Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Why we need Robert E. Lee

 

Robert E. Lee was on the wrong side of the Civil War. Yet his defenestration is a great loss for all Americans.

The reason can be captured in three words: Duty, authority, and Providence. These are three concepts that were once in the bloodstream of all Americans, but their late disappearance is part of the reason our politics is so fragmented, dysfunctional and uncivil. Lee is a superlative example of a life lived by all three concepts and rather than tossing him on the ash heap, we desperately need to learn from him.

We might describe the reigning moral philosophy of our culture as radical individual autonomy: The self is answerable to nothing but itself; as such, there is no greater institution that has an intrinsic moral claim on it. This does not mean there is no morality or moral evaluation involved in radical individual autonomy. It only means that moral evaluation cannot be made in terms of any greater reality which might have a claim on the individual. Instead it is made in terms of the content of the choice itself. Thus we tend to think of Lee as a “bad guy” because he chose the wrong side in the Civil War.

The old notion of duty, by contrast, thought of morality in terms of claims on the individual. Lee, for example, saw his life as consisting of rings of responsibility to which he was duty bound. First was God, second was his family, third was his state, and fourth was his country. When Lee made his personal decision with respect to the Civil War, he did not ask himself the historical question of which side was right. Instead he thought about it in terms of duty: What authority had the most immediate claim on him? Lee was opposed to secession, but when Virginia seceded, he felt duty bound to resign is commission in the United States Army and follow her.

Closely associated with the notions of duty and authority is that of Providence. It is through duty and authority that the individual is related to Providence. Lee did not think that he had the key to history or had a perfect understanding of what was happening in the Civil War. He thought of himself as a small player in a much larger drama of which God was the author and director. His job was to perform his duty as best as possible and let God worry about the course of history. Thus, when the war ended in the defeat of the South, he viewed defeat as God’s judgment on the South (and slavery) and it was therefore the duty of all Southerners to humbly accept the verdict of Providence and become once again good citizens of the United States.

Many Northerners shared a similar moral understanding, which is why men like Lincoln, Grant and Sherman could be magnanimous in victory. They understood that Lee, like them, was only doing his duty as he saw it. Lee might have been wrong about where his duty truly ultimately lay: Perhaps his duty to the nation should have taken precedence over his duty to state. But that is a lot different than the way we think now – that Lee is just a bad guy because he was on the wrong side.

Men like Lincoln and Lee had a great respect for the mysteries of Providence. Such a respect is not necessarily explicitly religious in form. It might manifest in a sense that there are things greater and more meaningful than the self, and that my story is not the only or most important story. In another context, Gandalf expressed a Providential understanding when Frodo suggested they simply kill Gollum because he is a bad guy. Gandalf rebukes him; neither of them is the author of life or history, and neither understands what role Gollum might have to play in the unfolding of events. Of course, Gollum eventually plays a crucial role when Frodo is unable to destroy the One Ring at Mount Doom.

Like Gandalf, Lincoln, Grant and Sherman did not think victory in the Civil War granted them carte blanche to deal with Southerners as simply a defeated enemy who were all bad for being on the wrong side. What might Providence have in store for men like Lee? In my opinion, the most crucial role Lee played was not in the war itself, but shortly after it, when he used the moral authority he had earned as the personification of the Southern Cause to insist that Southerners accept the verdict of the war. Yes, Southerners created the KKK and later Jim Crow. But I think we overlook the nearly miraculous fact the United States was able to persist at all after such a vicious and brutal war. The United States Army could destroy the Confederate armies, and perhaps persist as an occupying army indefinitely, but occupation is not the same as a united nation. What was required was broad moral acceptance of reunion, which could only come from Southerners themselves, and Lee was the critical personality in making that happen. Lincoln or Grant couldn’t make it happen; only a Southerner could, a Southerner with the moral authority earned through outstanding devotion to the cause. I think Providence used Lee for just this purpose, and he was the perfect man for the job. It is that humility, the humility to accept Providence even when it contradicts you, that made Lee a great man. We ended up with a united country after the war only because Lincoln, Grant and Lee all thought in terms of duty, authority and Providence. They all deserve monuments.

That way of looking at things is largely gone today. Instead, in a world of radically autonomous individuals, people are not – indeed cannot be – judged by their devotion to duty or their humility in accepting authority or Providence, but simply by whether they have chosen to be on the right side or the wrong side. Grant and Lee could understand each other across the tide of war as fellow soldiers, each following his duty as a soldier should. No such understanding is possible between today’s Trump supporter and a social justice warrior, for there is no greater common reality (God, for instance) in light of which they might meet. (I am writing in general terms here. I know very well that some Trump supporters believe in both God and Providence. But they are not the center of the culture). Both being radically autonomous individuals, they can only see the other as simple bad guys for being on the wrong side.

It’s the reason both of our political sides now accept dishonorable behavior. Neither Lee nor Grant would behave dishonorably, whether or not they might gain advantage from it – honor being one of the forms which link men to Providence. But if all that matters is what side you are on, it doesn’t matter how grossly Trump acts or how vicious Hillary Clinton is. All that matter is that he or she is “our guy.”

Thus our political culture degenerates. It will continue to generate until we view men like Robert E. Lee as someone from whom we might learn, rather than merely as an icon of someone who picked the wrong side.

There are 31 comments.

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  1. Kevin Schulte Member

    This is one of the best post’s I have read on Ricochet.

    Thank you J Climacus .

    • #1
    • August 20, 2017, at 5:34 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Henry Castaigne Member

    Think of how many countries have succumbed to perpetual terrorism and violence because one side refused to admit defeat. If Lee helped avoid that, I would not rue the belief that Providence had a place for him.

    • #2
    • August 20, 2017, at 5:57 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. Profile Photo Member

    We all like to imagine that if we had lived during the Civil War, or in Germany during WWII, that we would have done the right thing, but that belief is so lacking in humility. If I had been born into a family and an entire society that supported slavery-if I had never even met anyone who didn’t support slavery-I would probably support it too. Not proud of that, but that is the reality. Those who want to demonize people Civil War era Southerners flatter themselves that if they had been in their shoes, they would have done it better; that belief is insane, particularly when it comes to people like Lee.

    • #3
    • August 20, 2017, at 8:12 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  4. Randy Webster Member

    J Climacus: Thus we tend to think of Lee as a “bad guy” because he chose the wrong side in the Civil War.

    I have NEVER thought of Lee as a bad guy or even as a “bad guy.”

    • #4
    • August 20, 2017, at 8:48 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Kevin Schulte Member

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    We all like to imagine that if we had lived during the Civil War, or in Germany during WWII, that we would have done the right thing, but that belief is so lacking in humility. If I had been born into a family and an entire society that supported slavery-if I had never even met anyone who didn’t support slavery-I would probably support it too. Not proud of that, but that is the reality. Those who want to demonize people Civil War era Southerners flatter themselves that if they had been in their shoes, they would have done it better; that belief is insane, particularly when it comes to people like Lee.

    Agree with this Judithann. People don’t like to face that they have the capacity to be Cain and not Abel.

    • #5
    • August 21, 2017, at 2:01 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Robert E. Lee was, and is, an American hero.

    • #6
    • August 21, 2017, at 2:49 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus

    Kevin Schulte (View Comment):
    This is one of the best post’s I have read on Ricochet.

    Thank you J Climacus .

    Thank you for the compliment and you are welcome.

    • #7
    • August 21, 2017, at 3:36 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    We all like to imagine that if we had lived during the Civil War, or in Germany during WWII, that we would have done the right thing, but that belief is so lacking in humility. If I had been born into a family and an entire society that supported slavery-if I had never even met anyone who didn’t support slavery-I would probably support it too. Not proud of that, but that is the reality. Those who want to demonize people Civil War era Southerners flatter themselves that if they had been in their shoes, they would have done it better; that belief is insane, particularly when it comes to people like Lee.

    Watching Game of Thrones last night I was struck by how relevant the drama is to this discussion. There are a number of good men in the story – Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Jorah Mormant – and what distinguishes them from lesser men is their sense of duty and how they think. They don’t always make the right decisions or choose the “right side”, but what makes them the men they are, and distinguishes them from lesser men, is that they think of their lives in terms of duty and responsibility.

    Jaime Lannister is a special case: He’s become a better man as the story has progressed, and he recognizes the evil his sister is becoming, yet he feels deeply his duty to his family. Who is right, Tyrion or Jaime? Is Tyrion right because he has chosen the (apparently) right side? Maybe so, but is that the best way to think about these characters?

    One reason I think the show is so popular is that it shows men (and women) of good character struggling with questions of duty, responsibility and family – they think of themselves and their lives in a way we no longer do but nonetheless find attractive.

    • #8
    • August 21, 2017, at 5:01 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    J Climacus: That way of looking at things is largely gone today. Instead, in a world of radically autonomous individuals, people are not – indeed cannot be – judged by their devotion to duty or their humility in accepting authority or Providence, but simply by whether they have chosen to be on the right side or the wrong side. Grant and Lee could understand each other across the tide of war as fellow soldiers, each following his duty as a soldier should. No such understanding is possible between today’s Trump supporter and a social justice warrior, for there is no greater common reality (God, for instance) in light of which they might meet.

    Maybe in the sphere of politics, there’s less sense of obligation, but in everyday life? Yes, you are judged if you don’t fulfill obligations. This utopia of radical autonomy is one I have never experienced, despite being fairly well acquainted with the movement where it is presumed to be most prevalent, libertarianism — although to be fair, I have had nothing to do with the big-L Libertarian party: I habitually run into the little-l types who dismiss the big-L types as a buncha kooks.

    I haven’t found it particularly difficult to cultivate understanding with those whose politics are opposed to mine, though I’d attribute that less to Providence than to remembering we’re all human, and as unlikely to be wholly bad as wholly good and right. Well, approximately as likely. Close enough that treating the other side as demons (something religiosity can actually equip you to do, in my experience) is unworthy. Indeed, the very fact I find it unworthy seems these days to call my bona fides as a non-leftist into account.

    The huge safety net of the state of course lessens the urgency of doing right by your family, but at least in what gets called blue America, the shame of not living up to familial expectations can be I-deserve-to-die intense. Although perhaps a case could be made that it’s most intense for “purple America” — among those who are ideologically conservative, but otherwise more-or-less acclimated to a blue milieu. And hey, purple, that’s me.

    • #9
    • August 21, 2017, at 7:10 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Profile Photo Member

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    One reason I think the show is so popular is that it shows men (and women) of good character struggling with questions of duty, responsibility and family – they think of themselves and their lives in a way we no longer do but nonetheless find attractive.

    I agree with Midge; radical individualism may be a popular theory, but it is mostly a theory. Living in a very blue state, I see this: lots of people would like to believe that they are radical individuals who will always do right, regardless of family and friends, but if you look at the way they actually behave, they rarely diverge from family and friends-and those who do pay a heavy price. Are northerners today who support unlimited abortion, or look the other way while it is happening, really so different from the southerners of yesterday who supported slavery? It should be pointed out: just as most southerners never owned slaves, most northerners have never been personally involved in an abortion, and are not personally invested in the issue, but to take a stand against it-or God forbid, vote republican-would involve taking a stand against family and friends, and ancestors, which they cannot bring themselves to do.

    There isn’t much or any difference between the way many today in blue states think and the way Lee thought, but Lee was aware of his thought processes and honest with himself in a way that most people today are not.

    • #10
    • August 21, 2017, at 7:37 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  11. JamesAtkins Member
    JamesAtkinsJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    “Lee was opposed to secession, but when Virginia seceded, he felt duty bound to resign is commission in the United States Army and follow her.” Lee swore the same oath of office I did to “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”. He engaged in a treasonous act meant to destroy the country he swore to defend. I don’t see how this makes him any different from Benedict Arnold. I do appreciate post war leadership in reconciliation.

    • #11
    • August 21, 2017, at 11:00 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    There was no treason whatsoever. Lee was a Virginian first, just as I am a Texan first.

    • #12
    • August 21, 2017, at 11:40 AM PDT
    • Like
  13. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph StankoJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Kevin Schulte (View Comment):

    Those who want to demonize people Civil War era Southerners flatter themselves that if they had been in their shoes, they would have done it better; that belief is insane, particularly when it comes to people like Lee.

    Agree with this Judithann. People don’t like to face that they have the capacity to be Cain and not Abel.

    There’s an old phrase that contains much wisdom: “there but for the grace of God go I.”

    • #13
    • August 21, 2017, at 11:43 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. Lois Lane Coolidge

    JamesAtkins (View Comment):
    “Lee was opposed to secession, but when Virginia seceded, he felt duty bound to resign is commission in the United States Army and follow her.” Lee swore the same oath of office I did to “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”. He engaged in a treasonous act meant to destroy the country he swore to defend. I don’t see how this makes him any different from Benedict Arnold. I do appreciate post war leadership in reconciliation.

    I admire things about Robert E. Lee. I’m from the South, so I admire a lot of the Confederate generals, actually, for different reasons. Yet you are right. They were traitors to the Union. There’s no way around this absolute fact.

    Even so, Robert E. Lee made the decision to sign the Amnesty Oath in 1865, and his citizenship was eventually restored.

    So there’s a contrast.

    Benedict Arnold was never an American again.

    Still, there’s a monument to the leg Arnold injured at Saratoga. ;)

    It’s complicated.

    • #14
    • August 21, 2017, at 11:45 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  15. Profile Photo Member

    Mike LaRoche (View Comment):
    There was no treason whatsoever. Lee was a Virginian first, just as I am a Texan first.

    I don’t know how I feel about this, but how would we feel about the Civil War if the roles had been reversed? If the free states had wanted to leave the Union, but the slave states wouldn’t allow them to? Would we still be accusing those in the free states of being traitors?

    If Lee had sided with the North or stayed out of the war altogether, he would have been siding with people who were taking up arms against his family; I am fully on the side of the North when it comes to slavery, and fully on the side of red states when it comes to abortion, but would I be willing to literally go to war with my own family over abortion? That is a lot to ask, and to accuse someone who can’t go to war with his own family of being a traitor is, I think, way over the top.

    • #15
    • August 21, 2017, at 11:59 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  16. Profile Photo Member

    And just for the record, I feel the same way about Muslim extremists that I feel about Southerners of the past and many Northerners of today: they are a product of their environment. Most of them have been brainwashed from birth, and God only knows what I would do if I were in their position. I don’t hate them; I don’t want to import them to America, but I don’t hate them.

    • #16
    • August 21, 2017, at 12:01 PM PDT
    • Like
  17. Pilli Inactive

    Kevin Schulte (View Comment):

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    We all like to imagine that if we had lived during the Civil War, or in Germany during WWII, that we would have done the right thing, but that belief is so lacking in humility. If I had been born into a family and an entire society that supported slavery-if I had never even met anyone who didn’t support slavery-I would probably support it too. Not proud of that, but that is the reality. Those who want to demonize people Civil War era Southerners flatter themselves that if they had been in their shoes, they would have done it better; that belief is insane, particularly when it comes to people like Lee.

    Agree with this Judithann. People don’t like to face that they have the capacity to be Cain and not Abel.

    Or as a priest I once knew put it, “Every man is capable of killing his beloved Grand Mother.”

    • #17
    • August 21, 2017, at 12:15 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Kevin Schulte Member

    Pilli (View Comment):

    Kevin Schulte (View Comment):

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    We all like to imagine that if we had lived during the Civil War, or in Germany during WWII, that we would have done the right thing, but that belief is so lacking in humility. If I had been born into a family and an entire society that supported slavery-if I had never even met anyone who didn’t support slavery-I would probably support it too. Not proud of that, but that is the reality. Those who want to demonize people Civil War era Southerners flatter themselves that if they had been in their shoes, they would have done it better; that belief is insane, particularly when it comes to people like Lee.

    Agree with this Judithann. People don’t like to face that they have the capacity to be Cain and not Abel.

    Or as a priest I once knew put it, “Every man is capable of killing his beloved Grand Mother.”

    I agree with this sentiment, but boy it sure rubs me wrong. :(

    • #18
    • August 21, 2017, at 2:36 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. Roosevelt Guck Inactive

    I want the great pyramids torn down now; they are symbols of Jewish oppression. Even photos of them are a micro-aggression.

    • #19
    • August 21, 2017, at 2:47 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus

    JamesAtkins (View Comment):
    “Lee was opposed to secession, but when Virginia seceded, he felt duty bound to resign is commission in the United States Army and follow her.” Lee swore the same oath of office I did to “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”. He engaged in a treasonous act meant to destroy the country he swore to defend. I don’t see how this makes him any different from Benedict Arnold. I do appreciate post war leadership in reconciliation.

    I don’t necessarily disagree… as I wrote in the OP perhaps he had his order of loyalties wrong, and his loyalty to the nation should have taken precedence over loyalty to his state.

    It is interesting that the men who actually fought him, like Grant and Lincoln, had a much more forgiving attitude toward Lee than we seem to be adopting today. It’s that fact that I’m trying to understand. What’s changed between then and now that makes us so much harsher towards defeated Confederates than Lincoln was? Were Grant and Lincoln simply blind to the true evil that Lee represented? Or was their understanding of the human relationship to good and evil, to the currents of history, so fundamentally different than ours that we have largely lost the ability to see the world as they did? Obviously I tend toward the latter view.

    • #20
    • August 21, 2017, at 3:14 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  21. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    JamesAtkins (View Comment):
    “Lee was opposed to secession, but when Virginia seceded, he felt duty bound to resign is commission in the United States Army and follow her.” Lee swore the same oath of office I did to “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”. He engaged in a treasonous act meant to destroy the country he swore to defend. I don’t see how this makes him any different from Benedict Arnold. I do appreciate post war leadership in reconciliation.

    I admire things about Robert E. Lee. I’m from the South, so I admire a lot of the Confederate generals, actually, for different reasons. Yet you are right. They were traitors to the Union. There’s no way around this absolute fact.

    And George Washington and the other founders were traitors to the British Crown and, incidentally, many owned slaves.

    Lee would have been like Benedict Arnold if, while still a U.S. Army officer, he had deliberately tried to undermine the defense of the nation as Arnold did. Arnold systematically weakened the defenses of West Point while its commander as part of his plan to deliver it to the British.

    Lee did nothing like this. Like many other Southerners, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army – and was therefore no longer bound by its oath – before traveling back home and joining the Confederate Army. I don’t agree with Lee’s decision, but it’s a gross calumny to make him the equal of Benedict Arnold.

    Why could Lincoln and Grant see these distinctions, but we increasingly fail to?

    • #21
    • August 21, 2017, at 3:26 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  22. Lois Lane Coolidge

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    Like many other Southerners, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army – and was therefore no longer bound by its oath – before traveling back home and joining the Confederate Army.

    That’s a good answer to the original comment, but since Lincoln never recognized the CSA’s right to secede–and the Union won the war–Lee took up arms against his own country’s government.

    That said, Lincoln was looking for reconciliation, hence the gallows were not erected, and men were asked to take new pledges to what was still their nation.

    • #22
    • August 21, 2017, at 3:38 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Full Size Tabby Member

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    JamesAtkins (View Comment):
    “Lee was opposed to secession, but when Virginia seceded, he felt duty bound to resign is commission in the United States Army and follow her.” Lee swore the same oath of office I did to “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”. He engaged in a treasonous act meant to destroy the country he swore to defend. I don’t see how this makes him any different from Benedict Arnold. I do appreciate post war leadership in reconciliation.

    I don’t necessarily disagree… as I wrote in the OP perhaps he had his order of loyalties wrong, and his loyalty to the nation should have taken precedence over loyalty to his state.

    It is interesting that the men who actually fought him, like Grant and Lincoln, had a much more forgiving attitude toward Lee than we seem to be adopting today. It’s that fact that I’m trying to understand. What’s changed between then and now that makes us so much harsher towards defeated Confederates than Lincoln was? Were Grant and Lincoln simply blind to the true evil that Lee represented? Or was their understanding of the human relationship to good and evil, to the currents of history, so fundamentally different than ours that we have largely lost the ability to see the world as they did? Obviously I tend toward the latter view.

    As (in the “flagship” podcast) @peterrobinson was noting with Ben Domemec the concept of being dignified in defeat, I remembered one of the features of the surrender at Appomattox Court House that ended the war was that the Union soldiers were to allow the Confederate soldiers to leave and go home in dignity and with their horses (needed for farming). The Union even provided food to the Confederate soldiers.

    Would today’s Progressives and their culture wars of total annihilation have allowed that? Or would today’s Progressives have insisted on humiliation and maybe even summary execution for treason? Why are we less willing to see dignity in people who lived 150 years ago than their contemporaries were?

    • #23
    • August 21, 2017, at 3:54 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  24. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    Like many other Southerners, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army – and was therefore no longer bound by its oath – before traveling back home and joining the Confederate Army.

    That’s a good answer to the original comment, but since Lincoln never recognized the CSA’s right to secede–and the Union won the war–Lee took up arms against his own country’s government.

    That said, Lincoln was looking for reconciliation, hence the gallows were not erected, and men were asked to take new pledges to what was still their nation.

    Yes, Lincoln no more recognized the right of the CSA to secede than King George did the right of colonists to rebel. No government ever recognizes the right of anyone to defy it.

    Is your point that Washington was right because the patriots won, and Lee was wrong because the Confederacy lost? I think Washington was right because the Declaration of Independence makes a good case for when subjects may justifiably throw off a government. He would have been right even if he had lost and been hanged.

    I don’t think Lee’s case was as strong – but neither do I think it ridiculous that someone would choose to defend his home state when it is invaded by Federal armies. People seem to forget that Virginia wanted neither secession nor Civil War. It was among the last to secede, and only did so when Lincoln insisted that it supply troops with which to put down the rebellion – in effect, Lincoln forced Virginia to take sides in a fight of which it wanted no part. In the end I think Lee was wrong, but I understand him and even admire him. Lee was a man who lived by duty and struggled with the question of where his duty truly lay. How many people struggle with such questions today? How many of the people tearing down his statue today would actually fight for their country rather than run and hide at the first sign of trouble?

    • #24
    • August 21, 2017, at 3:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. Arthur Beare Member

    Kevin Schulte (View Comment):
    Agree with this Judithann. People don’t like to face that they have the capacity to be Cain and not Abel.

    Exquisitely put.

    IF you get the reference.

    I wonder what percentage of young Americans, even “educated” ones don’t. After all, religion and religious reference have no place in the public square, according to our leftist elites.

    • #25
    • August 21, 2017, at 4:09 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. Lois Lane Coolidge

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    Is your point that Washington was right because the patriots won, and Lee was wrong because the Confederacy lost?

    Any good historian must consider how men see the causes for which they fight when judging them as individuals, but I am not addressing here the “rightness” or “wrongness” of either Washington or Lee’s rebellions.

    Rather I am saying that history is inevitably kinder to those who win.

    • #26
    • August 21, 2017, at 4:25 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    What’s changed between then and now that makes us so much harsher towards defeated Confederates than Lincoln was? Were Grant and Lincoln simply blind to the true evil that Lee represented? Or was their understanding of the human relationship to good and evil, to the currents of history, so fundamentally different than ours that we have largely lost the ability to see the world as they did?

    I see where you’re coming from, @jclimacus, but the phrase “meet people where they’re at”, trite as it is, also comes to mind. Grant and Lincoln had to deal with a very large population that, until very recently, had thought of slavery as the natural order of things, had thought of secession as justified, and had to know how to relate to them on those terms. These days, only a fringe are unable to understand that those who regard the south as wrong on this have a point.

    For example, if I were to try to talk a woman out of abortion in a social milieu where abortion wasn’t heavily stigmatized, I wouldn’t go all, “It’s a sin ya murderess and you’ll burn in hell!!!” I would probably not frame it in terms of sin at all if that idea were foreign to her. But if the woman already considered herself part of a culture where abortion is heavily stigmatized, confronting her with the sin of the act would be something she could probably understand.

    • #27
    • August 21, 2017, at 4:27 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  28. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph StankoJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    I don’t agree with Lee’s decision, but it’s a gross calumny to make him the equal of Benedict Arnold.

    I agree wholeheartedly.

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    Why could Lincoln and Grant see these distinctions, but we increasingly fail to?

    Great question. I think one factor is that we’re in danger of losing the concept of honor, and especially fighting with honor.

    You see this with liberals (and judges, though I repeat myself) granting rights and Geneva Convention protections to unlawful combatants and terrorists. Even before the Geneva Convention existed, there was a long tradition of treating captured uniformed soldiers with dignity (e.g. after the surrender at Appomattox) because they had fought honorably, while captured spies (e.g. Nathan Hale, Major André) were hung from the nearest tree.

    I also see it among many conservatives who insist that in modern total war it doesn’t matter how many innocent civilians you slaughter via drone strikes, carpet bombing, or even nuclear strikes. Once war is declared, there are no rules, winning is all that matters.

    But killing innocent women and children, even if it’s the quickest route to victory, is not fighting honorably.

    • #28
    • August 21, 2017, at 6:24 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph StankoJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    What’s changed between then and now that makes us so much harsher towards defeated Confederates than Lincoln was? Were Grant and Lincoln simply blind to the true evil that Lee represented? Or was their understanding of the human relationship to good and evil, to the currents of history, so fundamentally different than ours that we have largely lost the ability to see the world as they did? Obviously I tend toward the latter view.

    One thing to remember is that history didn’t end in 1865. First there was Reconstruction, then the era of Jim Crowe laws and segregation, then the Civil Rights movement and finally desegregation. We had Southerners adopting the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of regional pride, and we had white nationalists adopting it as a symbol of white supremacy.

    The fight over Confederate monuments and symbols isn’t just about what happened between 1860-65, it’s also a fight over the whole history of race relations in America.

    • #29
    • August 21, 2017, at 6:34 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  30. Arthur Beare Member

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    What’s changed between then and now that makes us so much harsher towards defeated Confederates than Lincoln was?

    One thing that has changed is that to Lincoln Lee was a living breathing human being, not a rather pale abstraction. Lincolns primary interest was to bind up the nation and heal the wounds inflicted in the Civil War. Once he acknowledged defeat, Lee was very much of the same mind, and did what he could to promote that goal.

    As others have mentioned (or at least hinted at) the leftists do not quite see the people on the other side as fully human, just like them.

    “There but for the grace of God go I” does not enter their heads. IF they have heard it at all (I can’t quite believe that they haven’t, but many sure act as if they haven’t). I do find it plausible that the younger ones (i.e., the front line “antifa”) have never heard that expression, though it rolls around in my head daily.

    • #30
    • August 22, 2017, at 9:04 AM PDT
    • 2 likes

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