The controversy surrounding flying the Confederate flag in South Carolina shows the best and the worst of both sides [news story, Jan. 18; op-ed, Jan. 18].

For 135 years the Confederate flag has been subverted by racists to endorse their bigotry. Not being of African descent, I can only attempt to imagine the feelings that must occur within that community when an image that has come to represent slavery, repression and the denial of basic civil rights is displayed.

But to brand all those who view this image with reverence as being racist is also offensive. Only one in 16 southerners owned slaves at the outbreak of the Civil War. The rest fought to escape a government that imposed high tariffs on the import of manufactured European goods (needed by an agrarian South) and that had a regional voting bloc that imposed laws that benefited the North.

Most southerners fought to execute what their state constitutions had in their charters prior to agreeing to join a "United States of America"--including the right to dissolve the Union any time they chose to do so. Slavery did not trigger the initial hostilities and did not become the defining issue of the war until President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863.

Perhaps a compromise could resolve this emotional situation. The South had three national flags during the Civil War, as well as a "battle flag." Many Civil War reenactors fly the original Confederate national flag (the Stars and Bars). This symbol is used to remember southern heritage without invoking the racism attendant with the battle flag.

Adopting the Confederate national flag could allow one side to remember its heritage, without imputing racism to the other.

DAN BROOKS

Ashburn, Va.