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Archaic symbol should be laid to rest

SOUTH Carolina often has been described as one of the two mountains of conceit surrounding North Carolina. We won't talk about who the other one is. Speaking as an original North Carolinian, and thus a member of the valley of humility, I figure I'm uniquely qualified to chastise our southern neighbor.

Even so, it shouldn't matter where you live. North to South, East to West, it's clear South Carolina should take down the flag.

The Confederate flag originally stood for a divided United States. We fought a horrible war - more costly than any other in this country's history - to keep the states together. At a time when superpowers crumble overnight and states are splitting at the seams, the United States has managed to be an example of a multicultural yet strong country united by democracy. We need to step up to the task and once again prove to the world that differences between groups can be resolved without destructive infighting.

Some argue that we should still respect the flag as a tribute to our ancestors who fought and died in the war. Do we still fly the Union Jack just because our ancestors were British? Do we still respect the flags of the German Reichs just because Americans died in World War II? We don't - partially because we won and they lost, and partially because what they were fighting for was immoral.

Both are true in this case. As much as we Southerners hate to admit it, we lost. Some defend the war's cause, saying the war wasn't about slavery at all; it was about states' rights.

In truth, it was about a state's right to have slaves. As a nation, we still agree that we should have a strong federal government, but that states should have some rights. And slavery is wrong. The confederate flag is an outdated symbol for causes that we as a nation abandoned long ago.

Remember that black Southern soldiers fought under the auspices of the Confederate flag, too. They fought against their will at times and they fought against their own freedom. If we're talking about a tribute to our ancestors, it would be most fitting to the black soldiers who fought if that flag was removed and never flown again.

Still, people have a right to free speech.

If an American chooses to fly the Stars and Bars for whatever reason, he may. Democratic states, however, do not have the same right. They are responsible to their people - to all of their people. There are extremes - the government should not be held accountable for every politically correct consideration, but 30 percent of the people living in South Carolina are "Black" (as described by the 1990 census, if my math is correct). That's significant enough that their concerns should be considered.

This is not only a racial issue but a local one as well. I have to disagree with George W. on this one. Sure, putting it to a vote in South Carolina will probably be the only way to resolve the emotional mess that this dilemma has become, but we are a union at the same time. The actions of one state affect the rest, especially in as divisive an issue as this one.

No matter what the outcome, this debacle could have been avoided. The state should have taken the flag down a long time ago. They didn't, though, and a little prodding may very well have been necessary.

What the NAACP did was not a little prodding, however. Their public threats and boycotts were the equivalent of using a bulldozer to move an anthill - the ground shook a little and made the ants mad, but nothing really changed inside the hill. South Carolinians did get mad - mad and proud.

This is a cultural issue no matter how you look at it. It has to do with black culture, but because the debate was made public, it became an issue about Southern culture and the pride that goes along with it.

South Carolina cannot and will not simply back down. This is, after all, the same state that blockaded Fort Sumpter and elected Strom Thurmond as a write-in candidate. In addition, the NAACP did not formally lodge its complaint until July - after the South Carolina State House had adjourned for the year. No vote could be taken until the representatives returned just a few days ago, no matter how much ground-shaking the NAACP did.

A wiser strategy would have been to work quietly inside the system, chipping away at the foundations rather than a full frontal assault. The NAACP asserts that all past efforts have been quashed by legislators, but that's a small loss compared to a public quashing by legislators, a governor or two, and public opinion from several states. There still are quite a few people out there who either are too blind to see the damage they are causing or too stubborn to want to see it. If those people win out, any future attempts to take down the flag will be relegated to the old, settled news category.

The South has a rich history and culture. Some of that culture should be maintained, remembered, even respected. Other parts demand reparation. Now the people of South Carolina should turn to the Southern traditions of hospitality, gentility and generosity, realize that this is a battle not worth waging, and respectfully retire the flag flying over the capital to its rightful place: a museum.

(Emily Harding's column appears Fridays in The Cavalier Daily.)