A Man We Can Admire
Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, October 9, 2020
“Duty is the sublimest word in the language.”
Cover image credit: © Imagespace via ZUMA Wire.
A friend recently asked me to name someone I truly admire. I wish the name of someone living today had come to mind, but none did. There is a man I greatly admire, but he has been dead 150 years: Robert E. Lee. He has had a strange career as a figure of admiration.Union soldiers had a high regard for his ability and character, and as the years went by, Northerners admired him and Southerners revered him. As late as 1975, Congress recognized what it called “his outstanding virtues.”
Now, the general is hated — more, I’m sure, than he ever was by the men he was trying to kill on the battlefield. Earlier this year, the New York Times called him and all Confederates “racist traitors.” The next month, this is what vandals did to the base of his monument in Richmond, Virginia.
Where did the general go wrong? Certainly, in his lifetime, no one ever accused him of anything dishonorable. He was the son of Light Horse Harry Lee, the Revolutionary War hero,and he was an exemplary West Point cadet who graduated without a single demerit. During the Mexican War, he was such an able and courageous leader that when the South seceded, the Union Army offered him supreme command. Lee opposed slavery and secession, but he could not command the Union Army if it meant making war on his own state, Virginia, where his ancestors had already lived for more than 200 years. As he wrote: “a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonet . . . has no charm for me.”
When he accepted command of the Confederate armies, these are the words he spoke, as reenacted in the 2003 movie Gods and Generals [ 1:50 -2:37]
No one can doubt that he fought with great courage and distinction — and honorably. When he led his men into enemy territory, two years into a war in which Yankees had pillaged and marauded in the South, he issued General Orders No. 73, in which he wrote: “No greater disgrace could befall the army . . . than the perpetration of the barbarous outrages upon the unarmed and defenseless, and the wanton destruction of private property that have marked the course of the enemy in our own country . . . . It must be remembered that we make war only on armed men.”
Lee was modest in success, and humble in failure. At Gettysburg, after Pickett’s Charge was repulsed with 2,700 casualties, he took full responsibility. “All this has been my fault,” he said to his men. “It is I who have lost this fight and you must help me out of it the best way you can.”
Field Marshall Garnet Wolseley, commander in chief of the British Army, was fascinated by the American Civil War, and made a point of meeting commanders on both sides. He called Lee, “the most perfect man I ever met.” He went on: “I have met many of the great men of my time, but Lee alone impressed me with the feeling that I was in the presence of a man who was cast in a grander mold, and made of a different and of finer metal than other men.”
When Grant accepted Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, he wrote that he hated the cause for which Lee fought, but he also wrote: “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause.” Ordinary soldiers felt the same way. As Bruce Catton writes in A Stillness at Appomattox, one of the Yankees who fought under General Ord at the surrender remembered that the men should have shouted for joy, but they did not. “I remember how we sat there and pitied and sympathized with these courageous Southern men who had fought for four long and dreary years so stubbornly, so bravely and so well, and now, whipped, beaten, completely used up, were fully at our mercy. It was pitiful, sad, hard, and seemed to us altogether too bad.”
In his personal life, Lee was a model of integrity. As he wrote in a letter to his daughter, “You have only always to do what is right . . . and you will enjoy in the midst of your trials the pleasure of an approving conscience.” Just do what is right. Very simple — if you are Robert E. Lee.
Is it a wonder that President Eisenhower — a Kansas boy and certainly no Southerner — had a portrait of Lee in his office? When someone wanted to know why, he wrote that Lee was, “in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. . . . selfless almost to a fault . . . noble as a leader and as a man. A nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul.”
As the years went by, Americans held no grudge against the Confederacy and many admired its best men. In the 1950s, there was a television series called “The Grey Ghost,” in which the hero was Confederate cavalry commander, John Singleton Mosby. This is how each episode began: [1:06 – 1:24]
Lee applied for reinstatement as an American citizen after the war, but the government misplaced the papers, and in 1975, Congress voted to restore his citizenship posthumously. The Senate voted unanimously, and the House vote was 407 to 10. The “nay” votes were mostly from people who wanted to include amnesty for Vietnam draft dodgers. The resolution’s first words were: “Whereas this entire Nation has long recognized the outstanding virtues of courage, patriotism, and selfless devotion to duty of General R. E. Lee.” Yes, patriotism. When President Gerald Ford signed the resolution, he wrote: General Lee’s character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride. Every American. Well, not anymore.
Let’s go back to Lee’s contemporary, Field Marshall Wolseley, who wrote this:
When Americans can review the history of their last great rebellion with calm impartiality, I believe all will admit that General Lee towered far above all men on either side in that struggle: I believe he will be regarded not only as the most prominent figure of the Confederacy, but as the great American of the nineteenth century, whose statue is well worthy to stand on an equal pedestal with that of Washington, and whose memory is equally worthy to be enshrined in the hearts of all his countrymen.
The field marshal got it wrong, didn’t he? But then, I’m sure he never imagined Americans would tear down statues of George Washington and write “Fuck Cops” on the pedestal.
This is, of course, all about race. Truly great men are now villains because they didn’t think what we — generations later — say they should have thought. Animosities almost always subside as time goes on. Here, Union and Confederate veterans shake hands at Gettysburg 50 years after the battle. But those men in gray must never rest in peace and reconciliation. And for one reason only: race. Every Confederate, every slave holder, every white man who ever lived, but who might not have wanted to march in a Black Lives Matter parade becomes more and more evil as the years go by.
And so do you. Today, unless you devote yourself to dismantling “systemic racism” — whatever that is — you’re bad.
To think this, of course, is a form of insanity. We are fighting the racial insanity that has swept our country, and we must do so with the courage and dedication that Robert E. Lee brought to everything he did. It is our duty. I think the general would agree. “Duty,” he said, “is the sublimest word in the language; you can never do more than your duty; you shall never wish to do less.”