Is this the straw that broke the camels back? Back a few summers ago, I narrowly missed attending a rally in Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of the Statue of Robert E Lee from Lee Park. I felt so strongly about this that I wanted to go downtown and protest. It would be fun to join with other people like myself who were upset by the idea of dislodging General Lee. As President Trump said, there were a lot of nice people like myself who were worried about this crazy (it seemed to us) idea of removing statues or Civil War heroes. But the timing was wrong for me. I had to be in Newport Rhode Island with my ( 99 year old) mother at that time. I could not make it back to Charlottesville, VA. So I was not there and not involved with the event which turned violent. When the police directed the groups protesting the removal to filter in with those shouting in favor of the statues being dismantled tempers flared. It seemed to those who attended that it was done on purpose. Were the authorities arranging an “incident” on purpose? We may never know.
Today it happened. The threat that caused a protest in Charlottesville back in 2017 was finally carried out by the city.
For some reason, the disgruntled and dissatisfied always look for someone to blame besides themselves. They love to pile on against our heroes. All of our heroes are in disfavor with these people. But especially the ones who fought for the South during the War Between the States. Whiners and discontents! What cowards they are. What is it about General Robert E. Lee that upsets these people so much? He was their superior in every way.
It seems like jealousy. None of these angry people have accomplished anything like what Robert E. Lee did in his lifetime. A biography is not necessary here, but he lived an exemplary life. He had to make choices no man should be asked to make. He made them with honor. The Civil War was a great tragedy for this country. But it may have actually knit it together in the end. Or at least that is the way things appeared until lately.
Back in 2017 when there was a local uproar about the idea of removing the statue of Robert E Lee, I was shocked. It seemed such a crazy idea. How could the state of Virginia turn its back on Robert E Lee? Honor and country and self-effacement were his truth. In fact, he specifically stated that he did not want the south to focus on remembering. But instead, he wished people to get on with their lives:
“As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated, my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the country would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment, and of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour,” he wrote.
But we do honor him. And beautiful statues have been made honoring not only General Lee but Stonewall Jackson and other Generals and heroes of north and south. Now people have become so polarized that they are tearing down statues without regard to truth or history. They have even defaced statues of people who freed the slaves. I recently heard that they destroyed a statue of Frederick Douglass. Really? Was that because Douglass was born in the South? Did they not know he was once a slave? People can be really stupid in their revenge against the people they credit with causing their predicaments.
Most people create their own problems. Choices we make determine our fate over and over. Of course, there are random events over which we have no control. But how we deal with those is part of our destiny. Do we see trials as a learning experience or simply as events that turn us into victims? It is vital to stop the victim-hood persona. This is in fashion lately, but it is horribly destructive.
General Lee could have been crushed by the defeat of the South. His banishment from the government complete, because he was not allowed to run for office or serve in any way. Instead, he decided to put the war behind him. He devoted the rest of his life to teaching young men. His example helped many a disenfranchised Southerner ease back into life after the war. He had a strong character. If he was alive today, he would understand the removal of his statue better than most of us who are objecting.
Nevertheless, it hurts to see the loss. To me, the confederate statues, particularly General Lee personified victory in defeat. It is a great lesson. And Robert E. Lee has been a shining example of Southern manhood to generations of men in the south. Particularly those who attended Washington and Lee University were indoctrinated with the principles of honor and integrity exhibited by the General.
The protestors today, complain about having their feelings hurt. They are offended. They complain about glorifying people who owned slaves. They are so lacking in historical education that they act as if slavery was a sin of the United States alone. They don’t seem to realize that for as long as men have been capable of conquering others of their own kind there has been slavery. It was ubiquitous. It was not only practiced in North America, but worldwide (and for people of all races). It was only abolished in England in 1833, though slave trading there had previously been abolished in 1807.
Of course, slavery is a barbaric practice, but it has not died out in the world. It is STILL practiced in some middle eastern countries. If people are so horrified by slavery, why don’t they try to put a stop to it in those places? It seems as if these people would rather demonize dead white males and everything the south stood for rather than do something difficult today. There are certainly many ills, foremost among them is sex trafficking, that could be the focus of these harnessed energies. But that would be dangerous and difficult. That might cause them to get their hands dirty, or they might even endanger themselves. It is much easier to expend their time and passions against the memories of people dead for a hundred years.
Statues may be removed but the memories that inhabit our minds will live on as long as we do. By the time we are all gone there may be more heroes to inspire future generations. Maybe even some of our generation will have that honor.
Copyright©. 2021 Bonnie B. Matheson