Column: The flags of our grandfathers

I own a Japanese battle flag my grandfather received from a losing general who surrendered to him in the jungles of Burma after The Bombs fell in 1945.

I truly love that flag because of what it represents to me, personally. I have an abiding respect and deep admiration for Grandpa Mac, so the 70-year-old wartime relic I inherited more than two decades ago is, well, part of my heritage.

I've thought of that flag and its menacing rising sun ever since the issue of the confederate flag hit the news and exploded on social media in June, where the debate rages to this day. I would have written earlier, but this is a subject I needed to ponder for a while.

First of all, has the nation gone insane?

A young, white, apparently avowed racist walks into an historic African-American church in South Carolina on June 17 and participates in Bible study with the people inside. He then shoots to death nine of them. All of them Christian, all of them African-American, all of them welcoming, all of them lambs who had no idea they were about to be slaughtered.

But slaughtered they were. Massacred.

And so, in yet another of the mass shootings that has scarred the American landscape with stunning regularity over the past decade, we decide it's still not time to sit down and honestly discuss gun violence. Note I didn't write gun control. I'm not crazy.

In any event, we didn't open a constructive debate over the root causes of gun violence and what should be done to reduce mass killings of innocent people. Instead, we doubled down and engaged in spirited dialog over the - drum roll please - confederate flag.

The confederate flag?

It's like collectively, as a nation, we can't stomach the thought of delving into all these mass murders, much less talking about them in an honest, deliberate, unemotional manner.

Maybe we think we're safe from mass shootings. Maybe we think they only happen in the big cities, but still we don't want to talk about such unpleasantness. So we focus on the Stars and Bars, the battle flag of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia - whatever you call it, that 155-year-old banner had nothing to do with inspiring a 21-year-old to commit multiple murders of fellow Christians in a church during Bible study. It is, however, a sacred symbol to him and others like him.

The thing with the confederate flag is that it serves as a reminder to millions of African-Americans that, once upon a time, their ancestors might have been slaves and the army that carried the flag into battle wanted to continue that abominable tradition so badly they were willing to tear the nation apart to make it happen.

We can debate the several reasons for the Civil War, but people who say it had nothing to do with one tribe forcefully keeping another tribe in savage bondage is delusional.

On the other side of the coin, we are all people of our own time. The confederate flag is a common enough sight in Texas. When I was a teenager living there in the 1970s, I wore clothing that featured the flag. It was on concert T-shirts for bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet.

They played Southern Fried Rock and the confederate flag symbolized nothing more than the music. It was regional and rowdy and, yes, rebellious. But it was not racist.

The problem is, racists have also co-opted the flag and have used it to terrorize people ever since Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox 150 years ago. This is the troubling truth that trumps everything else.

I value my Japanese battle flag. It means something to me, something deep down and tangible. That doesn't mean I would ever run it up a flagpole.

Some people might find it offensive if I were to proudly fly the Japanese flag and offer them a constant reminder of the wholesale death and destruction it represents.