Two enduring symbols of an army that lost a war.
Why did one country reject the Swastika and the other country keep the Confederate Flag?
The U.S. continues to defend the rights of hate groups under the umbrella of free speech.
In contrast, Germany has managed to successfully walk a fine line between free speech and hate speech.
Here’s an example.
- In America in 1978, neo-Nazis wanted to march in Illinois.
- The march was clearly intended to target a large population of Holocaust survivors living there.
- The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) defended the neo-Nazi group’s right to free speech, which caused some of their members to resign.
- In the end, there was no march, but the group staged a rally in downtown Chicago instead.
The point is, the ACLU was supporting equality under the law.
These same laws were used during the Civil Rights era to support civil rights marches.
Groups promoting hate and racism want the same right to march.
For many, the ACLU’s commitment to the principle of free speech for all is a point of pride.
For others, it represents a dangerous tool that is used by groups to promote hatred and racism, protected by the law.
It’s a fine line and I can see both sides of the argument.
How do we support free speech, yet prevent speech which incites hatred?
In today’s Germany, the rally would not be allowed.
Defensive Democracy provided Germany with a new framework that has had some success.
By creating educational policies and new laws a balance has been achieved.
It’s a balance that includes legislated limits on free speech and the display of images connected to the Holocaust and WWII.
These laws and limits are specific to the racial hatred against Jews and include the Swastika as well as other Nazi symbols.
The United States doesn’t have the same specific limits.
The Confederate Flag is a common White Supremacist symbol.
The original Confederate flag was designed in 1861 by the National Flag Committee of the Confederate States of America.
It went through several changes, and the current symbol of blue stripes crossed on a red background is actually a version that originated in the docked ships of the Confederate navy of the time.
For most Americans today, the flag represents racism, but it represents heritage for quite a few, especially older people living in rural communities.
This flag from a long-ago war provokes strong reactions today because it has been adopted by other groups over the years.
It symbolizes defiance and rebellion, and the idea of social and political exclusion of non-white people. In other words, racism.
NASCAR has flown the Confederate flag as part of its racing legacy.
The company’s roots are in the South and the flag has been part of its history from the beginning.
- The flags became more prominent when the civil rights movement came into its own in the 50s, and its association became more concerning.
- When a noose was found in the garage of the only Black driver on the NASCAR top circuit, the organization was forced to face its history.
- In June 2020, they announced a ban on all Confederate flags at all races and events.
The symbolism of the Confederate flag has spread throughout the world.
- In 2020, two Australian soldiers posed in Afghanistan with a confederate flag that had the words ‘Southern Pride” stitched across its face.
- In Ireland, The Red Hand Defenders, a right-wing organization in Ireland, chose the flag as a symbol. they opposed the North’s possible secession from the UK. Their connection to America is through many of the confederate generals, whose heritage was Scots-Irish.
- Brazil also has some confederate roots. After the Civil War ended, thousands of confederate soldiers migrated to Brazil, where slavery was still legal. Their ancestors are known as the Confederados, and they hold an annual festival celebrating their heritage.
The Swastika is one of the most recognized symbols in the world.
- It exists in some form in all cultures.
- Its shape is drawn from nature, a flower opening, or water flowing.
- In many religions, this auspicious symbol represents eternal love or well being for all.
- It is one of the oldest religious symbols we have, yet it has received a negative meaning in recent history.
- It has such radically different narratives attached to it and it simultaneously bridges and divides the worlds of religion and politics, of peace and war, and of East and West.
- The turning of this four-armed cross represents the movement of the sun across the sky.
The Swastika is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.
Negative symbolism from WWII outweighs past religious meanings.
This symbol had positive meaning for centuries before it was appropriated by the Nazi party.
There are many non-religious examples of Pre Nazi use.
- The swastika was widely used by architects in North America and can still be found in buildings today. It was a symbol included in package design, architectural friezes, advertising, banknotes, and textiles.
- Karlsberg put it on the bottom of beer bottles, Coca-Cola used it in their advertising, and the RAF put it on their planes. Boy scouts had a medal with a swastika on it; the Girls club had a magazine called The Swastika.
- During World War I, the American 45th Infantry division wore an orange swastika as a shoulder patch. At least one train line had swastikas on its cars.
- Interlocking swastikas are in the design of the floor of the cathedral of Amiens, France.
- There are many swastikas on buildings in Jerusalem, including the 2nd temple.
- ‘Swastika’ is the name of a small mining town in Ontario, 580 kilometers north of Toronto, Canada.
How it was hijacked.
The swastika was considered the emblem of a strong warrior race.
- A German archeologist, Herman Schlieman found it in on a dig in Turkey.
- It belonged to the Aryans, a nomadic people who came to the Indus valley around 1500 BC. The Aryans wanted to keep their bloodline pure.
Hitler decided it was an attractive way to differentiate the Nazi movement from its European Christian history.
When he designed the Nazi flag, he chose the swastika as a symbol.
Red symbolized national socialism, the white disc stood for the national ideals and the swastika symbolized the struggle of the Aryan culture for racial purity.
The Nazi regime is considered one of the most evil chapters in history and unfortunately, the swastika is associated with that time.
The swastika is still banned in Germany today.
- Symbols mean nothing on their own.
- Our beliefs and judgments give them meaning.
This symbol invokes strong and visceral reactions in many people because of its association with violence and death.
After the war, Allied forces understood that millions of Germans still believed in Nazism.
The concept of Nazism arose from Germany’s defeat in WWI and still held a strong appeal after the second world war.
America, Russia, Britain, and France decided they had to solve the problem.
They used a three-point plan for denazification.
- Hold supporters accountable for their crimes.
- Eradicate Nazi regalia.
- Educate German citizens about the horrors of the Holocaust.
America hasn’t taken the same steps to educate society, resulting in a segment of the population that still clings to the hope that they can return to the way things used to be.
For them, making America great again is synonymous with making America white again.
White Nationalist reconsider their use of the swastika.
- It used to be the symbol for the National Socialist Movement in the U.S. but they have recently adopted the Odal rune in an effort to become more mainstream and more integrated.
- In Australia, a similar group (One Nation) has done the same thing. They are part of a rising White Nationalist movement called the Aryan Nationalist Alliance that is gaining ground.
- In April 2016, in Atlanta, Georgia, about 75 members of 11 groups met at a rally to support the white pride movement.
- They united the two symbols of the cross and the swastika by burning them in a field. Then they pledged support to each other under this new umbrella association.
Their motto is “Our race is our nation and our skin is our uniform”.
Some members of this group want to keep the swastika as a symbol.
The younger generation wants to distance themselves from the controversy.
They intend to preserve their white heritage and speak on behalf of white interests. They don’t want the negative connotations of the swastika.
It’s an attempt to rebrand.
They understand they need to make a change to how they are perceived so they can gain actual political power.
The Right To Free Speech protects these symbols.
The United States still protects the rights of white supremacists and other hate groups to hold rallies and freely express their views.
In comparison, Germany has very strict laws banning the display of the swastika and against hate speech.
Germany was forced to face its dark past using education and restrictions to eliminate the hate and racism of the Nazi era.
The civil war ended more than 150 years ago.
Why is the United States still struggling to deal with that moment in history?
The answer is complicated but there is one idea that remains the same. The ongoing struggle is a result of a single contradiction.
Although the US fought to end slavery, most white Americans at the time, including in the North, had little commitment to ending racism.
“They were fighting to end a war, not to end racism.”
Until we recognize and take steps to change these beliefs, nothing else will change.
Why are we willing to support groups that still want to divide our country?
Why are we willing to allow hate groups to display the swastika and the confederate flag as symbols of their beliefs?
Perhaps it’s time to take a page from Germany’s playbook and consider how we might make a concrete commitment to abolishing racism, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist.
We need to face the darkness in our past and take steps to eliminate the hate and racism going forward.
Laws that limit the display and use of the Confederate flag and the Swastika in America would be a step in the right direction.
It’s time to reconcile with the past and move forward into a more united future.
“Democracy is not just majority rule — it is respect for the minority.”
Smith H. (1991). World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions: New York, U.S.A.: Harper Collins.
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