Which Historian Cares About the Truth?

(March 26, 2018) Last month at his Dead Confederates blog, Andy Hall posted the following:

“If you follow the debates over the public display of the Confederate Battle Flag online, you’ve likely seen this image (right), purportedly showing a World War II Marine in the Pacific. Why, the argument goes, if the Confederate flag was good enough for the Greatest Generation, are you precious librul snowflakes all up in arms about it?”

(Evidently he intentionally misspelled “liberal” to imply that anyone who believes that American troops sometimes displayed the Confederate Battle flag is necessarily on the political Right, and a dimwit.)

Next Hall correctly explains that the image was probably altered with digital photo editing software like Adobe’s PhotoShop. It appears that the Confederate flag in the above image was inserted into a June 1, 1945 photo of a Marine placing the Stars-and-Stripes on a conquered Japanese defensive position at Okinawa. Hall finally concludes, “I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: if you have to make up phony evidence to support your “heritage,” it’s not worth saving.”

Nick Sacco re-posted Hall’s analysis at his “Exploring the Past” blog and commented, “It might help [the photo corrupter] to take a training session on using photoshop (sic.) before attempting to make lame ‘heritage’ memes. Great work from Andy Hall.” Sacco is a Ranger at the Ulysses Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis and thereby an employee of the Federal Government. As he explains in this Journal of the Civil War Era article he sees no reason why items displaying the Confederate flag should be sold in Civil War museum gifts shops.

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Nonetheless, anyone seeking the truth can find significant evidence that American soldiers sometimes displayed the Confederate Battle flag while in uniform and in battlefield areas. Here are nine such photos. Perhaps one reason the flag was shown is that even today forty percent of American military recruits are Southerners whereas only fifteen percent are from the Northeast.

Evidently without the benefit of Hall’s certainty that the “phony evidence” of a Confederate Battle flag at Okinawa implies the “heritage” of such heroics “is not worth saving,” Sean Michael Chick independently reflected on the matter at his Ongoing Civil War blog. Chick had been reading Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed, which was a source for Ken Burns’ PBS series on World War II titled, The War. Sledge, who was among the Marines fighting the Japanese at Okinawa, wrote:

Earlier in the morning [of May 29, 1945] . . . Marines had attacked eastward into the ruins of Shuri Castle and had raised the Confederate flag. When we learned that the flag of the Confederacy had been hoisted over the very heart and soul of Japanese resistance, all of us Southerners cheered loudly. The Yankees among us grumbled . . .

The date is important because Hall admits that the photo he identifies as digitally altered was taken three days later on June 1, 1945. Moreover, according to Professor Greg Grandin of New York University, “In World War II . . . the first flag Marines raised upon taking the [Okinawa] headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Army was the Confederate one. It had been carried into battle in the helmet of a captain from South Carolina.”

11 thoughts on “Which Historian Cares About the Truth?

  1. Pingback: Okinawa Confederate Flag – Southern Nation News

  2. Pingback: Okinawa Confederate Flag: A Grandson’s Viewpoint | Civil War Chat

  3. Pingback: The Other Flag Raising in the Pacific Theater of World War II – The Ongoing Civil War

  4. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    I’m having a hard time with Mr. Sacco’s reply. His article on Civil War gift shops says “The National Park Service announced shortly after the Charleston AME Massacre in June 2015 that they would be pulling all Confederate flag standalone items from their gift shops, but what were they doing there in the first place?” That certainly sounds to me like he disapproves of the sale of Confederate flags in gift shops.

    Further, when discussing the sale of Civil War kepis with Confederate flags on them in the Gen. Lew Wallace Study and Museum, Mr. Sacco doesn’t suggest that it would be nice if Union kepis were available. He points out the apparent incongruity of selling Confederate kepis in a museum dedicated to a Union general. Perhaps the museum was sold out of Union kepis. Perhaps the Confederate kepis are what sells.

    Mr. Sacco closes by writing that all museum gift shop offerings shouldn’t be similar, but isn’t a point of his post that when some museums offer items that are no longer politically correct they should be removed? And doesn’t that lead to a uniformity of offerings?

    Reply
    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      My reaction is much like yours. That is why I replied to his accusation that I “willfully” misinterpreted his article by writing that am satisfied to let anyone read it for themselves and come to their own conclusions.

      Reply
  5. Bruce Bayless

    Good and interesting article Phil! Sad that some people use any pretense to malign the Confederate flag.

    Reply
    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      Yes, and to deliberately portray anyone who fails to join in their denigration of the flag as a dimwit.

      Reply
  6. Nick Sacco

    Mr. Leigh:

    First off, the essay I wrote for the Journal of the Civil Era about Civil War Gift shops does not at any point proclaim that Confederate flags or other memorabilia should be banned from gift shops. Civil War sites can put whatever they want in their gift shops. The bigger argument I make speaks to the need for a critical apprasial of the interaction between visitor experiences at historic sites and gift shop memorabilia. What do those items say about the ways people remember the Civil War? What are the values of a given historic site, and how do the items that sit in the gift shop reinforce or detract from those larger values and mission of a site? That is not the same as saying all Confederate memorabilia must go. Furthermore, your need to point out that I work for the federal government seems to serve no other purpose in this essay other than to suggest that I am biased or that I have some sort of nefarious agenda beyond promoting historical understanding. Perhaps I’m misinterpreting that part of your essay and apologize if I’m wrong, but I imagine you’d be bothered if I willfully misread something you wrote and then hinted to readers of my blog that you couldn’t be a realible source because of your employer.

    Second, you seem to have missed the point of Andy Hall’s original post. He was not denying that Confederate flags weren’t seen among U.S. troops during WWII – indeed, he doesn’t discuss the topic in depth and we don’t know what his thoughts are about it. He pointed out a specific image in which an American flag was raised and someone deliberately altered the photo to show a Confederate flag and promote Confederate “heritage.” Such images have spread like wildfire and numerous bloggers like Hall have documented these historical distortions for years. Thus the point of his post and my re-post is that it’s lame to photo shop historical photos and to try and pass them off on social media sites as accurate images in order to promote false history. That some instances of Confederate flag waving took place is besides the point of Hall’s essay, but you are certainly correct that it was seen numerous times.

    I agree that we historians should care about the truth and correcting misinformation. Your title implies that you care about the truth but that Hall and I don’t, which is unfortunate given that you’ve misread our essays. It would been nice for us to chat via email (my contact info is publicly available) to discuss further before you made this post and I don’t even know who you are.

    Reply
    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      1. You said: “First off, the essay I wrote for the Journal of the Civil Era about Civil War Gift shops does not at any point proclaim that Confederate flags or other memorabilia should be banned from gift shops. . .”

      I’ll let anyone read your article linked in my post above and decide for themselves whether you are suggesting that Confederate flags should be removed from museum gift shops.

      2. You said, “Second, you seem to have missed the point of Andy Hall’s original post. . . He pointed out a specific image in which an American flag was raised and someone deliberately altered the photo to show a Confederate flag and promote Confederate “heritage.”

      No matter what you pretend, my post undeniably shows we do *not* differ on that point. Instead I object that you and Hall provide only a fractional truth instead of the whole truth. The whole truth matters to most people. That is why courtroom testimony requires an oath “To tell the truth, the whole truth. . .”

      3. You said, “. . . I imagine you’d be bothered if I willfully misread something you wrote and then hinted to readers of my blog that you couldn’t be a realible source because of your employer.”

      Now you falsely accuse me of “willfully” misreading what you said. For the third time I’ll let anyone read my original blog post above and decide for themselves whether I misread your message.

      4. I merely stated a fact when I noted that you are a Federal Government employee. Evidently it is only your guilty conscience that leads you to infer that my intent was “to suggest that [you are] biased or . . . have some sort of nefarious agenda beyond promoting historical understanding.”

      Reply

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