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The new German government ruthlessly banned Nazi imagery. For many reasons -- including, I'd argue, the self-surgery that purged the emotional and symbolic vestiges of Nazism -- Germany's democracy flourished after the war, eventually undermining the totalitarian East German government.
Back yonder in Dixie, collective guilt was assuaged via another method: denial.
Rather than eschew the immoral system that had brought so much calamity to the South, racist demagoguery was elevated to gospel and treason was transformed into "heritage" -- all in an effort to dodge guilt.
It's poignant that while the loonies and incompetents who masquerade as Georgia legislators were fixated on the state banner, the U.S. Supreme Court this month ruled the Confederate Battle Flag's co-emblem of race hatred, the burning cross, could be outlawed by the states.
(A quick aside: I'm a free speech absolutist. I disagree with the Supreme Court, and I'd even support the right of those with sick minds to dress up like Nazis and burn crosses. That said, my heart is with those who detest such symbols.)
There is justice that the Republicans are being saddled with the flag albatross. Perdue winked when folks in rural Georgia harnessed his yard signs with "Boot Barnes" Confederate flag signs. I don't think he believed he'd have to pay the piper -- because he was probably as much surprised at his victory as Roy Barnes.
As the saying goes, if you choose to sleep with serpents, you're going to wake up with snake bites. And that's what Perdue has discovered, much to his dismay. After the November election, he tried to downplay the flag issues. But the "flaggers" or "flaggots" weren't about to let the new Republican governor off the hook.
It started on election night, when Perdue egregiously misappropriated Martin Luther King Jr.'s "free at last" speech. Perdue neglected to notice that behind him a yahoo was waving a Battle Flag. The TV cams got excellent footage, however, and it was a message to the world that the Klan's ghost was again stirring in Georgia -- right smack in the governor's mansion.
Perdue has promised that resolving the flag issue would heal the state. Had he been a leader, he would have simply cauterized old wounds, left the Barnes flag on the poles and shooed away the "heritage" flaggers (aka mostly angry white boys who, with no one else to blame for their sorry conditions, want to whup up on black folks one more time by reviving the Battle Flag).
The bizarre machinery of deciding the flag will only inflame passions more. First, next March we vote up or down on the slightly altered Stars and Bars (with its Christian proselytizing add-on). If the vote is "nay," we choose in July between the pre-1956 flag (another variation on the Stars and Bars) and the 1956-2001 Rebel Battle Flag motif. The 1956 Battle Flag state banner, as everyone knows -- but that flaggers, Perdue and the legislators feign ignorance of -- was the hateful and racist reaction of Georgia to integration.
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin puts it best: Why should anyone, especially African-Americans, be forced to pick between two symbols of slavery and oppression?
We can't do what the Germans did -- banning speech, even when clearly corrosive, is repugnant to America principles. But our leaders can -- and should -- send the message that, as official symbols for all citizens, we're not going to tolerate racist devices. Forget the crap about heritage. The swastika is a 3,000-year-old symbol that has lots of heritage in many cultures, primarily Hindu, and is generally associated with good. But it came to represent something else, and we're not likely to slap it on a state flag. Same goes for the Battle Flag, the main decoration at Klan cross-burnings and lynchings.
The only sweet part of this is that Republicans -- whose "Southern Strategy," disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida, economic policies and much else are nothing but racism incarnate -- are going to have the Confederate flag wrapped around their necks in the 2004 elections. Live with it, boys.
Senior Editor John Sugg says: "Because I took a break from war commentary, I have not left the field. Read my Web log (atlanta.creativeloafing.com/suggreport.html) this week. As with 99.999 percent of the anti-war movement, I'm relieved Bush's war is ending quickly. But that doesn't make the war just or legal, it hasn't made Americans safer, and the Iraqi suffering is going to continue. I'll also comment on how the Bushies have taken their animosity toward independent, as opposed to embedded, journalists to a new level -- shooting them."
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