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Confederate Flag Flies in Minnesota

July 6, 2015

First of all I want to say that I love firefighters. Anyone who runs toward danger to help others is a hero in my book and I cut them a lot of slack and give them a lot of leeway. If I’m going to judge them guilty and hang them out to dry I need a lot of incontrovertible evidence. Same with law enforcement officers.

So, having said that, I flip on the news this morning and I hear about a 10-year volunteer firefighter down in the small southern Minnesota city of Hartland who has been suspended for flying a Confederate flag from the back of his department’s fire truck during a parade on July 3rd right next to the US flag.

The firefighther, Brian Nielson, who said he’s not a racist or a Confederate sympathizer said that he wasn’t trying to insult anyone. He only wanted to fly the Confederate flag as a way to take a stand against political correctness in the US. “I’m sick of the political correctness,” he said. “They are trying to change too much in the United States.” When talking about the Confederate flag, he is upset that “… they want to take it out of history”. He goes on to question the recent dialogue, as well as the fiscal responsibility involved, about renaming Lake Calhoun, a Minneapolis city lake named for a man who was a proponent of slavery. “Albert Lea [a larger town about 15 miles southeast of Hartland] is named after a confederate soldier so what are they going to do, change that name too?” he asks.

Nielson has apologized to the fire department and anyone else he may have offended by his decision, but when he was asked if he thought that by flying the Confederate flag he might offend people he replied, “Absolutely not. I didn’t think it would receive this much attention.” That statement can be take two ways and I’m choosing to interpret it as his admission to not thinking about the possible ramifications and outcomes before he made his decision to fly the flag.

So where do I stand? You know how I feel about firefighters and I think by simply being a firefighter Brian Neilson deserves my highest level of respect. But I really can’t give it to him. I respect his beliefs, even though I don’t agree with them, but I think he’s taking the issue completely out of context and blowing it out of proportion and I think he exercised extremely poor judgement with his decision. And, while I recognize the cultural and historical significance of the Confederate flag, I don’t believe it has any business being displayed in any environment outside of a museum, a Civil War reenactment, or a history book. So, do I think he should lose his position as a volunteer firefighter, and the financial compensation that goes along with it? No, I can’t go that far. I think Brian Nielson has a good heart but just lacks the common sense he needed on July 3rd to make a practical and sensible decision.

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