Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Robert E. Lee and The Culture of Offense

Growing up as a young man in the South, I learned of the memories and nostalgia of Robert E. Lee, who remained in Southern culture as a man worthy of admiration and respect. Remembered as a Christian gentlemen and statesman, his memory exuded honor. I studied his life for my American English research project during my junior year of high school in Greenville, South Carolina.

While Lee served as the President of Washington College from 1865-1870, a student asked him for a copy of the rules. Lee replied,“Young gentleman, we have no printed rules. We have but one rule here, and it is that every student must be a gentleman.” Now the school bears his name: Washington and Lee University.

Lee, prior to the Civil War served the U.S. Army, graduated from West Point, and fought in the Mexican War.  For decades, he won the respect of his contemporaries. He was Abraham Lincoln's first choice to command the Union Army.

Though not a perfect man - only Christ met that criteria -  in various chapters of his life, he gave evidence of American patriotism, devotion to Virginia in a day when loyalty to state often overshadowed loyalty to country, and a struggle to know how to practice biblical character and moral integrity in his day and context. 

Statue of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson in Richmond, Virginia

Enjoying Learning about General Lee

Last year, my family enjoyed listening to the outstanding audio drama of prolific English novelist G. A. Henty's book With Lee in Virginia.  It is a Civil War story by Heirloom Audio Productions of courage, honor, and duty.  Henty wrote captivating books of extraordinary adventures.  I recommend them to any family.

One description of the audio drama reads, "Fifteen-year old Vincent Wingfield finds himself in a thrilling adventure when he joins the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia. He is soon fighting alongside many of the most famous Confederate generals, including Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson and Robert E. Lee. General Lee’s steadfast sense of duty and his dauntless devotion to God inspire Vincent to take a stand for his country and his fellow man that could save his life."

Similarly, my family watched the movie Gods and Generals this year, based on the book by Jeffrey Shaarah. I don't think the movie is out of this world, and at times the characterization is overdone, but I did learn a lot about significant Civil War battles and warriors. 

One site describes the movie as "a sweeping epic charting the early years of the Civil War and how the campaigns unfolded from Manassas I to the Battle of Fredericksburg, this prequel to the film 'Gettysburg' explores the motivations of the combatants and examines the lives of those who waited at home."  The movie specifically looks at the lives of Robert E. Lee, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and Joshua Chamberlain.   

Character Lessons

Numerous stories arise from the pages of Lee's personal history.

One tells of Lee visiting with a Kentucky woman after the Civil War.  She showed him the remains of a grand old tree in her yard, bemoaning how the federal artillery destroyed much of the stately tree.  Looking for consolation from the General, he replied, "Cut down the tree, ma'am, and forget it."

Another time Lee held a newborn baby in his arms.  Finding a word of exhortation for his mother, he told the woman, "Teach him how to deny himself."

J. Steven Wilkins shares one snapshot from Lee's life during a battle of Petersburg in his volume Call of Duty, The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee:

Lee found himself in an exposed position under intense fire. He ordered the men around him to seek shelter, and then stepped out into the open to pick up a baby sparrow that had fallen from a tree.  Returning the sparrow to its nest, Lee followed his men to shelter.

My personal library includes a collection of biblical biographies, Great Lives from God's Word, written by esteemed pastor and seminary president Charles Swindoll. In each biography, he attempts to find a person from history who, in his learned opinion, emulates the best qualities of the biblical hero.  For his book on Elijah, which he calls A Man of Heroism and Humility, Swindoll chooses Robert E. Lee.

Pastor Chuck writes, With a vivid memory of the military in my past, I find myself drawn to those who perform well under the pressure of battle. . . .  Among the many I have studied from that era [War Between the States] of our history, no soldier stands taller than Robert E. Lee, a marvel of unimpeachable character, and, to this day, of universal admiration.  The mere mention of his name brings the term "gentleman" to mind. . . . 

In the mind of serious Civil War students, he remains a magnificent model of at least two character qualities rarely blended in one body, especially that of a strong leader: heroism and humility.  Tough at heart, the man remained tender of soul. . . .  Quietly confident, he conducted his life securely under the providengtial hand of God, in whom he trusted with a whole heart. . . .  Uncompromisingly strong, yet self-controlled.  Disciplined, yet forgiving.  Audaciously courageous, yet kind.  Heroic in the heart of battle, yet humble in the aftermath.

Lee and His Times

The character of human beings is rarely accurately defined in sweeping generalities.  However, today, largely in part due to the influences of the Left, a new culture war rages to "cleanse" us of our history.  Men like Lee, Stonewall Jackson, or Wade Hampton are generalized as "evil men" or "traitors."  Some modernists want us to look at these men only through one lens - the lens of slavery.

The real world is not that simple.

View of the Robert E. Lee Bridge in Richmond, Virginia
And modernists often want to paint the Civil War as revolving around only one issue - slavery.  However, the majority of the Confederate soldiers never owned slaves.  Many of them were poor farmers. My ancestry includes Confederates who fought in the war yet never owned slaves.  The issue of states' rights stirred strong emotions in the South.  How much couuld the Union control individual states? Thus, in the South the Civil War was sometimes referred to as The War of Northern Aggression.  

Lee came from a day and culture when loyalty to State sometimes outranked loyalty to country.  Lee told a friend, "If Virginia stands by the old Union,so will I. But if she secedes (though I do not believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution), then I will follow my native State with my sword, and, if need be, with my life.”

He wrote in a letter to his son dated 1861, The South, in my opinion, has been aggrieved by the acts of the North, as you say. I feel the aggression, and am willing to take every proper step for redress. It is the principle I contend for, not individual or private benefit. As an American citizen, I take great pride in my country, her prosperity and institutions, and would defend any State if her rights were invaded.

African-American leader Alan Keyes writes in his article The Flag of Robert E. Lee about the move to cleanse America of reminders of the Confederacy: The demand also has something to do with the elitist faction's desire to suppress all thought of the venerable American view that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. This view led many Southerners who rejected slavery to object to what they (mistakenly) believed to be the North's interference with their right of self-determination. It's a view understandably repugnant to the snarling demagogues presently intent on establishing elitist, totalitarian government in the United States.

General Lee, who inherited his slaves, freed all of his slaves in 1862 well before the war ended.  Lee wrote to his wife about the evil of slavery in 1856, “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages.”" 

Following the Civil War, Lee became a symbol of respect by people in both the South and the North.  One article on the Smithsonian's website says, "During the postbellum century, when Americans North and South decided to embrace R. E. Lee as a national as well as a Southern hero, he was generally described as antislavery."

Statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia

Dr. Edward Smith, African-American college professor, writes in his post In Defense of General Lee, "I have been teaching college students for 30 years, and learned early in my career that the twin maladies of ignorance and misinformation are not incurable diseases. The antidote for them is simply to make a lifelong commitment to reading widely and deeply. I recommend it for anyone who would make judgment on figures from the past, including Robert E. Lee."

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, speaking at the dedication of a public statue of Robert E. Lee in Dallas in 1936, stated, “All over the United States, we recognize him as a great leader of men, as a great general. But, also, all over the United States I believe that we recognize him as something much more important than that. We recognize Robert E. Lee as one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.” 

William Mack Lee, the body servant of General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War, said this of Lee after his death: "I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than General Robert E. Lee, according to my judgment. All of his servants were set free ten years before the war, but all remained on the plantation until after the surrender." William Mack stayed with Lee after the war until the General's death in 1870.  General Lee left Mack $360 in his will, which Mack used to go to school and started 14 churches. He became an ordained Missionary Baptist minister in Washington, DC.

Yet, like every person in every era, Lee was a product of his time and culture.  He was a flawed man.  Some people quickly castigate such men, viewing them only through one lens. Honest readers of his life struggle to understand why he did not take a stronger stance against slavery, knowing the courage and character that marked so much of his life, leadership, and legacy. From the vantage point of 150+ years, how easy it becomes to criticize him or others of his day.  It makes me wonder what vices that our world deems culturally acceptable people will look back on you and me centuries from now and criticize.

Shortly before his death, Lee made a statement that shows how he changed, matured, and developed: "Before and during the War Between the States I was a Virginian," he said. "After the war I became an American."

The Attempt to Cleanse America

We try and incorporate historical visits into our family vacations. Two years ago we enjoyed a quick trip through Richmond, Virginia.  Replete with Civil War history, we drove down Monument Avenue, which holds massive statues of Confederate leaders.  Then, driving to Washington, D.C., we enjoyed our nation's incredible monuments and museums.  We remembered the wars and many leaders like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington.  This May, on another quick trip - this time through Birmingham, Alabama - we wanted our children to see Kelly Ingram Park, which memorializes the Civil Rights Movement.  We viewed the impressive statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as other monuments to the movement. The town in which we live includes a state park commemorating a battle from The Revolutionary War.  

For history lovers, these and countless other monuments, statues, and memorials remind us of various aspects of American history.  They are not to be feared, worshiped, nor torn down.  And, if we don't like the aspect of history which they represent, they should not offend us.  They are simply reminders of history.  

A frenzy sweeps across our country this week to remove Confederate monuments. Condeleeza Rice, an African American, said this week“When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better, it’s a bad thing."  Read more from Rice here.

African American leader Allen West spoke in response to the Charlottesville riotsThis all began because someone decided, as other elected officials have across the country, to cave in to partisan political pressures and seek to erase American history. History is not there for us to love or hate, but for us to learn from and seek to not repeat its mistakes.  If there are those who truly believe we protect ourselves by trying to revise history due to false emotions, then we miss out on who we are as a nation, and our evolution. The statues of long since deceased leaders of the Confederate Army do not stand to remind anyone of oppression. And if a statue can oppress you, then I submit that you have greater issues.

And, Walter Williams, an African American Professor of Economics at George Mason University, wrote in his article Rewriting American HistorySlavery is an undeniable fact of our history. The costly war fought to end it is also a part of the nation’s history. Neither will go away through cultural cleansing. Removing statues of Confederates and renaming buildings are just a small part of the true agenda of America’s leftists. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and there’s a monument that bears his name — the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. George Washington also owned slaves, and there’s a monument to him, as well — the Washington Monument in Washington. Will the people who call for removal of statues in New Orleans and Richmond also call for the removal of the Washington, D.C., monuments honoring slaveholders Jefferson and Washington? Will the people demanding a change in the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School also demand that the name of the nation’s capital be changed? . . . 

Rewriting American history is going to be challenging. Just imagine the task of purifying the nation’s currency. Slave owner George Washington’s picture graces the $1 bill. Slave owner Thomas Jefferson’s picture is on the $2 bill. Slave-owning Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s picture is on our $50 bill. Benjamin Franklin’s picture is on the $100 bill. . . .  

The job of tyrants and busybodies is never done. When they accomplish one goal, they move their agenda to something else. If we Americans give them an inch, they’ll take a yard. So I say, don’t give them an inch in the first place. The hate-America types use every tool at their disposal to achieve their agenda of discrediting and demeaning our history. Our history of slavery is simply a convenient tool to further their cause.

Or what about NBA legend Charles Barkley?  When asked about the Confederate monuments, Barkley replied, "I’m 54 years old. I’ve never thought about those statues a day in my life. I think if you ask most black people to be honest, they haven’t thought a day in their life about those stupid statues. . . . I’m not going to waste my time worrying about these Confederate statues — that’s wasted energy,” he said. “You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna keep doing great things, I’m gonna keep trying to make a difference — number one, in the black community because I’m black — but I’m also going to try to do good things in the world.”

Statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia

The Left and Culture Wars

Today in many ways it seems that we are losing perspective, bowing to a new form of fascism.  The Left continues moving us closer to George Orwell's 1984.  In his novel, Orwell described a time when Big Brother controls the thinking of the country. The Minister of Truth, responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism, works meticulously to rewrite their history to remove anything that does not agree with their agenda or values.

In his novel, he wrote, “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

Today loud voices from the Left keep pushing their agenda onto the American landscape.  A growing fear of disagreeing with Leftist values simmers.  To disagree brings attack and labeling. Someone resisting the values of the Left publicly is called a bigot, racist, a hater, a neo-Nazi, or any other number of (usually) false labels.  

For example, bakers refuse to bake a cake celebrating President Donald Trump because Trump offends the bakers.  The result?  The people who request the cake simply go to another baker, and the media applauds the bakers' decision.  But if a baker refuses to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage because it conflicts with their religious beliefs, the Leftist media erupts and the baker faces severe financial and legal consequences.  

It is time for men and women to push back against the Left.  Some of our most cherished values as Americans are at stake like freedom of speech and the right to disagree peacefully and respectfully.

Kyle Smith writes, "Once every Confederate monument in the country is down, what then? How is a statue of an ordinary rebel soldier in Durham, N.C., more offensive than a gorgeous building-sized tribute to slave-owning racist Thomas Jefferson on the Tidal Basin? We are reaching the point where, if the Washington Monument were to be blown up tomorrow, it would be anyone’s guess whether jihadists or the 'anti-fascist' Left did it.

Earlier in the same article, Smith says, "But it is a characteristic of leftists that they are always pushing the culture wars into new territory, even territory that the Left itself would have called absurd overreach a few years previously."

Martin Lioll writes, "If the left would at least acknowledge that things are a bit more complex than they make them out to be, perhaps we could get somewhere."

And Ben Shapiro aptly says,  If the Left truly wishes to defeat racism, they need to start by ending both their violence and their pathetic attempts to label anyone who disagrees with their policy prescriptions racist. Breaking leftist toes on metal statues of long-dead Confederate soldiers isn’t solid strategy, and it isn’t good for the country.

Flawed Heroes

All men and women are flawed combinations of good and bad, noble and ignoble, and like it or not are products in part of their times and culture. Perhaps John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and Martin Luther King, Jr. should only be defined by their adulterous affairs.  Maybe L.B.J. should only be defined as a racist, because when the mike was off, he referred to blacks as “niggers” and even called the Civil Rights Bill the “N-xxxx bill” in recorded phone conversations.  Perhaps Washington, D.C. should be cleansed of any reference to the Kennedy family because of their old ties to organized crime.  And why don't we just rename D.C. and tear down the Washington Monument, since George Washington owned slaves?

King David in the Bible committed some horrible sins and in our terms, crimes, yet the overall estimation of his life was that he was “a man after God’s heart.”  The apostle Paul was a notorious killer of Christians yet later remembered as one of the greatest Christians in history.  

A diligent study of the life of Robert E. Lee shows a flawed man who struggled in his culture to know what was right yet was a man with honor, virtue and courage.  To consider him to be “only” a traitor or wicked man is a gross misrepresentation of the Southern gentleman.

Al Sharpton has already called for the Jefferson Memorial to be taken down. Jefferson owned slaves, so Sharpton feels the monument "oppresses" him. Leftism bows to the idol of not offending, and, while claiming tolerance, is highly intolerant.  Read here where Rush Limbaugh responds to Al Sharpton's lunacy.

African-American author Sylvia Thompson writes in her article, A Confederate Flag Does Not Divide Us, Leftist Ideology DoesToday's opportunists taking advantage of black folks are called Leftists: Marxist types, some claiming the mantle of Christianity; garden-variety evil doers of all stripes; and of course the elitist class of well-heeled people who think only they are fit to rule over us, the sweaty masses. A primary goal of the Left is to ensure that the age-old rift between American blacks and whites is never resolved, because blacks will no longer be enslaved to them if it is resolved. . . . Do not ever believe that taking down a flag will be the end of it. The Left will demand no less than the destruction of America's soul.  

The attack against Confederate memorials is only one part of the bulldozer effect of the Leftist movement marching across American history.  Dennis Prager wisely writes that the greatest threat to America is the Left (not liberalism nor conservatism, but Leftism). 

Todd Starnes writes, "The cultural cleansing of the Southern states has meant the eradication of untold numbers of Southern traditions and icons in the name of tolerance and diversity." . . . [People have] "rationalized the cultural cleansing by explaining that the icons were offensive.  Somebody forgot to tell them the Constitution of these great United States does not guarantee you the right to freedom from offense. . . .  Mark my words; the Left's cultural crusade will not stop with the Confederate flag.  They will use the perception of racism and hatred to whitewash history and silence dissent.  One day - very soon - I predict they will come after another flag, the one with broad stripes and bright stars.  After all, it probably makes some Americans feel 'unsafe.'  What a troubling time in America." 

Starnes sums it up quite well when he writes, "Stalin and Lenin would be bursting with pride." 

America continues to become a "Culture of Offense." The Left threatens free speech in an unprecedented way in American history, college students have "safe spaces" to hide from ideas which erupt their emotional instability, and monuments cannot remain because they may be objects of offense.

Offenses are good teachers, but they are terrible dictators. 

Recommended articles:

Making Sense of Robert E. Lee by Roy Blount, Jr.

In Defense of General Lee by Edward Smith

Focus on the Right Things by Rhett Wilson, Sr.

Rewriting American History by Walter Williams

America's Second Civil War by Dennis Prager

No comments:

Post a Comment