Robert E. Lee: An American Hero

Jack Kerwick
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Posted: May 23, 2017 1:08 PM
Robert E. Lee: An American Hero

The movement is underway to erase from the public square all remnants of the Confederacy. The most recent victory on this score occurred in New Orleans this past weekend when a statue of General Robert E. Lee, the last of four monuments that the city razed over the last couple of weeks, was brought down.

As I have written in a previous column, the campaign against all public monuments to the Confederacy is a campaign against the West.  It is a campaign against the European heritage of Western peoples.  Confederate veterans and sympathizers like Lee are the easiest marks at the moment, but the logic of the crusade to demonize Confederate heroes points inescapably toward the cleansing from the Western world of all white figures from our past who fail to satisfy the left’s contemporary “progressivist” litmus test. 

And this would include virtually every white historical personage.

Every patriotic American who is the least bit concerned with protecting Western civilization generally and American history specifically from those who want to “fundamentally transform” them should be fighting tooth and nail to safeguard public symbols of the Confederacy. It is a disgrace that those “conservative” pundits with national profiles have failed to do so.

However, that the movement against public remnants of the Confederacy promises to lead to a slippery slope is only one reason that decent people everywhere should resist it mightily.  More importantly, it is an effort to rid the world of monuments of genuinely good people.  Robert E. Lee emblematizes this. 

Personally and professionally, privately and publically—by all accounts, Lee must be among the finest human beings that has ever walked the Earth.  And for the longest time, until relatively recently, he was recognized as such by Southerner and Northerner alike.

General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced on national television that a portrait of Lee was among four portraits that he had hanging in his office.  When challenged as to why he honored a rebel, Ike responded swiftly and unequivocally.  Lee, he said, was “one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation,” “selfless almost to a fault,” “noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied….”  Continuing, Eisenhower remarked: “From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul.” He concluded by adding that Americans, as a country, would be “strengthened and our love of freedom sustained” just insofar as “present-day American youth” aspired to “emulate” Lee’s “rare qualities [.]”

President Theodore Roosevelt lauded Lee as “the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth.” Lee’s gracious example in defeat helped to “build the wonderful and mighty triumph of our national life, in which all his countrymen, north and south, share.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared Lee “one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.”   

Still others praised Lee:   

Winston Churchill said that “Lee was the noblest American who had ever lived and one of the greatest commanders known to the annals of war” (emphasis added).

Harry Truman referred to Lee a “great man.” He gave his mother a portrait of Lee and committed one of Lee’s prayers to memory.

President John F. Kennedy’s comments on Lee are especially insightful inasmuch as they remind us of Lee’s stellar cultural pedigree.  Kennedy said that as “a New Englander, I recognize that the South is still the land of Washington, who made our Nation—of Jefferson, who shaped its direction—and of Robert E. Lee who, after gallant failure, urged those who had followed him in bravery to reunite America in purpose and courage.”

Upon signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Johnson invoked Lee in an attempt to reassure Southerners that he was not trying to undermine their states’ rights.  “If we are to heal our history and make this Nation whole, prosperity must know no Mason-Dixon line and opportunity must know no color line.  Robert E. Lee, a great son of the South, a great leader of the South—and I assume no modern day leader would question him or challenge him—Robert E. Lee counseled us well when he told us to cast off our animosities and raise our sons to be Americans.”

President Ford too celebrated Lee: “As a soldier, General Lee left his mark on military strategy.  As a man, he stood as the symbol of valor and of duty.  As an educator, he appealed to reason and learning to achieve understanding and to build a stronger nation. The course he chose after the war became a symbol to all those who had marched with him in the bitter years towards Appomattox.”

Ford concluded: “General Lee’s character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride.”

President Carter said of Lee that “he was a soldier whose affection for his home and family called him to a life of service that often meant hardship, loneliness, and long separation from those he loved and even from the Nation which he most loved.”

President Reagan described Lee as “this southerner who criticized secession and called slavery a great moral wrong” and who “would become himself an American legend [.]”  Reagan held up Lee as a symbol of hope, for following “the dissolution of his cause, he would work to bind up the Nation’s wounds.”

Lee wasn’t just a great public figure. He was close to unique among famous Americans insofar as he combined in his character the most beautiful of public and personal excellences. 

In his anthology, What is a Man? Professor Waller Newell—no friend of the Confederacy and an admirer of Lincoln—notes that the 16th President and Lee supply “a fascinating study in contrasts.”

Unlike Lincoln, who “was a troubled husband and a distracted father,” Lee was “a model gentleman, father, and leader of youth in his private and post-war life.” He was as “warm and loving” a father as he was “firm.”  He was “idolized” by his children.  Newell mentions that Lee’s “fatherly care extended from his own children to the young men at Washington College, where he ended his life as a much loved president.”

A country that permits a magnificent man like Robert E. Lee to be demonized is a country that is on the road to ruin.