A General Commentary

About General Robert E. Lee, to be precise. This is a letter yours truly wrote and sent to the newspaper, but as often happens, it didn’t make it to publication. (Unusually, this was not because somebody else wrote the same thoughts better.) That’s why this is a rather dated topic right now, though I’m sure it isn’t going to be dated for long.
General Robert E. Lee was by all accounts a good and kind man, and he was a good military leader as well; he even has the honor of being the only person in history to graduate from West Point without a single demerit.
But he is hardly the saint his most ardent supporters seem to think he is.
For starters, as a career soldier, Lee’s first loyalty belonged to his commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln asked him to lead the Union Army, he should have accepted. Refusal might well have been an act of treason.
Why did Lee choose to fight for the Confederacy? Out of loyalty to his home state of Virginia, and nothing more. Loyalty to one’s home state is a fine and admirable trait, but …
Now we come to the thing Lee’s apologists most like to throw up at his detractors: Lee was personally and passionately opposed to slavery. They seem to think that opposition makes him more admirable. I would suggest that it makes him less admirable under the circumstances.
Lee fought, and compelled others to fight and often die, for a cause he knew was morally wrong. In so doing, he was a pure hypocrite. If the South had won the war, slavery would have continued, for who knows how long? Lee had to have known this, and yet he took that chance.
The term that comes to mind here is moral cowardice. Lee would have been more worthy of commemoration if he had risked the disapproval of his fellow Southerners to fight for what he truly believed was right. It would not have been easy or pleasant, but at least his conscience would have been clear.

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2 Responses to “A General Commentary”

  1. judylaq Says:

    Very well said. Thank you. Moral cowardice is a perfect term for much of what is happening today, as well.

    • ghostscribe Says:

      Thanks; I was a bit worried that, being from much farther south than me, you might beg to differ, but I should have known you have better sense than some of your fellow Southerners.

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