HISTORY IS HISTORY
THE facts of history are immutable, the recording and interpretation of those facts increasingly less so.
The ABC’s latest act of moral rectitude has been to accuse Australian soldiers in Afghanistan in 2012 of posing with a US Confederate States (CSA) battle flag, an act of apparent moral turpitude symbolic of the ADF’s ethical decline. Unwise perhaps, but hardly a war crime except eight years after the event, that flag has become a symbol of American political protest.
In the political correctness which infects discourse particularly in the ADF, the display of aggressive symbols is described as triumphalism.
Australian official military heraldry is replete with iconic symbolism, not all of it politically correct.
The CSA flag, once a symbol of states’ rights, remains a potent symbol in America, just as it was in the bloody political secession and civil war which spawned it. Respected US historian, the late Shelby Foote wrote, “Any understanding of this nation has to be … really based on the understanding of Civil War … (which) defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became — good and bad things.”
Banning and removing symbols such as the statues of CSA leaders and flags do not change what occurred.
Adding unsubstantiated material to accounts of that period only serves to muddy the truth.
Australia and the US had quite different beginnings but there are those who try to draw parallels between their formative histories.
American colonists fought several wars to make their nation what it now is. The CSA fought a war not principally over the right to keep slaves, but against centralist governments which taxed and regulated without, they believed, listening to their concerns.
It was a grievance which found and still finds common cause here, such as when entrepreneurial miners revolted near Ballarat over fees and licences imposed by governments in which they claimed not to be represented.
Far from a symbol of workers’ aspirations, their Eureka flag was a symbol of opposition to external, centralised control.
It is a theme which cuts deep in Australia’s north, though its cutlery rattling local proponents tend to be talk and little action.
Until recently the Eureka flag and General Lee’s battle ensign were not uncommonly seen together on Australian militant building sites.
Not Australian certainly, but an obscure protest symbiosis to some. That the CSA flag has fallen into disfavour is a US problem, not ours.