Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson: Lovers?
Of course not, but why are you so disturbed by the suggestion? Imagine we discovered a cache of letters from one of the two that suggested an intimate relationship. Would that discovery seriously challenge our assumptions about their military careers, personal character, and battlefield heroics? Would the fact of their sexuality negate all other accomplishments?
I’ve been thinking about General Pace’s silly comments about the immorality of homosexuality even as an estimated 65,000 gay men and women fight and die in Iraq. The more I think the more I am convinced that the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is more about maintaining a certain perception of the armed forces and nothing to do with unit cohesion or other facts of the matter. Simply put, we are invested in our gender assumptions about the military and the idea of gay servicemen and women challenges our central ideas and images of the uniform. However, the war in Iraq clearly demonstrates that one’s sexuality has nothing to do with an ability or willingness to fight and kill. As I listened to an interview on NPR with a gay veteran of Iraq who lost both legs I wondered why this topic is even an issue at all. A recent Pew Research Poll suggests that more Americans are willing to allow gay men and women to serve openly in the military. I assume it is just a matter of time. Is this argument any different from the assumption that the color of your skin provides evidence of one’s ability to engage in combat? We used to segregate the military based on the belief that unit cohesion would be compromised by the mixing of the races.
So, would there really be a problem if we learned that a prominent Civil War warrior such as Grant or Lee turned out to be gay? Would we look at that wonderful image of Grant leaning against a tree during the battle of the Wilderness or that rough image of Sherman differently? Would a few of my fellow Civil War bloggers retreat to the position that since Lee and Jackson were both “Christian warriors” that they were incapable of such behavior? I hold out hope that we have the intellectual strength and maturity to be able to stretch our concept of a warrior to allow individuals to be who they are/were and not force them into our preconceived assumptions that have little basis in reality.