Thursday, August 24, 2017


"Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it....Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson — who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!
American President Donald Trump, quoted in: Neil Munshi, "Trump says it is ‘foolish’ to remove Confederate symbols". The Financial Times. 17 August 2017, in
"Lee was a tactically astute but strategically flawed general who led the Confederacy to defeat during the US civil war of 1861 to 1865. As commander for the slavery-supporting Confederacy, and a cruel slave owner himself, Lee is regarded as a highly offensive figure by African-Americans and many other Americans too. Some southerners argue that the memorials to Lee are about “heritage not hate” and commemorate the ordinary soldiers who died in the tragic conflict that killed more Americans than any other war the nation has ever fought".
Leader, "Past battles should not inflame present disputes". The Financial Times. 18 August 2017, in
This online journal does not ordinarily discuss or delve into the intricacies of American politics. It is a journal which deals with history and with international politics and diplomacy. The case however of the current American penchant for removing statues of Civil War Confederate leaders and symbols does merit, insofar as it involves a question of History, a comment. In particular, the question raised (in admittedly a very inarticulate fashion) by President Trump does indeed call for a thoughtful response. Especially, in light of the arch typically bien-pensant leader in last week's Financial Times. Without in the least being sympathetic to his general point of view, the American President does indeed raised an ultra-valid concern: where does it stop? If we remove to-day statues of two of the greatest military figures in American History (Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson), for the sin of fighting for the Confederacy, then what is to prevent the throwing down of the statues of say Washington, Jefferson, Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt? You can readily add names to the list. The point being that history in all of its complexity and complication, is rarely a source of simple dialectics, stark black and white coloring. History tends to be more on the grey side of the ledger. And while it is a fact that for some people statues of Confederate heroes may seem 'oppressive', et cetera, there is not a person on this planet who may not in one form or fashion or other be 'hurt' by some public monument or other. To some people (like myself actually), the statue of Cromwell (or as I have heard some say: 'the regicide Crownwell') in Westminster Abbey is an abomination. Pur et simple. For others Admiral Lord Nelson or the Duke of Wellington, or for that matter Field-Marshal the Earl Haig or Sir Winston Churchill are damned figures (admittedly not for me). The larger point that I make is that these are all great and heroic figures produced by History. Whether you agree with them or not. They did not exist, and the statues to them were not erected in order to make someone, anyone 'feel better'. If you or I need to 'feel better' than one should either go to an analyst, or take a drink of champagne. If you are made so anxious by a statue of say Cecil Rhodes and are a student at an Oxford College, than you should probably go to another University (the University of Sussex anyone?). For whatever reason, our ultra-gauchist activists, rarely choose to go elsewhere. So the amount of 'hurt' that they are suffering from, appears to be not sufficient to so prompt them to relocate. For reasons of course which are obvious. Enough said...
In the case of Robert E. Lee, it is very much that hate him or love him (and like most 19th century American figures from history, he leaves me mostly indifferent), the fact is that he is without a doubt the greatest soldier produced by this country. If one had to nominate someone who fits the label of a Napoleonic General, a general who one would associate with all the great military commanders in history, then Lee is that man. Not Grant, not Washington, not Pershing, not MacArthur, not Patton, or Eisenhower, but Robert E. Lee. There is a truism that 'there are no Austerlitzes in American military history'. Well, there are and they are the battles that Lee won over the Union army in the Civil War. The fact that Lee won his renown fighting in favor of Slavery and the Confederacy is of course his tragedy. One can well imagine how different the 1860's would have been if Lee had decided to command the armies of the Republic. However it is well to remember that the choice that Lee made, while an erratum, was not as hideous as it may now seem to most people. It is noteworthy to recall that there were many individuals of liberal views, many who were opposed to slavery, who supported (at least initially) the Confederate cause. The names of Williams Gladstone and Sir John Acton being the most worthy of mention 1. With that said, nothing will tarnish the greatness of Lee as a general and to a lesser extent a man. Something that President Eisenhower accurately pointed out some sixty-years ago:
"General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history. From deep conviction, I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s calibre would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained" 2.
Given all the ills and manifold problems that contemporary American society suffers from, the penchant for removing statues, for renaming public venues (as in the Princeton Club's recent renaming the 'Woodrow Wilson room' to something else by the administration of the club, without even a vote or a consultation of the members), and other 'progressive' measures is a piece with a society which is deeply un-serious, nay adolescent in mentality. One can only hope that as in the immortal words of Saint Paul:
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" 2.
1. On Gladstone see: Roy Jenkins. Gladstone. (1995), pp. 236-238. On the future Lord Acton, see: Roland Hill. Lord Acton. (2000), pp. 86-88.
2. This quote comes courtesy of Rod Dreher, see: "A Monumental History". The American Conservative. 24 May 2017, in
3. See: First Corinthians, Chapter 13. V. I.


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