But the meaning of the Confederate flag goes beyond racism and hatred and slavery. The flag also stands for a heroic battle by an agrarian society resisting, during much of the war, an invasion by a wealthier, more powerful, more industrial adversary. In this battle, the South was distinguished by the commitment of its soldiers and the genius of its generals. The best known general, and the finest symbol of the Confederacy, was Robert E. Lee, a hero who was among the handful of people who can seriously be considered to be among the greatest Americans who ever lived. Lee would quite possibly have been president had he not made an agonized choice to fight for his home state. Loyalty to Virginia demanded that he reject an offer from President Lincoln to be commander of the Union troops -- which proved to be a pathway to the presidency. A famous post-war scene, described by various historians, has Lee at St. Paul's Church in Richmond, when a black man stepped forward to take communion. The white southerners all stayed put for some embarrassing number of moments before Lee walked from his pew to the rail and knelt beside the black man. Then the rest of the congregation followed.
Later, Lee distinguished himself as a college president, a course that was followed by one of his many admirers, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower kept a portrait of Lee on his office wall, and once defended that choice in a letter in which he wrote that "General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our nation."
That generation, he said, is "caught between southern pride and southern blame." An unyielding condemnation of the Confederate flag speaks to an intellectually lazy decision to ignore whatever we reflexively abhor. As our country moves to being post-racial, we ought to take the opposite course, which is to seek to understand all of our history, not just the portions we find convenient and comfortable. In this endeavor, Paisley makes a very significant contribution. Follow @tedreednc -- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed