Thursday, July 26, 2012

Extreme Decisions

Growing up in Southern culture, the last gasp of the Confederacy as it turns out, my familial elders and the status quo bureaucrats running the state educational system, sought in varied ways to shape my thinking about the world.   Both groups made sure I revered one guy from one hundred years prior, General Robert E. Lee. By the mid-sixties when the Civil War roots of our community, state and region were uprooted politically by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the social weeds they were, Robert E. Lee remained somehow immune from any racist dispersion which tainted his contemporaries or the renegade status of many Southern leaders from both nineteenth and twentieth century’s. Anybody remember George Wallace?

In reading of Lee in varied accounts both primary and after the fact, he is renowned for two things; military brilliance and personal integrity. Many people attain prominence for either abilities or their character. Fewer are those respected for both.  It is curious to me how Lee could throw away a future with the moral high ground side, the most likely to be and was the winning side, arguably the “right” side in order to join a rebellion dedicated to an ill-fated--and generally now accepted as immoral--cause but is recalled by history without judgments of profound denial or stupidity.  Why this Teflon coating?

Here’s a man who makes a clearly radical decision in support of a discredited and even hated by many regime, yet he remains a well remembered and honored character in the history being told by the winning side.

What is the mitigating dynamic here? Is it that he chose honor (in the form of love for his home state) and dedicated himself to duty?  Really?  Honor and duty mattered that much…these matter now?

Ah, the twist and turns in the Wild Wood!


postmodern redneck said...

Lee is an interesting case, a poster boy for the greatness and weakness of fallen man. Not a slaveholder himself, thinking that "secession would do no good", yet he sided with his state instead of standing against its errors.
There is some evidence that he lost at Gettysburg in part because he was so convinced that he and his army were unbeatable--in other words, continued success had gone to his head.
To borrow a concept from Dobson, his love for Virginia was not "tough" enough to stand up to its misguided government. If he had accepted Lincoln's offer of chief command of the Union army, it is indeed likely that the war would have ended quickly. Instead, Virginia, and the rest of the South, endured four years of devastation and economic collapse, and the end of the vaunted "Southern way of life" anyway.

postmodern redneck said...

Some further thoughts on Lee: I am not an expert on his biography, but it seems to me that he did not spend all that much of his adult life in his native state of Virginia. Service in the Mexican war, some time on the Western frontier, some time as Commandant of West Point, if I remember correctly. He did lead the troops that stormed Harper's Ferry and captured John Brown. But his military duties likely kept him away from his home state for years.

ded said...

postmodern red, thanks again for taking the time to comment. I think you are my most faithful reader. I know you are the most faithful commenter!