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.

Did You Really Have To Say That?: An Open Letter To General Peter Pace

Dear General Pace,

I was disappointed to read your comments in the newspaper regarding your personal attitude towards homosexuals.  Here is what you said if you need to be reminded:

I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we
should not condone immoral acts…. I do not believe that the armed
forces of the United States are well served by a saying through our policies
that it’s OK to be immoral in any way…. As an individual, I would not want (acceptance of gay behavior) to be our
policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find
out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else’s wife, that we would just
look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral
behavior.

First, let me state that you have every right to your personal moral views, but was it really appropriate to state them at this time?  You could have expressed those views in private or waited until after you retired to share such thoughts.  Do you really need to be reminded that thousands of gay men and women are currently risking their lives in Afghanistan and the streets of Baghdad?  Every night we see images on the evening news of gay military personnel that have been killed in battle or seriously wounded.  How dare you dishonor their service and sacrifice by reducing them to one characteristic while at the same time you lower the military’s standards by admitting recruits with criminal backgrounds.  Even more absurd is your comparison between homosexual couples and the act of adultery.  I’m not even sure what you are attempting to point out in your comparison.

The military’s policy of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" has been in place since the Clinton administration.  If I understand it correctly it means that as long as a gay man or woman does not openly declare their sexuality their place in the military is secure.  If it is the case that gay men and women are not to talk openly than why is it permissible for you to speak out about the morality of homosexuality?  Why the double-standard?  I have a former student who happens to be a lesbian who is currently serving in the military.  She is extremely bright and a graduate of one of this nation’s top universities and who is interested in one day working overseas for the State Department.  Her area of expertise is Russia and she is a fluent speaker of the language – just the kind of individual that we need in the service of our country.  From the beginning she was aware of the challenges involved in serving in the military as a young lesbian woman.  Even with a clear understanding of all of this her sense of service and patriotism held sway.  I assume that most gay and lesbians in the military thought seriously about these same issues, but in the end remained committed to serving their country. 

Your comments only served to add to their concerns.  Is the military really in a position where it can afford to alienate committed Americans who want nothing more than to serve their country?  Now, I have never served in the military which means that I’ve never experienced combat.  That said, I wonder whether in the case of fighting in the streets of Baghdad that any individual’s sexual preference becomes a factor in saving lives and completing missions.  Perhaps I am mistaken, but if so I would like to be shown the evidence.

I’m sorry that you felt a need to reduce the service of thousands of gay men and women along lines that have nothing to do with their day-to-day commitment and multiple tours of duty in some of the most dangerous places on the planet.  But if you can’t say it I will:

Thanks to all of you who have served, are currently serving, or who will serve in this nation’s armed forces.  Thank you for being able to look beyond the irrational and hateful comments of General Pace while maintaining your focus on what is truly of value to you. 

They Didn’t Execute Me

I had a wonderful time last night up in Fredericksburg where I presented a talk on Confederate military executions to the Rappahannock Valley CWRT.  About 45-50 people showed up for the dinner and talk.  Before dinner I had a nice chat with historian Richard L. Dinardo.  As for the talk they were very attentive and their questions were first rate; the group has given me plenty to think about.  I was both surprised and pleased to see that the group uses evaluation forms for each speaker, which makes it easier to decide if there will be a return performance in the future.  Given the number of dreadful speakers I’ve heard at my roundtable I made sure to take a copy to give to our president.  There is nothing worse than knowing that you gave up a couple of hours in the evening for nothing.  Luckily I didn’t have to wait for the evaluations to get a sense of whether I would be asked back next year; I am already on the schedule for March 2008. 

On a different note I was horrified to see the continued urban sprawl that is making its way west along Rt. 3.  The shopping malls are popping up everywhere.  One of my favorite stops whenever a give a tour of the Chancellorsville battlefield is the Zoan Church.  Now I haven’t been to Fredericksburg in about a year, but there is a brand new up-scale community right behind the church.  There seems to be no end to it and, more importantly, there doesn’t seem to be a way to stop it. 

It was a long drive home, but definitely worth it. 

Reminder

Just a note to remind those of you in the Fredericksburg area that I will be speaking tonight at the Rappahannock Valley Civil War Roundtable.  [Click here for details.]The topic will be Confederate military executions.  From Confederate Veteran (June 1899) by Mercer Otey:

“It was in this movement, and shortly after I had enrolled in the battery as a private, that I witnessed a sight that clung to me for many a long year.  Five Confederate deserters who had been recaptured in the mountains of West Virginia had been tried by court-martial, convicted, and sentenced to be shot.  It was their second offense, and no palliating circumstances could be offered.  The old Stonewall Brigade, to which they belonged, was drawn up in a three-sided square, the five men blindfolded, knelt at the head of five pits; the firing squad, half of whose guns contained blank and the remainder ball cartridges, stood at twenty paces distant; a solemn silence pervaded the scene, while the August sun blazed down on that band of veterans of many a bloody battle.  They had braved death on half a score of fields, and cared little for cannon’s roar or musketry rattle, but now it was different; their nerves were not strung to that tension that is caused by the excitement of battle, and which generally superinduces indifference.  This looked so cold, so deliberate, almost murder; but the discipline of the army must be maintained”  After marching next to the bodies, “My knees grew weak and the tears came gushing to my eyes as I remembered that far away in their mountain homes perchance some loved others and babes would watch in vain the return of these men who had sacrificed honor and life for their sakes”

No Meeting With Sons of Confederate Veterans: A Follow Up

There has been a great deal of talk in the Richmond newspapers surrounding negotiations between the Museum of the Confederacy and the Virginia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans.  Under the leadership of Brad Bowling the group proposed taking control of the museum’s board of directors as a way of beginning the process of addressing the museum’s financial problems and news that it is considering a move.  Before saying anything more I want to assure all of you that according to a reliable source the museum is not and has no plans to talk with the SCV. 

In a recent issue of the Richmond Times-Dispatch Bowling admitted that if they were given the opportunity to run the museum they would close the doors for six months, reorganize the staff (we know what that means) and keep the museum in Richmond along with its name.  He also took the opportunity to state openly that under new guidance museum curators would be prevented from creating exhibits that it believed to be "politically correct."  I assume the SCV would bring along their own "curators."  In other words, the museum would stop doing serious public history.  More to the point Bowling wants to turn the museum into a "shrine to the Confederacy" which he believes was the original purpose of the museum.  Notice the lovely religious overtones.  Families would gather inside the MOC not to learn about the history of the South, but to pray. 

It is important to keep in mind that not everyone in the SCV supports Bowling’s goals.  There are plenty in the rank and file who are quite content with the management at the MOC and its agenda.  It is important for these people to voice their concerns and try to reign in Bowling and others who are currently engaged in what appears to be a publicity campaign for the SCV rather than concern surrounding the MOC.  They may be doing more damage to the future of the MOC than they care to admit. 

Again, the important point for now is that the MOC is not and has no plans to talk with the SCV about any type of involvement in the management of its operations.