Too Fearful to Cross the Rubicon

Washington and Lee

by Donald Smith

Maximus:  Still no word?

Quintus: Not a sign.

Maximus: How long has he been gone?

Quintus:  Nearly two hours.

“He” was a Roman liaison sent to see if the Germanic tribes lined up across the valley from Maximus’ (and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius’) legions wanted to avoid a fight.  Shortly after Maximus’ conversation with his executive officer Quintus, the liaison’s horse rode back into the Roman lines.  Strapped in the saddle was the liaison’s headless body.  Across the valley, the leader of the Germanic tribes held up the head and shouted defiance.  “They say no,” said Maximus.

Earlier this past week, W&L students blanketed a plaque honoring Traveler, General Lee’s horse, with apples.  This effort was endearing — and also offered the W&L leadership an opportunity to NOT escalate the ongoing fight over the place of Confederate heritage in the public square. This wasn’t a Faithful Slave monument.  It was a plaque about a horse, which mentioned General Robert E. Lee and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  Here was a chance to demonstrate that wokeness hadn’t crushed common sense at Washington and Lee.  

The students offered their school’s leadership a chance to show Virginians that W&L leaders and faculty could handle complex thoughts and reason through complicated subjects.  America’s history is complex.  It can’t be properly handled by shallow, emotional thinking.  The apples were a plea for the W&L leadership to demonstrate that they understood that.  That they really could walk AND chew gum at the same time.

They said no.  

The Germanic tribal chief wasn’t stupid.  He knew the Roman legions wouldn’t just shrug and go home.  He knew there would be consequences.  The W&L leadership isn’t stupid either.  They know the risks they’re running. They know this will make them look silly.  Just like VMI’s sandblasting of Stonewall Jackson’s name off of Jackson Arch made VMI look petty, even silly.  (When I asked VMI to explain why they felt compelled to do that, they responded that they felt they had no other choice.  They couldn’t come up with any alternative approach.  Not a good look for a school whose mission is to produce leaders who can master complex problems, in my opinion.)  But, apparently, W&L decided (like VMI) that it was worth the risk of being derided.  Of being perceived as an academic and institutional figure of fun.

Now, we get to speculate why they chose to do that.  And no, we don’t have to take W&L’s pretty press releases at face value.  We don’t have to accept their excuses … sorry, justifications as Gospel.  Gil Grissom, the star of CBS’s “CSI” TV show said it best:  follow the evidence.  Connect the dots, apply common sense, and the real reasons quickly become obvious.  Wokeism!  Yes, it sounds trite.  But it appears to be true at Washington and Lee.

Donald Smith was raised in Richmond. His mother was born in a house not far from VMI, and family members still live there.