Film director, war reenactors discuss Confederate flag issue

Tim Paluch

The Civil War came to an end almost 150 years ago, but battles still are being fought in the South — not with muskets on open fields, but with voices and flags on the streets.Glenn Kirshbaum, producer of “The Unfinished Civil War,” a History Channel documentary, talked about these current battles to a crowd of about 80 people Thursday evening in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union.Kirshbaum was joined in an open discussion by John Krausse, a Confederate Civil War reenactor, and Joseph McGill, a Union Civil War reenactor. Both were featured in Kirshbaum’s documentary, which aired Feb. 19.Kirshbaum said his film was originally planned to examine the lives of Civil War reenactors, but the controversy in South Carolina over the flying of the Confederate flag pushed the production in a different direction.”The film became a look at the Confederate flag controversy through the eyes of two very special people,” said Kirshbaum, referring to Krausse and McGill.Krausse, who was against the removal of the flag from the South Carolina Capitol building, said the film was something America needed.”This is an important film,” he said. “This is a film that needed to be made, and it really should have been made a long time ago, because these kinds of things have been happening on a regular basis for quite a while.”McGill, who opposes the flying of the flag, said the Confederate flag has no place over state-owned land.”There are symbols out there, and there are those places for those symbols to be properly flown,” he said. “But over a place of sovereignty is not that place.”Krausse said the flag’s symbolism is not what the controversy is about.”It’s not the flag that needs to be changed. It’s the people that carry it,” he said. “That’s why I go out there, because I don’t want people like David Duke representing me.”Krausse said he does not see the Confederate flag as a symbol of hatred and racism, but as a commemoration to the Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War.”I’m not a racist, I’m not a hate monger, but I love the South,” he said. “I love the history of the South, and I don’t want to see that eradicated.”McGill disagreed, saying flying the flag over a capitol building or featuring it on a state flag forces the symbol on others.”That’s telling me that I’m going to be a part of this whether I want to be or not,” he said.Kirshbaum said the film showed the importance of communication and open discussion on controversial issues.”Because they are both Civil War reenactors, because they both have learned about the war, they have been able to come together and talk and discuss their differences,” he said. “And as a result, they have also forged a friendship.”Chris Rossi, executive director of Humanities Iowa, which co-sponsored the event, said the film and the controversy it features shows the importance of improving race relations in America.”This film is about race, this film is about ethnicity, this film is about identity, this film is about heritage, and this film is about the importance of symbols and our common and individual notion about who we are as a people,” he said.