Happy Birthday R. E. Lee, But Thank God Ya Lost

In other news, the U.S. National Slavery museum is hoping to get back on track in light of its financial problems.

[Image by Zach Franzen]

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10 comments… add one

  • Ray O'Hara Jan 20, 2012

    Lee has a pretty untarnished image.
    The fastest way to get on the wrong side of those of the Lost Cause is to not be a worshiper of “The Great Gary God”
    I’ve been blocked for daring to post that he was not the greatest American General ever.
    Any criticism is heresy which must be wiped out..

    I wonder how his reputation will fare during the coming celebration. Will greater scrutiny lead to a more balanced and realistic view.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2012

      Well, I think if you try to post comments like that on certain sites you should expect such a response. That said, our understanding of Lee has progressed on numerous fronts and museums and other historical institutions throughout the country now do a much better job of interpreting his life in a way that moves us beyond hero worship. I don’t have much of a problem with people who treat the past in this way as long as they don’t pretend that such an identification is to be understood strictly as historical. As for me, my heroes or those who I look up to tend to be those people that I have some relationship to, especially my father.

  • Richard Williams Jan 20, 2012

    But Kevin, according to Professor David Blight (and others), the “war” is still being fought:

    http://civilwar150.kansascity.com/articles/civil-war-150-past-present/

    “my heroes or those who I look up to tend to be those people that I have some relationship to, especially my father.”

    Though I have a number of historical figures whom I count as heroes, I think that is an excellent point. Heroes are also every day people in our lives that inspire us and make us better men (and women).

  • Margaret D. Blough Jan 20, 2012

    I don’t worship Lee as some do, but I don’t try to demonize him either. I think his leadership skills are something that modern commanders can learn from (he’s the only commander who could get Stonewall Jackson under control and he was able to get rid of unsatisfactory officers with a minimum of muss and fuss), and, like Longstreet, I think that his skills were greater on the defense than on his beloved offense. As for character, I think he was a man of his time and of his class. This had many admirable qualities but it also meant accepting the existence of slavery and engaging in a brutal war in order to protect it. He could have transcended the limits of his time and class as other officers from the South did, like George Thomas and, most importantly, George Washington, but he either wouldn’t or couldn’t.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2012

      As for character, I think he was a man of his time and of his class.

      That’s about as close to these people as I can get. I tend to think that those who engage in hero worship of people like Lee are collapsing time and pretending that he is almost like a next door neighbor. We don’t really know them.

    • Ken McFadyen Jan 21, 2012

      Lee’s character and ethic remind me of the Calvinist Puritans who kept their faith intact, even if the path was leading them to unintended destinations. With that said, I admire Lee for his self-discipline and commitment to his antebellum society. While his society pugnaciously denied what we today regard as basic human rights to those whom they enslaved, Lee rationalized this deliberate inequality and oppression in a similar way to how colonial Calvinists viewed their society- some were meant to govern and to be saved and, well, others weren’t.

      So, I agree that thankfully he lost. However, we may also want to be thankful that he fought so that we could could learn the difference between what he defended and what we believe today is right. Slavery lurks in all of these historical discussions and is often front and center in the discourse. The reality that slavery still exists in the world is something that I believe needs to be more fully acknowledged and examined too in these discussions of our American history.

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