Historians take issue with Apple's Civil War games ban

Civil War historians were flummoxed by Apple's removal of Civil War games from its App Store that included images of the Confederate flag. The controversial symbol is key to depicting history, they said.

“It seems to me that pulling Civil War games might be an extreme response to the flag controversy, as if the Civil War didn't exist,” said Bob Brinkmeyer, a professor of Southern studies at the University of South Carolina. “As these games remind us, the South lost.”

Apple's decision on Thursday came soon after major retailers and e-commerce sites, from Wal-Mart to Amazon to EBay, banned sales of Confederate flags and products with Confederate images on them.

The commercial actions came in response to the shooting of nine African Americans at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. The young man arrested for the crime had an apparent fondness for the Confederate flag and the flags of Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, judging by photographs of him flaunting those symbols.

The historians had no beef with the product recalls but took issue with removing the flag in historic representations, even games played on smartphones.

Joan Waugh, a history professor at UCLA, noted that the Confederate flag is an essential symbol in Civil War history.

“I cannot support the ill-considered action by Apple or any other company to remove the flag from a Civil War game,” she said.

Carolyn Marvin, a communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said she wasn't surprised to see Apple responding to a Zeitgeist moment surrounding contempt for the flag. She made a distinction between scholarly records and games which are “representations of popular history.”

Still, it's hard to imagine a Civil War game that blocks out the Confederate flag.

Why did Apple do that? The company won't say. According to one game developer, Apple sent him a note citing guidelines prohibiting “mean-spirited” references while informing him that it would remove his games.

“It seems disappointing that they would remove it as they weren't being used in an offensive way,” said Andrew Mulholland of HexWar Games, adding that he would remove the flags in an attempt to get his games back in the Apple store.

An Apple spokesperson told Mashable Thursday that several apps using the Confederate flag had been removed. “We have removed apps from the App Store that use the Confederate flag in offensive or mean-spirited ways, which is in violation of our guidelines,” the spokesperson said. “We are not removing apps that display the Confederate flag for educational or historical uses.”

The spokesperson said the company is working with some game developers whose apps had been removed to try to get the games back in the App Store.

The Times wondered how Apple defines “offensive or mean-spirited” in a game that takes place in an environment that is intrinsically offensive and mean spirited, and whether Apple might take the same action against World War II games that carry Nazi imagery. Calls were not returned.

One of the creators of “Ultimate General: Gettysburg,” Maxim Zasov, said he did not plan to alter his depiction of one of the Civil War's most important battles. The game is still available for download on PC.

“We wanted our game to be the most accurate, historical, playable reference of the Battle of Gettysburg,” Zasov wrote on his website. “All historical commanders, unit composition and weaponry, key geographical locations to the smallest streams or farms are recreated in our game's battlefield.”

In a tweet on Sunday, Apple CEO Tim Cook called for removing the “symbols and words” that feed racism.

daina.solomon@latimes.com

Twitter: @dainabethcita

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