Robert E. Lee and the Race Obsession

by Phil Leigh

Richmond’s Monument Avenue is the latest consequence of a culture obsessed with imaginary systemic racism. Presently, the only legal systemic racism is fifty years of Affirmative Action, which benefits minority races. According to black Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Shelby Steele, Affirmative Action was the first of a long chain of futile initiatives prompted by white guilt to lift blacks out of poverty. All failed because their true motivation was to provide the ruling white elites the moral authority to continue governing.

Affirmative Action never closed the academic performance gap, and government housing forced black fathers out of the home. Instead of promoting self-reliance in the black community, these policies discouraged it. They were, however, habit forming bribes for black votes. Confederate statue destruction is merely the latest bribe. Although chiefly a symbolic gesture, it is vote and donor magnet for race-hustling politicians and “activists.” Razing Monument Avenue statues will do nothing to lift black self-esteem, but it may deepen the racial divide with those who admire Robert E. Lee’s leadership qualities.
Compare, for example, President Joe Biden’s Afghanistan leadership to that of Lee at Gettysburg. Both faced decisive defeats but Biden’s concluding press conference tried to celebrate his chaotic withdrawal as a kind of victory for ending a twenty-year war. In contrast, when the repulsed soldiers of Pickett’s Charge returned after heavy losses to Confederate lines, General Lee rode out to meet them. He immediately took responsibility for the failure. When a distraught general tried to summarize the carnage in his brigade Lee replied, “Never mind, General, all this has been my fault. It is I that have lost this fight.” To General Pickett he said, “Your men have done all that men can do. The fault is entirely my own.” Neither then, nor anytime later, did Lee blame any of his subordinates.

Unlike Biden who tried to manage the Afghanistan departure in luxury from Camp David, Lee shared his soldier’s hardships. He normally slept in tent whereas other army commanders appropriated the home of a nearby prosperous citizen. About a month after he got his army safely back to Virginia, he submitted a battle report to President Jefferson Davis. It praised his soldiers and took all the blame on himself. He wrote, “I know how prone we are to blame others for the nonfulfillment of our expectations. . . The general remedy for want of success in a military commander is his removal. . .” He then proffered his resignation, which Davis rejected.

Lee’s soldiers knew that his acceptance for the Gettysburg failure was genuine. It enabled the army to recuperate to a point where it thrashed General Ulysses Grant’s bigger army at the Battle of the Wilderness ten months later. No commander, North or South, was more beloved by his soldiers than General Lee. General Grant amplified the point after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. When Lincoln’s War Secretary asked Grant what impact Lee’s surrender would have on the remaining Confederate armies, Grant replied, “All the people except a few political leaders of the South will accept whatever [Lee] does as right and will be guided by his example.”

In contrast, President Biden told us that he had consulted with NATO before starting the Afghanistan withdrawal even though the British Parliament promptly denied his claim. Earlier Biden stated that it was extremely unlikely that his evacuation would be as chaotic as the fall of Saigon 45 years ago. In truth, the fall of Kabul was worse. After he could no longer hide the chaos, Biden promised that all Americans that wanted to evacuate would be taken out. That did not happen. He also boasted of taking out a hundred thousand Afghans, most of whom could not possibly have been vetted for terrorist backgrounds. To change the media narrative, he made a video address to American Jews concerning their September holy days. He falsely claimed to have visited a Pittsburgh Synagogue which was violently attacked in 2018. Finally, when saying “the buck stops with me” he often tried to put the blame on Trump for a conditional executive agreement that Biden falsely claimed had straitjacketed him.

The conduct of Biden, as the political leader of the Identity Politics movement,  must give us pause. America cannot prosper if her own political leaders constantly disparage her. Both Shelby Steele and Brown University Economics professor Glenn Loury consider themselves Americans first and black men second.

Loury states, “The richest and most powerful segment of the worldwide black population is here in America. We have black billionaires. Who thinks the American dream is a fraud? Are you kidding me? Tens of millions of non-European immigrants have come to this country in the last fifty years. The statistics show that they are doing well. America is an open and free society.”

Identity Politics is poison. Tearing down Confederate memorials will not advance the status of blacks. While Affirmative Action and monument destruction can be vote magnets for the white ruling class, they might become increasingly offensive to the white middle class who get no benefit from them. Nobody knows how this will turn out. Today’s polarization rivals that of the 1860 presidential campaign. The 1860 candidates thought they were only arguing politics as usual. With 20-20 hindsight we know something much worse came next.

This column is republished with permission from Phil Leigh’s blog, Civil War Chat.

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18 responses to “Robert E. Lee and the Race Obsession”

  1. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    The problem that most have is that they are wedded to the Lost Cause narrative with no historical understanding of the historical time period and especially an ignorance of the qualities and character of Robert E. Lee.
    We are all sinners but thankfully there is a lot of forgiveness in the world. I would rather accept President Eisenhower’s view of Lee than the narrow minded who only see his flaws and applaud the cancel culture.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    The first part of this essay read like something out of Ibram Kendi–“All failed because their true motivation was to provide the ruling white elites the moral authority to continue governing.”

    As for the comparison between Lee and Biden, at least Biden did not send troops charging over a distance of 1.5 miles, with 3/4 mile being open ground, up hill against well entrenched soldiers and artillery, all against the advice of his second in command and longtime adviser (Longstreet, in Lee’s case).

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      That was just the battle. It was the whole movement of supplies and wheeled caissons over steep terrain. Lee did well in familiar, friendly territory.

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    No, it’s Race and the Idols of Robert E. Lee Obsession.
    “Unlike Biden who tried to manage the Afghanistan departure in luxury from Camp David, Lee shared his soldier’s hardships. ”

    Only in a Biden deranged Southern apologist’s mind could that even be a comparison. I think you may want to consider a comparison between Biden and Davis, or Lee and whatever general was the last to effup Afghanistan.

    If you want to compare and contrast Afghanistan to a similar historical event, use D-Day. Both were military insanity.

  4. Speaking of race obsession, did anybody see the sad spectacle of the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix last weekend?

    Torrential rains at the Spa-Francorchamps race track on Sunday delayed the race for 3 hours. When the rains still had not let up, race officials finally lined up the cars in order of qualifying and had them follow behind the safety car for two laps, after which they red-flagged the race, declared it “complete” and awarded half-points based on the “finishing order”.

    I think they’d have better served the spirit of competition by delaying the race a day and trying again on Monday, or by calling it off altogether. How do you other race obsessed people think the situation should have been handled?

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      And Steve says that rain isn’t intensifying. Can’t remember who it was but a 60s F1 driver said he loved driving in the rain. Something like, “The rookies quit because they’re scared, the good drivers quit because they’re smart, which leaves me and the drivers too crazy to win.” It sounded like something Sterling Moss would have said.

      Why didn’t I read your last sentence first?

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    I guess I would have thought comparing President to President and General to General.

    Wasn’t it Lee and Jeff Davis? Maybe compare Biden to Lincoln, both of whom had the guts to do what should have been done a long time ago, but not without great damage.

    In terms of Lee and history. I was taught in school that he was a great man who fought for what he thought was right and I was not taught where the memorials to him came from much less what Jim Crow was and how it affected black people. This, even though I knew schools were not integrated.

    I did not really know how all of it fit together.

    Once I actually learned what Jim Crow was and what many of the memorials were really about, I realized that blacks did not become “equal” at the end of the Civil War, and, in fact, they were treated quite badly by some of our ancestors in Virginia.

    Now, I see those memorials as part of that era of discrimination and racism and a continuing insult to present day descendants of the victims of Jim Crow.

    1. Seth Tandett Avatar
      Seth Tandett

      And how did the North treat the freed blacks? We’re they treated better in the North? How about Abraham Lincoln’s own state of Illinois? Were they welcoming blacks with open arms?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        No. They were not treated as equals but a far cry better than the Jim Crow south.

        Easy to read about it – just google Jim Crow South

        1. or KKK in the mid-west

  6. But once the statue is gone, reading, writing, and math scores of Blacks in Virginia will skyrocket, no doubt.

  7. energyNOW_Fan Avatar

    Struck me today if Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated, we might be in a better place now. Not sure, but it is interesting to think the legacy of Honest Abe still impacts society today.

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      Lincoln might have been able to clean up that mess known as Reconstruction. Lincoln would have completed the evolution of the Age of Jackson.

  8. “The consolidation of the states into one vast empire, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all that preceded it.”

    ― Gen. Robert E. Lee

  9. Bob X from Texas Avatar
    Bob X from Texas

    Pulling down General R.E. Lee statue is a religious event.
    Pulling down a George Floyd statue is a RACIST crime.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      well, here is what is NOT happening:

      1. Lee is not being removed from history books
      2. Lee’s home Arlington House is still standing and has all manner of statues and other Lee’s memorabilia intact
      3. Lee’s name throughout the Battlefields has not been removed and is still on display in countless locations:

      So what is this really about?

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