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Alaska Notebook: Every star on the flag is for keeps

  • Author: Frank Gerjevic
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published November 5, 2012

All the current talk of secession -- 750,000 signatures from 50 states on a White House website -- has me thinking about Shelby Foote and Joe Vogler.

Foote wrote a magnificent history of the Civil War. Vogler founded the Alaska Independence Party and wanted the state to leave the Union and become its own republic.

Now you might think about Foote's work as a cautionary tale about what happens with secession. But it's not that so much as a simple passage in one of his volumes in which a Yankee soldier yells across the lines to a Reb: "Hey, Secesh..."

There's a familiarity to it, as someone asking in bewilderment, "What are you doing, brother?"

I can't take the current secession shout much more seriously than most Alaskans took Joe Vogler and his call for independence. But I do remember a conversation with a friend about whether we were Alaskans first or Americans first. He said he felt Alaskan first; I said I felt American first, with a libertarian streak that was more a function of osmosis than deliberation. Alaska gets in your blood in more ways than one.

But secession? The most enlightenment to come out of the current show is the history lessons it's prompted in print and online, both from the Civil War era and more recently.

East Tennessee had strong union loyalists at the beginning of Civil War, one of them William Gannaway Brownlow, a Knoxville newspaper editor and former circuit-riding Methodist preacher, who vowed to fight the secessionists until hell froze over, "and then fight them on the ice."

In more recent years secession talk has been on the state level, proposals that would require no war but crowd the flag with more stars. I had no idea there had been proposals to split the state of Maine and call the southern section Northern Massuchusetts. Or that West Virginians had been asked if they wanted to give some panhandle counties back to Virginia. Or that there was talk of a Baja Arizona, and a new state sliced from three called Delmarva (pieces of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia). Sounds more like a subdivision.

There's always been such talk. For decades some have argued that California is too big and populous to be one state and should be at least two. And I remember talk in the '70s about Alaska splitting into Alaska and Alaskachuk -- both bigger than Texas.

Nations change, and the 50 stars on the flag now -- such a clean, round number -- are stitched on cloth, not carved in stone. Our history is full of addition, multiplication and division. But we don't do subtraction.

-- Frank Gerjevic

Frank Gerjevic

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