09 September 2021


 During most of the years following the Civil War Robert E. Lee was one of the most admired men in American history, in both the north and the south, for good reason. Lee was never an advocate of slavery, or secession (until federal troops were sent into the south), and above all he was an honorable man of exemplary character. But the main reason Lee was universally respected was his conduct following the Civil War. For it was then that Lee worked tirelessly for reconciliation and peace and contributed greatly to those ends. Just consider the alternative to the honorable surrender he provided. There could have been ongoing  violent resistance and endless guerrilla warfare in the south for many years, in the absence of leadership from such a highly respected figure. Lee was the essential figure in making the conclusion of the war final, and in his efforts to bring the country together going forward. 

Thus, even though he had, with a broken heart, commanded the forces of the rebellion, what resonated was what he did with the rest of his life. There was little controversy about this until recently, when a fanatical radical minority began a campaign to remove confederate, and then other statues from public display, sometimes at the behest of as little as only one “offended” person. But the current removal of Lee’s statute from Richmond, Virginia is even worse, as it is happening with the concurrence of a rotten political establishment that has turned its back on heritage and history. It is ahistorical to the extent that it misconstrues Lee’s true character, as well as anti-historical, in the attempt to erase the past. 

Furthermore it outrageously violates a basic trust given that the statue was donated with the understanding and guarantee that it would stand into perpetuity. That this could so blatantly be undone by the rotten, unprincipled current authorities means that no guarantee, no trust is sacred and can simply be discarded at the whim of a subsequent generation. How then can anything pledged today be taken seriously going forward if it can be subject to subsequent arbitrary dismissal?  This is worse than the Taliban’s destruction of what to them are sacrilegious historic edifices, which at least stood for many centuries unmolested, but without any guarantee. Here, barely a century and a half has passed and the trust has been violated. Such a violation of trust must inevitably be accompanied by a serious loss of legitimacy in the institutions facilitating it. 

Such things are happening despite a lack of pubic support and the (unfortunately passive) opposition of the majority of the people. The scoundrels who have perpetrated this travesty must be held accountable, and if long-term legitimacy is to be restored it must be enshrined in law and precedent that is inviolable. Otherwise we are acquiescing in the notion that everything is ephemeral and relative, that there are no fixed and transcendent principles over time, that our ancestors are totally irrelevant, nothing is sacred, and that a passing change in sentiment can undo all that has come before. If we no longer have a past, we no longer have a future.

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