The Sons of Confederate Veterans apparently really do love Lost Causes.
Because on Thursday they reaffirmed their abiding support for Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia flag on Statehouse grounds.
And it has become another cause that is almost certainly lost.
The state commander of the SCV stood in front of that flag and blasted the people taking advantage of the tragic Emanuel AME Church shootings to further a political agenda.
Inside the Statehouse, lawmakers were wrangling the votes to remove the flag in response to pressure from business leaders, presidential candidates and hundreds of thousands of citizens who have signed petitions calling for its removal.
This train has left the station and the Sons of Confederate Veterans would have had more leverage in the coming debate if they had jumped aboard.
Instead, they doubled down.
The South Carolina division commander of the SCV, Leland Summers, noted the ships that carried slaves to America flew the United States banner, and that hate groups marched with it during the civil rights movement.
He is absolutely correct.
This country has committed terrible atrocities under the banner of the Stars and Stripes — it allowed slavery for a century, it massacred Native Americans and took their homes like conquering invaders.
So the SCV says if we are going to take down the Confederate flag, we should also take down the U.S. flag.
But there is one key difference: The United States flag is the sovereign flag of this nation.
The Confederate battle flag is just another remnant of a Lost Cause. It has no official standing, only a painful history that has grown darker in the past 50 years.
And for that reason, as Summers himself recognized, most elected officials consider it expendable.
On Thursday morning, College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell — who, as a state senator, was author of the compromise that took a Confederate flag off the Statehouse dome 15 years ago — joined the call to remove the flag from Statehouse grounds.
McConnell called that 2000 compromise “imperfect,” said it was time to revisit it.
“Today is a different time,” McConnell said. “In the aftermath of the horrific tragedy that spilled the blood of nine souls within the hallowed halls of Mother Emanuel AME Church, the time has come to revisit the issue of the Confederate soldier’s flag, which a number of our citizens regard as offensive.
“Many other citizens regard the old soldiers’ banner as a fitting memorial to the Confederate dead. However, on Statehouse grounds, we should seek to respect the views as best as we reasonably can.”
That was a tough statement for McConnell to make, and he has come under fire for taking so long to make it. But the attacks on McConnell have come from people who do not know him.
McConnell — a driving force behind the African-American monument on Statehouse grounds — has always revered all of this state’s history.
He pushed to get the Confederate flag off the Statehouse dome in 2000 because he knew it did not belong in a position of sovereignty, and putting it on that monument was the only compromise to get it moved.
At that time, the Sons of Confederate Veterans shunned him, called him a traitor. No doubt some of them will do so again following his Thursday statement.
Instead, they should have followed his lead.
Because when you don’t compromise, you often lose everything.
McConnell said that after the flag is removed from Statehouse grounds we should not transfer this fight to other monuments and physical vestiges of state history.
He recognizes that, for the moment anyway, the pendulum is swinging.
It would be wrong to whitewash our Confederate history, just as the United States should not try and downplay any of its past, or its sins.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans should realize that the battle flag on Statehouse grounds is a lightning rod. It has always been unpopular and controversial. If they had joined the call for its removal, that would have been the end of the story.
But now, after the flag is gone, there will be people who will try and move on to other symbols. It could get ugly.
“How sad it would be to end one controversy only to trigger a thousand more,” McConnell said.
He’s absolutely right.
The SCV said that the person who killed those people at Mother Emanuel wanted to start a race war, and “we’re playing right into his hands.”
That is liable to be taken the wrong way. Summers meant the SCV considers this a war on their heritage.
But the SCV, of all groups, should understand the concept of losing the battle but winning the war.
If the SCV had conceded this one point, there might not have been any more problems. Hopefully there won’t be any regardless, because South Carolina doesn’t need any more grief.
The sad thing is, it didn’t have to be this way.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.