So Carl Rowan too {op-ed, Feb. 9} is demanding that Confederate flags be removed from public buildings, torn off of truck bumpers and yanked from the flagpoles of the South. The argument that the Stars and Bars is a racist symbol holds about as much water as the claim that "Redskins" is a racist name for Doug Williams' team.

The issue here is not racism. The issue is the homogenization and de-"Confederization" of the South. It's a game of "let's pretend Manassas is the same as Akron or Des Moines."

Take Fairfax County. It's not enough that bulldozers are turning fields and Civil War battle sites into town houses and industrial parks that could just as well be in Wisconsin or New Hampshire. Now the revisionists want to make the transformation complete by pretending that the War Between the States never happened and that thousands of men never died fighting under the Saint Andrew cross with 13 stars.

Fairfax school officials, for example, have decreed that Fairfax High School's Johnny Reb mascot is "offensive." The name "Rebels" will be allowed to stay, but will now presumably refer to the rebels of the Revolutionary War.

By extension, the names of the Jefferson Davis and Lee-Jackson highways should be changed. The plaques honoring such obvious "racists" as John Singleton Mosby and J. E. B. Stuart should be melted down. The statue of a Confederate soldier in Alexandria should be ripped from its pedestal. The Confederate Museum in Alexandria should be gutted.

Northern Virginia has a claim to the Confederate flag that rivals that of almost any other part of the South. I know, I know. Northern Virginia has been so suburbanized and sanitized that it's hardly part of the South anymore, but let's pretend.

The flag itself was designed in Fairfax City, by Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard after First Manassas in June 1861. Appalled by the confusion on the smoky battlefield between the Union flag and the similar Confederate national flag, Beauregard sat at a Fairfax kitchen table and drew a design for a battle flag that was clearly different from the Stars and Stripes.

Lee chose to call his force the Army of Northern Virginia. Major battles of the war were fought all across what's now Virginia suburbia. Hundreds of thousands of us trace our roots to the men who marched and fought, underfed and often barefoot.

But none of that seems to matter anymore. Developers have gouged up the site of the Battle of Chantilly, in western Fairfax County. Twelve hundred men died in the two-hour battle that followed Second Manassas, one every six seconds. But the cornfields and railroad embankments that marked the battle lines are gone -- to be replaced by sleek industrial complexes.

The headstones marking where Union generals Issac Stevens and Phillip Kearney fell during that battle have been moved. Stevens' headstone says he died "with the flag of the Republic in his grasp." That kind of heroism and sacrifice is quaint now.

As family history tells it, Jerimiah Jaco and the dozen or so other Jacos who fought and (mostly) died under the Confederate flag did so without ever having seen a black person. Too poor to own slaves and too proud to allow Union troops to invade, they fought.

Critics will rip into that as romantic drivel, charging that anyone who honors their memories by displaying the Rebel flag is a racist. Careful now. Does that mean anyone who wore the Americal or First Air Cav patches in Vietnam, fighting mostly with honor and to keep their buddies alive, is an imperialist baby killer?

I want nothing to do with skinheads who wear Confederate flag patches alongside swastikas on their torn-up denim jackets. A case can even be made for removing the Confederate flag from the Georgia state flag, since it wasn't added until the 1950s as a reaction to school integration.

But the idea of ripping down Confederate flags hits a nerve. I am a white southerner and, more often than not, damn proud of it. Facile arguments that the Stars and Bars represents racism may be boneheaded, but they are also opinions that can be debated loud and long. But any attempt to tear down the flags takes aim at my heritage. That's when a debate becomes a good old-fashioned fight. -- C. D. Jaco