Panel to discuss Confederate flag

Tim Paluch

For some, the Confederate flag celebrates a rich heritage and commemorates soldiers who died fighting for their beliefs. For others, it is a symbol of racism and slavery. Regardless, the Confederate flag is a controversial symbol in American history.When Hollywood producer Glenn Kirshbaum began production on a documentary he wrote, directed and published, “The Unfinished Civil War,” it was to document civil war reenactors. Soon after production, though, his plans changed.”Very shortly after production, with the South Carolina Confederate flag controversy, the documentary moved from looking at civil war reenactors to a look at how the civil war is still affecting people’s lives,” he said. Kirshbaum, along with two Civil War reenactors, will participate in a panel discussion about the film and the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Civil War at 8 p.m. tonight in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union. The event is sponsored the Iowa State Committee on Lectures and Humanities of Iowa.Since the documentary premiered on the History Channel Feb. 19, it has spurred criticism among Civil War reenactors who felt they were negatively portrayed, Kirshbaum said.”If we upset people, it was inadvertent,” he said. “The message of the film is that we have to open up dialogue among people who have different opinions.”Joseph McGill, a Union reenactor featured in the documentary and a panelist in the discussion, said the Confederate flag deserves a place to fly — but not over the South Carolina Capitol building, which was the cause of the controversy.”When a flag is flown over a state of sovereignty, it is saying you are a part of this, whether you want to be or not,” said McGill, director of the African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa. “Just like me celebrating Black History Month doesn’t impose on anyone, the flag shouldn’t either.”John Krausse, a Confederate reenactor featured in the film, will also be on the panel. The Confederate flag controversy was blown out of proportion, Krausse said.”The South Carolina flag issue was ridiculous,” he said. “You’d think politicians would have better things to do with their time.”Krausse also said he believes the flag should not have been taken down.”It’s been there for 38 years, and it wasn’t a national problem,” he said. “It was put there to commemorate soldiers from South Carolina that died during the Civil War. The question and controversy in South Carolina is not so much where the flag should be flown, but what it represents.”Pat Miller, lectures program coordinator, said the discussion is a good way of talking about race relations throughout history.”The discussion is about the same thing as the documentary,” she said. “The controversy around the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Civil War that have different meanings for people.”Kirshbaum said he hopes by speaking about the film and about issues raised in the film, people will begin to talk about race relations rather than about the controversy surrounding the film itself.”The film has received rave reviews from around the country, and critics love it,” he said. “So for us, when we are trying to promote a message for unity, it’s a little disappointing that people have felt hurt by the film.”