William Sullivan, American Thinker, June 14, 2020
The most popular musical act of the 1940s was a trio of ladies named Patty, LaVerne, and Maxene, collectively known as the Andrews Sisters. Their patriotic tunes are particularly nostalgic for me, a child of the Reagan era who had a special appreciation for the Abbott and Costello movies in which they sometimes appeared.
Bud and Lou’s first starring roles came in the comedy film Buck Privates, and it remains one of their most popular. The movie released in early 1941, prior to America’s entry into World War II, and amidst the backdrop of the first peacetime conscription in American history, the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. The Andrews Sisters featured prominently in its musical interludes. The most famous tune from the movie was probably “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” but in recent weeks, I’ve been reminded of another of their popular songs from the film, because the spirit of the song serves as a time capsule which could not exist in starker contrast to the spirit of the country today.
Consider the opening verses of a tune that they sing as a reminder to the American everyman, “You’re a Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith”:
You’re a lucky fellow, Mr. Smith,
To be able to live as you do.
And to have that swell Miss Liberty gal
Carrying the torch for you.
You’re a lucky fellow, Mr. Smith,
Do you know just how highly you rate?
You should thank your lucky stars, and I mean
You should thank all 48.
Man, you’ve really got a family tree,
With Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Lee.
You’re lucky to have ancestors like that,
Don’t you know you were born with a feather in your hat?
You’re a very, very wealthy gent.
I don’t care if you haven’t a cent.
You’ve got your American way,
And, brother, that ain’t hay.
The song was clearly meant to stir America’s patriotic sap, including later references to our “freedom of speech” and our “great Constitution,” but perhaps you noticed that interesting line in the third verse referencing “Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Lee?”
There’s no mystery about the inclusion of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, but you might be surprised about the song’s inclusion of one Mr. Robert Edward Lee. Though you might not know it in today’s American cultural landscape, Robert E. Lee was broadly revered as an example of an American hero until about five minutes ago, when ignorant adult children and their Marxist instructors reimagined him as an irredeemable villain and began tearing down his many monuments.
Just one of many presidents to have spoken reverently about the man is Dwight D. Eisenhower, who explained why Lee’s portrait was among the four “great Americans” that hung in his office. He said that Lee was:
…one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation… selfless almost to a fault… noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history. From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul.
Indeed, for the vast majority of America’s history since 1865, Robert E. Lee has been known as one of the greatest Americans to have ever lived, which is quite a feat when one considers that the most famous aspect of his life occurred as a military leader in rebellion to the United States government. But this son of a Revolutionary War hero, “Light-Horse” Harry Lee, had over three decades of valorous service to his country under his belt before being asked to lead the Union against his home state of Virginia in 1861. He refused, which some might say was the honorable choice.
Anyone who can appreciate the contextual nuances of history should be able to understand that, in Lee’s time, there was an as yet unresolved question in America as to whether one’s final allegiance should be owed to one’s own state, or to the United States government. James Buchanan’s Secretary of State, Lewis Cass, summed the conflict up thusly: “I speak to Cobb, and he tells me he is a Georgian; to Floyd, and he tells me he is a Virginian; to you, and you tell me you are a Carolinian. I am not a Michigander; I am a citizen of the United States.”
Like Thomas Jefferson, whose gravestone refers to his Virginian heritage more prominently than his identity as an American, Lee believed his loyalty to Virginia as more central to his identity than his loyalty to the Federal Union of the states. And rather than taking up arms against his home state, Lee reluctantly served the Confederacy to defend his family and neighbors with his considerable military prowess. After the Civil War, he sought and was granted amnesty in order to lead other former Confederates to do the same, and thus unify the nation in the aftermath of their failed war for independence.
For those reasons and much, much more, Robert E. Lee has been viewed almost universally as a great man for much of our nation’s history. But today, historical revisionists have reduced his storied legacy to one damning feature that can be fit in a protest sign — he was a slaveowner. Therefore, like the Soviet politburos and Taliban iconoclasts before them, they are working tirelessly to destroy or rename all streets, parks, schools, and monuments that bear his name and/or visage in order to expunge his legacy from the collective mind.
But there’s a problem with all of this, which President Trump wisely predicted. If our culture commits to cancelling Lee because he did not subscribe to modern moral understanding about the questions of slavery and race relations, then we certainly have to cancel Washington and Jefferson, who both owned slaves, and fought to create a nation in which slavery would be legal. All of the other gifts that these men have given to the world must be reduced to that one fact, progressives demand. And as you should have expected, Jefferson and Washington are also having their monuments destroyed by ignorant vandals, and SJWs are winning Pulitzers for inventing fictional and nonsensical tales about how Washington and Jefferson were actually fighting to keep the British from taking their slaves away back in 1776.
So, Lee is cancelled, and we’re headlong into the process of permanently cancelling Washington and Jefferson. Among those American ancestors that we were so lucky to have, as the Andrews Sisters’ ditty went, only Lincoln remains.
But for how long?
You see, Lincoln was indeed an abolitionist, but you will find very little information that he was in favor of making equal citizens of the slaves that he wished to be free prior to 1863. What you will find, however, is evidence that he was more than willing to sign a law making slavery “irrevocable” to avoid the prospect of civil war (see: 1861 Inaugural Address) and that he favored the “colonization option” for freed slaves, supporting a $600K Congressional expenditure to ship the freed slaves away from American shores, and openly suggested that blacks in America were “selfish” to not submit to being shipped off to a distant land.
So, Lincoln may not be canceled just yet, but is it really hard to believe that progressive revisionists won’t be tearing down his statues soon, too? Especially when they hear that he told Stephen Douglas, while debating in favor of abolition, that he would never intend to make “voters or jurors of negroes” and that he, “as much as any man” among the populace he entreated, was “in favor of having the superior position” among the races “assigned to the white man?”
This slippery slope in our current culture shouldn’t be too difficult to identify. If this formula persists, all Americans throughout history who didn’t subscribe to the most modern and radical progressive doctrines will soon be cancelled, and their legacies destroyed like countless memorials to the great Robert E. Lee, in an effort to raze the very foundations of Western civilization, and to replace them with whatever might suit these Marxist reformers better.
All of humanity is flawed, but for most of our nation’s history, we’ve been able to understand that men like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Lee were great men in spite of their flaws, and reason demands that we view their unique challenges in appropriate context. As Thomas Sowell wrote in his 2002 column titled “Twisted History”:
In 1862, a ship carrying slaves from Africa to America, in violation of a ban on the international slave trade, was captured. The crew were imprisoned and the captain was hanged in the United States — despite the fact that slavery itself was still legal in both Africa and the U.S. at the time.
What does this tell us? That enslaving people was considered an abomination but what to do with millions of people who were already enslaved was not equally clear.
That question was finally answered by a war in which one life was lost for every six people freed. Maybe that was the only answer. But don’t pretend today that it was an easy answer — or that those who grappled with the dilemma in the 18th century were some special villains, when most leaders and most people around the world at that time saw nothing wrong with slavery.
These American leaders represent America, and they are worthy of our reverence. And while we should recognize the flaws of our leaders (they are not exalted kings or Soviet Premiers, after all), we should certainly appreciate their considerable contributions in creating the freest nation the world has ever known — one which we are now watching being burned to the ground in a violent tantrum by their ignorant, weak-minded, and petulant national descendants who’ve done nothing but selfishly reap its material fruits.