I have, in the past, related a story about my somewhat misguided attraction to the Nazi flag and its army, way back in the fifth grade. This came from a pretty steady diet of World War II movies and Hogan's Heroes. The Luftwaffe and Panzer tanks and the Blitzkrieg. It all sounded so very impressive. Never mind that the vile curse "schweinhund" turned out to be the not-quite-so-exotic "pig-dog" when literally translated. For me, for about six months, Nazis were the bomb. I even went so far, along with a classmate, to make a big construction paper Nazi flag to post on the bulletin board where I would also include my book reports on the weaponry of the Third Reich. To his credit, my teacher held back until I had fully mounted my work and other faculty and parents began to wonder what was going on in his class. He took that opportunity to hand me a copy of "The Diary of Anne Frank." He told me it was about a girl, but it was also about my favorite time period, and I should find it interesting.
I came back the next Monday a changed human being. Good job, Mister Conklin. I took the flag down with the full and complete realization that uniform and weapon design was no basis for having a rooting interest in global conflict. I was embarrassed to the core, and even though my flag-making buddy gave me a little grief for it, I steered clear of the World War II section of the library. I was done with that scene. I had been handed my reality check, and I was all done with Nazis. They were, after all, the bad guys.
I didn't really need that kind of handling when it came to the American Civil War. I was pretty clear that there was a derogatory term that flew around back in those days that never held the same appeal for me that schweinhund did. And while the soldiers of the Confederate Army were pretty snappy dressers, their flag was always linked in my mind with the oppressors. The losers. The guys who wanted slavery. When I went to visit the Gettysburg battlefield, it never occurred to me that I should pick up a "stars and bars" to go along with my "stars and stripes." I wanted to be on the winning side. The side without slaves.
When I was in fifth grade, it was that simple. It seems as though the powers that be down below the Mason-Dixon line had their Mister Conklin Moment. Some will still insist that it's not the flag that makes people think those racist thoughts, and that the "n-word" can be found on CDs for sale in Wal-Mart, even if you can't buy a Confederate flag there. It's an interesting debate if you haven't read the book. The Confederate flag isn't about hate. It's a symbol. It's a reminder. Of the past. Time to turn the page.