Hate or civic pride? The speech of symbols in the United States, Germany and Japan.

AuthorMosig, Allison M.

    Since the United States Civil War, the Confederate Battle Flag of the South has been the subject of much controversy in the United States. (1) The debate surrounding how the country should handle this flag has recently been renewed, in large part due to a mass shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina church by a young white man with ties to white supremacist groups. (2) The United States is not the only country that has had to manage controversial symbols from their history. (3) In resolving the question of how best to deal with the Confederate Flag, the United States can look to the successes Germany has had in banning Nazi symbols as well as the continued backlash of Japan's continued use of the Rising Sun Flag. (4)

    This Note examines how best the United States can deal with the renewed debate surrounding the Confederate Flag. (5) Part II will describe the history of the Confederate Flag and the various meanings it conveys to U.S. citizens. (6) Part II will also include the history of the swastika, its use by the Nazi party and its subsequent ban, as well as the history of Japan's Rising Sun Flag, its association with Japan's war crimes during World War II and its continued use. (7) Part III will document the successes and failures that Germany and Japan have experienced in their dealings with their own controversial historical symbols. (8) Part IV will analyze how the United States can benefit from their experiences as the country determines how best to handle such a strong symbol from our nation's past. (9) Part V will conclude that the United States should refrain from enacting legislation banning the Confederate Flag at this juncture. (10)


    1. History of the Confederate Flag: How it Came to be a Divisive Symbol in the United States

      1. Creation of the Confederate Flag and its Use Through the Civil War

        The United States Civil War began in 1861 following years of friction between the northern and southern states. (11) A major issue was the southern states' fear that the northern states would successfully abolish slavery, effectively destroying the economy in the south. (12) Following the election of anti-slavery President Abraham Lincoln, seven slave holding southern states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. (13) Although the Confederacy was much smaller than the Union, they firmly believed in their cause. (14) The general of the Confederate army, Robert E. Lee, led his soldiers to victories, but also to many defeats, including two repulsed attempts to invade the North. (15) The Civil War lasted four years, culminating in an absolute Confederate surrender in 1865. (16)

        The Confederate Battle Flag as it is known today was actually never the official flag of the Confederacy. (17) The Confederacy had three official flags during the Civil War, none of which are even well known today. (18) Unlike the official flags of the Confederacy, which were modified several times because they were too similar to the Union Flag, American Flag, and the white flag typically used to surrender, the Confederate Battle Flag stayed the same and was easily identifiable as the battle flag of several Confederate army units, most notably Robert E. Lee's. (19) After the war, it became a symbol of "Southern pride and heritage." (20)

      2. Modern Use of the Confederate Flag

        The Confederate Flag was not widely used in the years after the Civil War ended. (21) It first reemerged as the emblem of the "States' Rights Democratic Party," which was formed in 1948 in opposition to the growing civil rights movement. (22) As the civil rights movement grew, the Confederate Flag became a divisive symbol associated with racism, violence, and white supremacist groups. (23) It became "a sign of defiance against desegregation." (24) The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was the most prominent white supremacist group to use the flag as a symbol of their cause. (25) The KKK's usage of the flag, accompanied with their tradition of violence, solidified the flag's image as being a symbol of racism by many U.S. citizens during the civil rights movement. (26)

        Despite its negative connotation in the last sixty years, the Confederate Flag continues to be a symbol of pride to many U.S. citizens. (27) To some, displaying the flag is a way to honor the Confederate soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the Civil War (28) To others, it is simply something they grew up with and is not viewed as a racially charged emblem. (29) To all who support the Confederate Flag, it is a symbol of the past that people are not quite ready to part with yet. (30)

        Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding it, the Confederate Flag continues to be displayed in official and unofficial capacities across the southern United States. (31) Mississippi, which is the only state that continues to incorporate the Confederate Flag into their official state flag, considered adopting a new flag free of all Confederate associations in 2001. (32) Mississippi citizens voted to keep their flag, Confederate symbol and all, by a considerable margin, with many voters articulating their fear that adopting a new flag was against all the South stands for. (33)

    2. History of the Swastika

      1. Ancient History of the Swastika Until World War II

        The swastika has been used for thousands of years as an emblem of good fortune and well-being in many cultures. (34) Swastikas began to appear about 7,000 years ago. (35) Although it has been found on ancient artifacts around the world, the swastika has historically been considered an Indian symbol. (36) The swastika was, and continues to be, a sacred symbol for several religions. (37)

        The swastika returned to Europe in the early twentieth century, after Europeans returned with them from their travels to Asia. (38) It quickly became a very popular and widely used symbol of good luck. (39) It was even "enthusiastically adopted" in the United States (40) The swastika was considered such an innocent symbol of good luck that both the United States and British militaries used the emblem during World War I. (41) World War II and the rise of the Nazi party quickly put an end to the innocuous use of swastikas in Europe and the United States. (42)

      2. Swastika as Nazi Symbol and Use During World War II

        After World War I, several far-right German nationalist groups embraced the swastika, turning it into a symbol associated not with good luck, but with "the idea of a racially 'pure' state." (43) In the 19th century, German scholars and archeologists discovered similarities between German culture and cultures that used the swastika and concluded that they must all have the same origins. (44) From these conclusions, the scholars "imagined a race of white god-like warriors they called Aryans." (45) Anti-Semitic nationalist groups jumped on the idea of an Aryan race and adopted the swastika as an Aryan symbol. (46)

        In 1920, Germany's National Socialist (Nazi) Party was struggling to develop and distinguish itself from other groups. (47) Adolf Hitler chose the swastika as the Nazi's "emblem of racial purity," based on its identification as an Aryan symbol of anti-Semitism. (48) In 1935, Hitler announced that the Nazi's Swastika Flag would replace Germany's former state flag as the national flag from that point onward. (49) The adoption of the Swastika Flag as the official flag of Germany coincided with "the acceleration of the Nazi's anti-Semitic agenda." (50)

      3. Banning of Swastika

        The swastika was first banned in Germany in 1945, after World War II. (51) The ban was initially intended to help Germany distance itself from Nazism and fascism and has been effective for many years. (52)

        After Germany's reunification, the laws banning swastikas and other propaganda symbols were maintained as part of the German Criminal Code. (53) The Code outlaws any type of propaganda of parties considered by Germany to be anti-constitutional. (54) Associated symbols, including "flags, insignia, uniforms, slogans and forms of greeting" are also banned. (55) The purpose of the law is primarily "to protect the democratic rule of law" in Germany. (56) To accomplish this goal, Germany included all uses of symbols and associations in the ban, both political and social. (57)

    3. History of Japan's Rising Sun Flag

      1. Origin of the Rising Sun Flag

        Japan's official national flag is well known as the white banner with a red circle to represent a rising sun in the center, however this was not the first Japanese flag to depict a rising sun. (58) The Rising Sun Flag, depicting sixteen rays coming off of a red sun, was adopted as Japan's national flag in 1870. (59) The flag was flown by the Japanese Imperial Royal Navy during World War II and is still used as an "emblem" by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces, Japan's current navy. (60)

      2. Rising Sun Flag's Association with Japanese War Crimes

        In the years leading up to World War II, a group of Japanese nationalists who believed that Japan was meant to dominate Asia worked to gain control of China. (61) The tensions between China and Japan finally culminated in a full-scale war in 1937. (62) During World War II, Japanese soldiers committed horrible crimes against humanity in China. (63) Thousands of women were brutally raped in Nanking, China, during a six-week period known as the "Rape of Nanking." (64) Thousands more, both in China and Korea, were forcibly taken to become prostitutes, or "comfort women," for the Japanese soldiers. (65) The Japanese were also very aggressive in their colonization of Korea during this time. (66)

  3. FACTS

    1. Revival of Confederate Flag Debate

      On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof shot and killed nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. (67) Photos on social media and on Roofs website revealed him posing with the Confederate Flag. (68) Other posts on his website pointed to Roof being a white supremacist. (69) In the months leading up to the shooting, Roofs acquaintances observed...

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