Robert E. Lee displayed admirable virtues but has been lionized out of proportion to his character and accomplishments.
Robert E. Lee’s legacy has suffered over the past two years. After George Floyd’s death in 2020, a summer of protest, riots, looting, and iconoclasm caused Lee to undergo a Roman-like damnatio memoriae. His reputation descended abruptly from the tragic figure in Ken Burns’s 1990 documentary, The Civil War, in which the baritoned actor George Black often read Lee’s words, chosen to convey his supposedly consistent opposition to slavery. Today, 31 years later, Burns’s portrait of Lee has been vehemently attacked by Ta-Nehisi Coates and other wokerati as ahistorical and racialist; and Burns himself would have to produce a very different PBS series on the Civil War today.
Writing in the liberal Atlantic last year, General David Petraeus confessed his own growing discomfort:
[T]hroughout my Army career, I likewise encountered enthusiastic adherents of various Confederate commanders, and a special veneration for Lee…. It gives me considerable pause, for example, to note that my alma mater, West Point, honors Robert E. Lee with a gate, a road, an entire housing area, and a barracks, the last of which was built during the 1960s. A portrait of Lee with an enslaved person adorns a wall of the cadet library, the counterpoint to a portrait of Grant, his Civil War nemesis…. We do not live in a country to which Braxton Bragg,
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