil means we must accept the violation of right involved in the injustices by which the good is achieved.

If it is right to ban display of the Confederate Battle Flag because it encourages racist violence, why isn’t it right to ban display of movies that encourage and seem to justify depravity, torture, cold-blooded murder, and even the hot-blooded selfish hedonism that feeds human trafficking, up to and including the sexual abuse of children? NAMBLA is a group that advocates pedophilia, which marches under the rainbow flag of so-called sexual diversity. Why shouldn’t that flag be banned?

I say it shouldn’t be banned precisely because it can be the occasion for remembering what is wrong with what it stands for. I say it shouldn’t be banned precisely because there can be no forgiveness, no repentance, no amendment of human error and sin,  if we simply pretend to forget what makes wrongdoing wrong, and right worth fighting for. If the depraved action of one drugged out, culturally brainwashed youth can and should remind us of the evils we must fight, why can’t the true character, and dignity of one man, like Robert E. Lee, remind us that the liberty Southerners claimed to fight for, when rightly understood, is the self-same liberty we should and may have to fight for, against the looming tyranny being devised by the very people who claim to hate the tyrannical evil involved in racial slavery.

Thus when people ask me if South Carolina should take down the Confederate flag, my answer is as simple and complex as Robert E. Lee: “It was the flag he carried into battle. Let it be.” I give that answer though I believe with all my reason, heart and being that slavery is wrong; and though I  believe that wrongdoing, be it slavery, abortion, or the degradation of marriage, ought never to be enforced as if it’s right. I give that answer despite the fact that in our day some will abuse that Battle flag, acting as if it justifies the evil they now dream of, or presently intend to do.