Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Statue

General Robert E. Lee at the University of Virginia
Above is a photo of the statue of General Robert E. Lee, a statue which is at the center of the on-going controversy at the University of Virginia, where there is a movement to remove it on the grounds that General Lee was not only a slave owner but a traitor to his country. The furor over the statue culminated in a riot on Saturday August 12, in which persons masquerading as Nazis and various other demented, antiquated extremist groups clashed with violent so-called anti-fascist left-wing protestors. The event quickly deteriorated into bloody, insane behavior and the death of at least one person, as police were ordered to stand down. (Two police officers died in a helicopter crash, but that was a mere blip on most television screens.) According to police, most of the protestors had out-of-state driver's licenses, leading to the conclusion that many were bused into town to cause trouble by escalating the inevitable violence. I say inevitable because seeing Nazi salutes makes the blood of most normal people boil; people looking for a fight are given an excuse for fighting when they see such aberrant behavior. Personally, I think anyone making the Nazi salute should be arrested. The Nazis were mass murderers and our enemies.  And that goes for waving the Nazi flag, too.

In the meantime I was fighting my own war on Facebook. Among the Facebook casualties of the weekend was a history blogger who unfriended me because I dared to question the party line that Robert E. Lee was Satan-incarnate but Thomas Jefferson was some kind of saint. Jefferson owned slaves as well as Lee, plus Jefferson's slaves were sold to pay his debts after he died. Families were divided. Why is Jefferson lionized and yet Lee is the devil? For bringing that information to her attention I was summarily unfriended as a fascist. Among the other casualties were one of my sisters as well as my best friend from ninth grade. It seems that knowing too much history can be a handicap, but I realized that a long time ago.

I cannot go cheerfully and quietly along with the crowd when what they say contradicts my basic knowledge of certain events and situations. Having grown up next to a Civil War battlefield among Civil War re-enactors, who had ascertained the exact angle of the sun over a hill when a cavalry charge took place in 1863, I have a passing familiarity with the various personalities on both sides of the conflict. Once I lived in the house which was the headquarters of General Lew Wallace (USA), the author of Ben-Hur. And Jeb Stuart (CSA) had galloped down the road near my house to the famous "Sabres and Roses" Ball in Urbana, MD, which he had left for a brief time while he fought and won the battle. I grew up with images of Union soldiers (we called them "Yankees") and Confederates all around me, amid lush farms and grand old homes set in the rolling hills of Frederick County.

Our neighbors were a highly-esteemed African-American family who were, I was always told, descended from the servants of the famous Key dynasty, as in Francis Scott Key, who had owned a great deal of property in the county. I grew up with white and black children, some of the rougher and crueler ones being Caucasian. However, I never personally witnessed any racism towards African-Americans, other than what I saw on television and read about in books. On and off I was picked on by both white and black children, which probably had more to do with my petit-bourgeois smocked dresses and buckle shoes rather than the color of my skin. The bullying continued until sixth grade when I punched an especially large aggressive white girl; after that they left me alone.

  Meanwhile, back on Facebook, I tried to make the point that Robert E. Lee, like Founders George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, was a Virginian, born into a culture where slavery was considered socially and morally acceptable, even as we now hold the institution in horror. Sadly, the Bible was used to justify it. Did Lee do things to the slaves that we would find shocking and horrible? Probably. Slavery is an ugly institution no matter how sugar-coated people want to make it. I say is because slavery is still with us, especially in Africa, Europe, Asia and even in America, where we have an immense problem with human-trafficking. 

 Lee, like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, helped lead a war against the federal government which many believed had committed tyrannical actions. In the case of Washington, Jefferson and Madison, the government was the British crown. Some Americans in the 1770's had great scruples about rebelling against the King and refused to fight. They were branded traitors; most fled to Canada. In the 1860's, many Southerners saw themselves as following in the footsteps of the Founders. Lee was against secession but did not want to fight against his family in Virginia. War and rebellion are ugly; atrocities happened in both the War for Independence and the War Between the States.

Lee was flawed human being who responded to the challenges of his time according to his capabilities, with some devastating failures but also with such successes that he has long been regarded as a great man by both friends and foes. He was the type of leader who inspired both love and heroism, so that his men followed him even when they were barefoot and starving. It was Lee himself who chose to surrender for the sake of their survival. Was Robert E. Lee the same as Hitler? No. Are there lessons to be learned from his life? Yes, many. The statue in Charlottesville should stay.

If Lee's statue is taken down, then logically the Jefferson Memorial might be next, or even the entire University of Virginia. After all, the University was founded by a slave owner (Jefferson), and generations of slave owners were educated there, bringing their slaves with them to school. Do not think that closing down an entire university is too far-fetched. The Soviets closed down lots of colleges and schools. In the middle of Paris there was once a vast palace called the Tuileries; nothing now remains but the gardens. In 1870 it was burned by rioters and later torn down because of what it represented. For that matter, all of Washington, DC might someday be seen as one big monument to dead slave owners. People forget that the old slave market was on the Mall across from the White House, even after Lincoln became president.

Anyone saying a word in the defense of General Lee has lately been branded as a racist, myself included. The fact that anyone would think that they are superior to anyone else based upon the color of their skin has always seemed to me to be the height of stupidity. But what we have witnessed in Charlottesville was carefully planned and orchestrated by hired protestors to aggravate racial tensions and exacerbate political differences. I saw so many Catholics running to condemn racism: "This is a sin!" Of course racism is a sin, like all hatred is a sin; racism is not only sinful but asinine. The fact that Conservatives have allowed themselves to be placed on the defensive for actions which have nothing to do with them shows that they have allowed the Left to lure them into a Marxist view of reality, of social conflict as a means to reach utopia.

Incidentally, my father, a white man, was a card-carrying member of the NAACP during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's in Maryland; as a young businessman he participated in boycotts when doing so could make one unpopular. I was brought up with a loathing of racism in any shape or form. So when people start labeling me a racist just because I do not agree with their Marxist-Maoist rhetoric, they are way off the mark. What I pray for is that we could all focus less energy on the wrongs of the past and more on fighting the various manifestations of slavery, and other injustices, occurring today. The suffering of the present should be our main concern. Share


julygirl said...

Abraham Lincoln who was born in Kentucky would have owned slaves but grew up poor and was not part of the landed gentry. The Emancipation Proclamation was a political gesture to turn the Civil War into a fight over slavery rather than States Rights. The agrarian south grew the cotton, (picked by slaves brought over from Africa by Northern ship owners), the cotton was shipped to the mills in the north to looms run by poor white immigrants who were practically treated like slaves. There was much money to be made by all this, no one is innocent. The South was punished and suffered terrible devastation. Robert E. Lee's property was confiscated and became a Civil War burial ground. "Let sleeping dogs lie". (The battle over States Rights is obviously a lost cause because the Federal Government even occupies our bedrooms).

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, julygirl, for your excellent summary! And don't forget the coal mines. People were treated like slaves there, too. It was all about money.

julygirl said...

...and the Irish immigrants were treated worse than slaves because they had no monetary value. There is a mass grave in the cemetary of our old church where Irish immigrants who were digging the C & O canal died of fever and were just thrown into a hole in the ground.

papabear said...

May our Lord bless you and strengthen you!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, papabear!