Seriously Apple? No Confederate Flags in Video Games? (Updated)

Update: It looks like cooler heads may be prevailing and apparently Apple is working to restore some of its apps that use the flag “for educational or historical uses.” No news of Ultimate General: Gettysburg being restored as of yet. New of the game’s removal was surely responsible for the turnaround, as it went viral quickly and even Rolling Stone reported on it this morning. I’ll keep you posted as I hear more about it.

Update 2: Ultimate General: Gettysburg just announced on Facebook that it was able to negotiate with Apple and is now available again as an App, unchanged. Although Apple should never have pulled the game in the first place, I commend the company for recognizing the mistake and respecting Game-Labs’s artistic integrity.


Earlier today, Apple announced that it is no longer going to offer apps in its iOS store that feature the Confederate Battle Flag. I don’t know precisely how many apps this covers, but I do know that it includes Ultimate General: Gettysburg, which I reviewed on this site in February. According to the game’s developer Nick Thomadis, Apple will agree to restore the game if his company, Game-Labs, removes all Confederate flags. Thomadis refused and, although I support most of the efforts to remove Confederate iconography currently going on across the nation, I completely support Thomadis in this decision.

I’m sure there are apps that make flippant use of the Confederate Battle Flag and I understand how software distributors like Apple or Steam might want to distance themselves from those products, but Ultimate General: Gettysburg and other historically-responsible games should not be included. Games like these are roughly equivalent to any other historical fiction. They differ only in that the viewer/user gets more control over the action. In my previous entry on Ultimate General, I noted how this created some moral dilemmas when I played as the Confederates, but I never once entertained the idea of removing the game from the market.

These games, like their literary and cinematic counterparts, attempt to tell stories within a historical context and/or represent historical events or trends. Many take this task very seriously and try to depict their historical subjects with an admirable degree of accuracy. Ultimate General: Gettysburg is such a game. You simply cannot have a game about the Confederates without including Confederate imagery. I typically avoid “slippery slope” arguments, but it stands to reason that if apps and/or games that feature the Confederate Battle Flag should be censored, then so too should all other kinds of historical fiction. So, iTunes had better stop distributing Gone With the WindGettysburgLincoln, and Glory because they all feature the Confederate flag or Confederate iconography. Indeed, let’s also dispose of all games, books, and films set in World War 2 that contain Nazi imagery. Panzer General, which I’ve also mentioned here before, does not display any swastikas but does prominently feature the German Cross. Is it now toxic, along with Indiana Jones, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List (man, Spielberg sure does like to have Nazis in his movies)?

Finally, Apple’s caveat that they will restore the game to their servers if the Confederate Battle Flag is removed is completely absurd. Opposition to the Confederate Battle Flag is based around the idea that it is a symbol for the Confederate cause, which is inseparable from white supremacy and slavery. BUT THIS GAME FEATURES ACTUAL CONFEDERATES! If the Confederate Battle Flag is too offensive to be featured in a video game, then surely little gray-clad Confederates marching across a virtual battlefield and killing virtual Yankees is ever more so. Even with the flag removed, this is still a game in which the player can take on the identity of an army fighting to preserve the institution of slavery, so removing the flag in this case can only be an empty gesture. The sole result will be a less-accurate product.

Now, I understand that all Confederate units at Gettysburg did not fly the Battle Flag, which makes Ultimate General: Gettysburg no more historically accurate with that flag than if its little Rebels flew Panem flags. But we all know the Confederate Battle Flag is the accepted symbol of the Confederacy and the current efforts to remove it from public spaces are not to try and erase that connection but to make it explicit and act accordingly. But context is everything, and while a state capitol displaying the flag can easily be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of white supremacy, the flag’s inclusion in a recreated historical setting is not. Video games are an effective way of reconstructing the past and making players learn and think about historical scenarios and ideas. We cannot censor representations of the past as long as their developers treat them with respect. Ultimate General: Gettysburg and many other historical games take their subjects seriously and should be praised, not punished, for trying to depict history accurately.



  1. satchel29 · June 26, 2015

    You know I can by a “Rising Sun” bandana exactly the same as the ones worn by Japanese soldiers in WW2 on Amazon right now (I just looked it up). That is no better than a similar bandana with the battle flag on it. To most individuals of Chinese descent the “Rising Sun” is just as offensive, given the horrific treatment they endured at the hands of the Japanese (which in my humble opinion was even worse than the treatment of slaves in the South). However, because the media hasn’t caught on to that particular cause (and because it’s mostly a concern for non-Americans) it’s not an issue. Personally, I’m not in favour of either image being struck form shelves (government buildings are another matter) but we’re definitely responding to media pressure/outrage here as Bill K points out.

    • Christian McWhirter · June 26, 2015

      I wasn’t arguing that the media isn’t running with this. That’s obvious. But it seems to me the media started on this road because it was the direction the public was moving in anyway. Just look at the reaction to Obama’s speech today.

      And I bet you’d have a harder time buying a WW2-era Japanese flag in China.

  2. Pingback: SCOTUS makes history; of Rebel monuments & video games ; Elvis vs. Nathan B. Forrest; culinary history; Abe’s bad blind date. | history&thenews
  3. Bill K. · June 26, 2015

    I’m mainly a Pennsylvania guy through and through. I’ve never brandished a southern flag in any form nor will I ever regardless if it’s sold in gift shops or not. I collect mainly anything Iron Brigade in battlefield bookstores. I’m never going to be seen wearing anything with the flag nor will I ever own one. I feel no need to.It’s pretty sad when I have to add this disclaimer prior to my response, but this is the society we’ve bred with all of this phony outrage stuff. Aside from my lack of reasons to do anything with this flag, it’s still my opinion that this thing shouldn’t be completely wiped from history. It still should have a place on battlefields right?

    I understand why you support the removal of the flag in society, but I don’t think you can come back with surprise and react this way to the video game issue at the same time. Most of us saw this coming. This is how it works with the news cycle that we have.It is a slippery slope and the question now is how far do we go with this? Obviously pretty far. What I don’t understand why having anything with this flag on it. I understand that most of us that interact on here (you included) are well-read on this period of time, but I feel like it’s not us who are deciding what needs to be done with this thing. We are going on the word of people who might not even have a concept of what happened and why. I think the question of “how far does this go?” is actually a good one. How far is this going to go? It’s already gone from standalone items in the bookstore at Gettysburg. I’ve also heard Walmart pulled the Gettysburg film from shelves because it had both flags. It is truly a slippery slope. Are people going to start calling for the state monuments to be removed (which is what I’m truly worried about in this issue)? They are part of the battlefields. Hell, there are battlefields out there where the Confederates simply whipped the North. Are we going to slowly eliminate these parks? Still my opinion, but I feel that history is greater than the feelings of some. You can’t erase it.

    • Christian McWhirter · June 26, 2015

      I agree with you that there is a line denoting when this thing has gone too far, and the kind of censorship Apple is imposing here is certainly an example of that. However, the presence of a “slippery slope” shouldn’t discount appropriate removals of the flag or discourage us from pursuing this issue in other more legitimate areas.
      However, as I said in my previous post, retailers choosing not to stock items featuring the flag is a trickier issue. I stand by what I said there with the following addition concerning Gettysburg National Park: remember that the NPS is a federal agency. I agree that eliminating Confederate imagery from a Civil War battlefield giftshop is probably a step too far but I can see common ground between state governments no longer flying the flag and the federal government no longer selling it.

      • Bill K. · June 26, 2015

        I can agree on that too. It shouldn’t be waving atop a state’s capitol building etc. To which the original report when this started was on the grounds of the capitol, not atop the building. (I do believe the original headline boasted that it was atop the capitol which was incorrect). If it were the Mississippi flag, then it’s more accurate. There’s that thin line. The original flag in question was part of a historical memorial. My problem then is the absence of all this outrage before the original news report went out. Everyone was fine with it for a number of years then all of a sudden when the news gives the order it’s time to lose our minds?

      • Christian McWhirter · June 26, 2015

        Perhaps I’m looking through “Civil War colored” glasses, but references to South Carolina’s refusal to take down that flag have popped up from time to time at least since I’ve been paying attention. Following the Charleston shooting, several blogs and news outlets immediately began referencing it. So, I take this as less a result of of media hype and more a direct and rational reaction to Dylann Roof’s actions. Sure some folks are taking it to far, but the initial impulse was sound.

      • cagraham · June 29, 2015

        Here is the relevant language from the NPS Director’s Order in re: gift shop sales:

        “In regard to sales items, however, the NPS has requested that cooperating associations, concessions, and our other partners voluntarily withdraw items that solely depict a Confederate flag as a stand-alone feature, especially items that are wearable and displayable. Books, DVDs, and other educational and interpretive media where the Confederate flag image is depicted in its historical context may remain as sales items as long as the image cannot be physically detached. Confederate flags include the Stainless Banner, the Third National Confederate Flag, and the Confederate Battle Flags. All superintendents and program managers should personally evaluate which sales items fit this description, have educational value, and are appropriate for the site.”

        A couple of items. First, it’s voluntary. Second, it distinguishes between stand-alone items (flags, essentially) and where the flag is presented in historical context. So, a book with a Don Troiani painting on the cover is ok, I guess.

        I wonder how thoroughly this will be applied and what the criteria will be for things like logos (e.g. Civil War Trust, or any modern graphic that incorporates the flag with the US flag to denote “Civil War” in general.)?

      • Christian McWhirter · June 29, 2015

        This is great. Thanks for adding it. I was already told that no books were being removed but I too wonder how broadly someone could interpret the rest of the policy. I don’t live close enough to any Civil War battlefield parks anymore to go and check it out for myself.

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