Best Defense

Time to follow Gen. Buckner’s example and pull down that Confederate flag

Best of Best Defense: Number 27 in our list of the most viewed posts of 2015. This post ran originally on June 22.



Best of Best Defense: Number 27 in our list of the most viewed posts of 2015. This post ran originally on June 22.

During the bloody battle of Okinawa, late in World War II, Army Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner Jr., saw a Marine unit flying the Confederate flag over a position. Buckner, himself the son of a Confederate general, ordered it taken down. “Americans from all over are involved in this battle,” he said.

And he wasn’t the son of just any Confederate general. His father, Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Sr., was the officer who was defeated by U.S. Grant at Fort Donelson, Tenn., in February 1862. That action led to Grant’s nickname, “Unconditional Surrender.” But the two generals got over their problems and Buckner Sr. was a pallbearer at Grant’s funeral.

If a Confederate general and his son could find this sort of reconciliation and understanding, why is it so hard for some Americans to do so now?

Maybe we can make some good result from that horrible South Carolina shooting. Taking down the Confederate flag would be an appropriate memorial.

I know that flag means something to many white Southerners. But it means something very different to many black Americans, and to many others, such as myself. I see it as a symbol of slavery, of hundreds of years of racist oppression. And I see its display now and in recent decades as an attempt to deny the gains of the Civil Rights movement. Why would anyone want to uphold a symbol that insults millions of their fellow citizens?

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at

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