Confederate Battle Flag and Buffalo Soldiers Are Equally Controversial?
A while ago I did a short post on the proposed SCV Texas license plate. Although the purpose is ostensibly to honor Confederate veterans, it really does seem to me to be more about raising the visibility of the organization. Given that the entire design of the plate consisting of the words “Sons of Confederate Veterans” and the organization logo, I argued that “seems more like flashy historical exhibitionism than respectful recognition.” I still think that; if the SCV wants exposure, they can sell bumper stickers or rent a billboard.
As I noted earlier, the arguments of both those who support the move and those against it are mostly predictable, tired repetition. But Jerry Patterson, the State Land Commissioner, recently published an editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that made a different argument:
As a statewide elected official, I sponsored the [SCV] plate because of my personal heritage and my commitment to Texas history — even the history others might find offensive.
It’s the same reason I sponsored a license plate to honor the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, another private, nonprofit organization interested in marketing its heritage with a license plate that displays its logo and name.
Both plates represent private organizations proud of their history. Both are symbols for larger ideas. But political correctness has warped perception of those ideas.
I am proud to support the Buffalo Soldiers license plate because these black troops deployed to the Western frontier after the Civil War served with great distinction in Texas. They included many early black recipients of the Medal of Honor.
But an examination of the Buffalo Soldiers’ actions could easily offend anyone familiar with history. They were sent to Texas on a mission to subjugate and enslave the American Indian population, which is exactly what they did. Their fierce determination forced Indians into reservations to live essentially as prisoners of war held by the U.S. government.
Is this a history of which we should be proud? Should these soldiers be commemorated on a license plate?
Of course they should. The Buffalo Soldier license plate, just like the Confederate plate, is intended to honor soldiers who served with pride and dignity in defense of Texas. That’s all.
In the end, offensive behavior can be found throughout history if you’re looking to be offended.
This strike me as the thinnest, superficial equivalence. It’s one that sounds reasonable, but it doesn’t bear closer examination. Does Patterson really suppose that the Buffalo Soldiers are generally held with the same disdain that the Confederacy is, by as many? Or that the Buffalo Soldiers, as a group, are singled out for opprobrium than, say the U.S. military of the Indian Wars period generally? More than George Custer or James Forsyth? Does Patterson not recognize that much of the objection to the plate is the prominence of the Confederate Battle Flag — central to the SCV emblem — on it? The SCV has spent much of its time and energy over the years by promoting in-your-face displays of the CBF, demanding its display as a protected by the First Amendment, while at the same time trying to censor uses of the flag it finds offensive (MP3)? One wonders how much lasting good the SCV might have done with those “heritage defense” resources if they’d been put into educational programming and site preservation programs.
Patterson’s analogy also strikes me as a too-facile approach, countering opposition from (in part) African American groups by showing that black history has been recognized in the same way. It’s counter-point, more than a justification that stands on its own.
I used to know Jerry Patterson, very slightly, years ago when he was a state senator. (We were both members of a local historical society.) He’s always seemed to be a good guy, and completely self-effacing, a rare attribute in an ambitious pol. And I think he’s done a fair job as Land Commissioner, which is about the best elected job in the state for a history buff like him. But this analogy, I just don’t get.
Is there a better argument that I’m missing?
Image: Display at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Houston, Texas, June 2011.