West Point has begun the erasure of Robert E. Lee.
Not surprising, of course. Just as a house divided cannot stand, a philosophy divided can’t either. Our military is no longer committed to being a meritocracy, whose sole reason for existence is to train and promote the men most qualified to kill people and break things. Quite the contrary: Today’s military is about inclusiveness, individualism, and lowering the standards to whatever level ensures the weakest links can join in all the reindeer games.
But the public pays for the military, and the public in general believes Robert E. Lee should be erased. He was a traitor, right? And fought a war for the purpose of keeping black Americans enslaved, no? At least that’s what the public believes. That’s the “little learning” they were spoon-fed in school and via the media.
Sadly, and like usual, the public refuses to look an inch below the surface and explore the nuances of any issue. They’ve never read a book about the topic. They are likely unaware of the existence of a black scholar named Thomas Sowell, who’s debunked so many of the falsehoods regarding American slavery.
They don’t know Confederate officers were not tried for treason, because the Federal government didn’t want to address the Constitutionality of secession in court. They don’t know the Southern economy was paying more than 70 percent of all federal taxes leading up to the war, which was spent to industrialize the north.
They don’t know whites in the north were every bit as racist their counterparts in the south, and widespread lynching of blacks occurred in NYC when it was discovered rich men could buy their way out of military service. They don’t know that no one in Congress put forth a bill to free the slaves in the 1850’s … because in the early1860s, everyone was racist as hell.
And they somehow even ignore the fact that Abraham Lincoln wrote, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the union without freeing any slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
Many supporters of Lee are wont to say, “We shouldn’t tear down Lee’s statues. They’re part of history, and we need to learn from history.”
I think these supporters are misspeaking, as they don’t realize they’re saying “Robert E. Lee’s life was a mistake, and we need to learn from the poor example he set.”
Lee’s life was anything but a bad example. He was a gentleman of the highest order, a brilliant military strategist, and a leader the likes of which we see once a generation.
But what about the fact he led a secession from the federal government?
Consider this: Like all the Confederate generals who served under him, Lee was an up and comer in the U.S. military— and so admired that Lincoln offered him command of the Army of the Potomac in April of 1861. He was rich. He had a plantation called Arlington. Life was damn good.
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Then, a decision was thrust upon him: Wage war on his state, neighbors, family, and friends … or defend them against that same war.
What would you do?
Would you be willing to kill all your adult male friends to restore abortion on demand? Universal healthcare? How about people in your family? Would you kill them over BLM grievances? Or maybe you’d have been in the 1 percent of America that cared about the plight of slaves in 1860. That must be it … your morality would’ve been 163 years ahead of its time. You’d have been on your horse, charging down the hill and using your saber to kill your best friend.
Seriously, think about it — there’s no political issue that would inspire you to kill friends and family. None.
Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B Stuart, George Pickett, A.P. Hill, James Longstreet were not stupid. They knew when choosing to defend their people the odds of victory were infinitesimal. They were outnumbered, outgunned, and facing a federal treasury that far, far exceeded their own funding. This wasn’t a bunch of rednecks driving around in a Camaro and yelling, “Yee-haw!” These men were West Point’s best and brightest, and had everything to lose.
Of course, this was at a time when a man’s honor mattered — in fact, death was preferable to dishonor. In America today, such a concept is something most people laugh at.
Does anyone believe Stonewall Jackson thought, when a bullet pulverized his arm, “Dammit! Now I’ll be less effective at keeping blacks in chains!”
Or that George Pickett led his men to almost certain death in Gettysburg to ensure his slaves remained human property?
Or that when Robert E. Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Courthouse to save what was left of his army, he was disappointed because he couldn’t go home and whip his slaves?
Of course not — they were fighting because they viewed themselves first and foremost as Southerners, their homeland had been invaded, and the Constitution allowed for them to dissolve the union, just as they’d joined it.
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And that’s why I believe the Southern generals should be remembered, and a holistic history about them taught. They gave up everything — their wealth, careers, and potentially their lives — to defend their homes and families.
Isn’t that what everyone should want their own children to be like?
Oddly, as Lee is being erased by West Point, William T. Sherman is still celebrated, despite being the cruelest military commander in American history. Regarding his infamous “march to the sea,” he once said “this war differs from other wars, in this particular – we are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.”
Uh, no General. You were not fighting “hostile people.” You were opposed only by women, children, the elderly, the infirm – and slaves. Except for an engagement outside Atlanta, only a few able-bodied men were arrayed against Sherman’s troops.
Under his orders, his soldiers murdered and raped women, children – and former slaves – burned homes and crops, and all but plowed salt into the earth. In Columbia, there are written eye-witness reports of his men throwing primitive grenades into groups of terrified women. And throughout the entire campaign, Sherman left millions of newly-freed slaves with nowhere to live – and no way to feed themselves.
A total of zero Confederate officers have ever been accused of such inhuman cruelty.
As the public is ignorant of Sherman’s character – and think his rape of the South was something he had to do – I’ll offer words he spoke and wrote about his next victims.
“The more Indians we can kill… the less will have to be killed the next war, for the more I see of these Indians, the more convinced I am that they all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers,” he wrote. “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children … during an assault, the soldiers cannot pause to distinguish between male and female, or even discriminate as to age.”
“The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” he added.
Does that outrage you? Why don’t you change the word “Indian” to “black?” How about then? Does that change your opinion of this “Union war hero?”
Despite all this, there’s a towering statue of Sherman in Central Park, displayed as though he were a great man. He was not. He was an animal – operating beyond the pale of human decency even by 1860s standards.
Why is he not being erased? His actions violated every rule of war.
Well, it’s the same old story: Sherman’s side won, and the victors write the history.
It was not uncommon for Confederate Soldiers to weep when they had the chance to simply lay eyes on General Lee as he rode by. Do you think it’s because they were thinking, “There goes the greatest bigot of all time?”
Or do you think it’s because they thought, “There goes an officer and a gentleman. A man who thinks of us before he thinks of himself. A man who wants to ride towards the front of the column, despite the danger to himself.”
American businessmen resembling Sherman abound these days, while it’s extremely rare to find a Robert E. Lee. That’s because Lee embodied the thing that ages passed called a gentleman. Once at a function at Washington & Lee University, a professor spoke ill of General Grant. Lee informed him that if it happened again, he’d be dismissed from the college.
Robert E. Lee should not be erased. In fact, his statues should remain up throughout the South. Why? So that in decades to come, fathers of every race can take their sons to see them, and say, “There is a man, Son. Let me tell you about him.” The last words of Robert E. Lee were, “Strike the tent,” the command given to the troops when it was time to pack up, and head on. I wonder if he ever thought that order would be given by his beloved West Point, and the striking would be done to his legacy, honor, and selflessness.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Prioleau Alexander is a freelance writer, focusing mostly on politics and non-fiction humor. He is the author of two books: ‘You Want Fries With That?’ and ‘Dispatches Along the Way.’ Both are available on Amazon. He hopes to have another title published soon, but that would require his agent actually doing his job, so it may be awhile.
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