Skip to comments.Beyond All That Changes: The Unchanging Lee
Posted on 01/16/2014 7:37:26 AM PST by Kaslin
Dear Alert Reader,
It was wholly a pleasure to get your email informing me that a Carol Kerr, who is identified as a spokesperson for the Army War College, says the school may remove the portraits of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson that now adorn a third-floor hallway.
Your astonishment is all too understandable; erasing history to appease today's politically correct attitudes is an exercise better left to totalitarian societies. They have so much more practice at it. No edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, for example, was complete until all traces of the old Bolsheviks who'd been purged by the Party had been removed. And so they were airbrushed out of official history.
George Orwell caught the spirit of the thing by having poor Winston Smith in "1984" work for the Ministry of Truth, where his days were spent expurgating the truth from official records.
Thank you for your suggestion that I write a well-deserved response to that kind of historical revisionism, which is as un-American as it is untruthful. Allow me to beg off for now, and hope that the blue and gray will remain united in the U.S. Army without anyone's having to point out what a folly it would be to set us warring against each other again. In the style of General Lee himself after The War, a stoic silence might be best. For now.
Let's wait and see what the pickets report after they've reconnoitered these politically correct lines before dashing off to battle. Some problems solve themselves, given a little patience and perspective, and enough time for cooler heads to prevail.
To quote a letter that the General, eloquent as ever, wrote to a former Confederate soldier once hostilities were concluded and the nation was one again: "This war, being at an end, the Southern States having laid down their arms, and the questions at issue between them and the Northern States having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony."
In that spirit, let us hold our rhetorical fire till this fleeting embarrassment fades from the news, and even the most impassioned among us remember that we're all Americans now.
It is my great privilege to spend one night a year poring over various biographies of the general in order to put together our annual Lee page here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. To dwell on his life even once a year leaves one with a renewed sense of peace, the way classical tragedy elevates and reconciles. This annual exercise is also a reminder that there was once such a thing as a gentleman -- and honor.
E Pluribus Unum,
Your Fellow American
It was wholly a pleasure to get your reminder that Lee's Birthday is the 19th, though it is scarcely necessary in my case. I look forward to it every year, when I get to refresh my acquaintance with the General's memory. I am transported from the ever-changing present to the unchanging past -- from today's fluid superficiality to a contemplation of values that never change. Values like duty, which Lee called the sublimest word in the language.
There is a thrill of subversion to celebrating Robert E. Lee in this so-different time. It's like unveiling a Byzantine icon in some faceless museum of modern art. Remarkable thing, modernity. Especially its art, which can be the ideological equivalent of whiteout. It can take the blasphemous, the profane, the supposedly daring and disgusting, and convert it all into the utterly boring. How does it do that? Maybe it's the modern, now the postmodern, soon to be the post-postmodern, absence of continuity. If there's no shared past, no common standard, there's no way to desecrate it. The shocking becomes simply the meaningless.
It's no wonder that doing this annual Lee column has come to be a highlight of my year. For one day, the glitz and clatter of the unceasing 24/7 news cycle is shut out. I've spent more than one night into the early morning hours nursing a cup of coffee, fortified by a pile of Lee biographies and Civil War histories, thinking on the general, his life and character, and, most of all, about why he should still matter, why the old gentleman still speaks to us, not just in his words and deeds, but in his silences. They resound timeless, alone, grave yet the greatest comfort. No wonder they still draw us to him, like a deep river in a dry land.
It is a night-into-morning well and satisfyingly spent with General Lee before having to return to my day job -- dealing with the leaven of the news, not the dough. For that's my usual beat: politics, which is the study of mere power, the surface reflection and not the inner substance of events.
I inevitably hear from readers like yourself before and after that long night's journey to the dawn, and recognize someone who comes from the same country. Call it the South, or the Past, or Home, but it draws us together whatever our superficial differences. All it may take is a shared memory, a single word. In the South, that word is Lee. It echoes yet. And thrills anew. Like a band striking up Dixie. There is no reason to tell you why. You understand without needing an explanation. Naturally, it would be a Southerner, the Southerner of Southerners named Faulkner, who said it: Memory believes before knowing remembers.
Years ago, in a crowded dining room in Florence, where American tourists come and go speaking of Michelangelo, the babble was but background to my morning cafÃ© au lait, and then I heard a familiar accent above all the others -- an immediately recognizable, absolutely unmistakable Charleston drawl. You couldn't miss it, and my spontaneous reaction, an inward exclamation, came of its own: A countryman! Which was also my immediate reaction to your message.
The South can be a complicated, convoluted place, but a single syllable -- Lee! -- makes all of us in these latitudes one, even disparate types like you, sir, and this
In other news, the US Navy just announced that it is banning swearing and foul language at its training facilities (per Navy Times).
"Lee was a gentleman; Lincoln was a fool.
Lee rode a white horse; Lincoln rode a mule."
< / wanders off, innocently whistling, having set the cat amongst the pigeons >
In the interest of not overreacting and taking our eyes off the ball, I found this commentary.online in a War College newsletter...
Sanitizing the College
Some of you may have heard a rumor that the Commandant directed the removal of all things Confederate from the USAWC. The rumors are greatly exaggerated. Here are the Commandant’s own words regarding the situation:
“Major General Tony Cucolo here, Commandant of the US Army War College. I’d like to address an issue that has come up based on a Washington Times web posting last night and article in its paper of 18 December 2013.
“Even though last night’s posting had a photo at the top of that article showing a picture of one of our entry gates with huge statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson mounted on horseback on either side of the sign, and today’s posting showed a dignified photo of Robert E. Lee at the top of the article, it might be misleading as to what is in question. For what it is worth, I must tell you there is only one outside statue on Carlisle Barracks and that is of Frederick the Great. There is no statue of Lee, there is no statue of Jackson; that picture is photo-shopped - I assume to attract attention to the article. We do however have many small monuments, mostly stone with bronze plaques, but those are for a variety of reasons.
“There are small memorials to the service of British units (during the French and Indian War), memorials of Army schools that had been based at Carlisle Barracks over the last two-plus centuries, memorials to Carlisle Indian Industrial School students and significant personalities of that period from 1879-1918, a memorial for US Army War College graduates killed in action, and more. We do not have any public memorials to the Confederacy, but we do have signs on the walking tour of the base that will tell you for a few days during the Civil War, three North Carolina Brigades camped on the parade ground here and then burned down the post (save one building) as they departed on July 1st, 1863, to rejoin Lee’s forces at Gettysburg. We also do not have any stand-alone large-scale portraits of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson (but we do have pictures of both men).
“So, no statues or big portraits, but a recent event here sparked the reporter’s and other public interest in the topic of the article, which I find makes a good point: for topics like this, have a thoughtful conversation before making a decision.
“Here is what happened: a few weeks ago, while relocating his office to a new floor in our main school building over the weekend, one of my leaders looked outside his new office location and simply decided to change the look of the hallway. He took down, off the wall, a number of framed Civil War prints that depicted Confederate states of America forces in action against Union forces or depicted famous Confederate leaders. He did this on his own. There was no directive to “remove all traces of the CSA.” Since this is a public hallway with seminar rooms and offices, the sudden new look drew attention the following week. and since there was no public explanation of my leader’s action, some of my folks jumped to conclusions, even to the point of sending anonymous notes to local media. We have since attempted to clarify the action within our own ranks.
“If it matters to any of you, you could walk into this building today, and see ornately framed painting and even a few prints similar to the ones that came down off that hallway wall of Confederate forces and leaders mixed in an among countless other paintings and prints of the Army (and other services) in action from the Revolutionary War through the current fight in Afghanistan. I must admit, there are in fact a large number of Civil War paintings, depicting both North and South. I can only assume one of the reasons there are so many is that we are barely 30 minutes from Gettysburg, home to many renowned artists, a few of whom have been commissioned by US Army War College classes of the past to capture some iconic scene of that conflict.
“Finally, and with ironic timing, I also must tell you that I am, in fact, in the midst of planning a more meaningful approach to the imagery and artwork that currently adorn the public areas on the three primary floors of The War College. There will be change: over the years very fine artwork has been hung with care — but little rationale or overall purpose. Just today, I left the “George S. Patton Jr. Room”, walked by the “Peyton March Room” and nearby hung a picture of a sharp fight in Iraq, 2003, right next to a Civil War print, which was near a series of prints honoring Army Engineers, and a few feet further hung a painting of the Battle of Cowpens. We can do better; we’d like our students, staff, and faculty to walk through a historical narrative that sends a message of service, valor, sacrifice, and courageous leadership at the strategic level.
“But I will also approach our historical narrative with keen awareness and adherence to the seriousness of several things: accurate capture of US military history, good, bad, ugly; a Soldier’s life of selfless service to our Nation; and our collective solemn oath to defend the Constitution of the United States (not a person or a symbol, but a body of ideals). Those are the things I will be looking to reinforce with any changes to the artwork.
“Much more information than perhaps you wished to know, but this topic has the ability to bring out the extremes of opinion and discourse, and I at least wanted the facts of our own activities to be known.”
There you have it.
The next time we meet a REAL opponent on the battlefield, we’re SO going to get our butts kicked.
The Current FReepathon Pays For The Current Quarters Expenses?
I’d love to meet her! Disparage Lee and you disparage me! I only pray I can be half the man.
Thanks for your post, although it will be largely ignored. Those who have visited Root Hall have observed that most of the paintings decorating the hallways are class gifts with many of them the product of one artist: Don Stivers.
Don Stivers got his start as a commercial artist doing, among other things, the box art for G.I. Joe dolls. As a commercial artist, he was open to a wide variety of commissions and took them on with a view to making a living. Along came a class at the Command and General Staff College and commissioned him do do a painting of post Civil War fantasy called the “Staff Ride”. Handsome officers, cavalry uniforms, capes, and horses it was just what they wanted for presentation to the College as a class gift. Stivers contribution was a business model that included not only the original painting, but limited editions prints, one set that could be bought by members of the class, and one set that Stivers could sell to the general public interested in military art prints.
An industry was born. Stivers has become rich, Army quarters everywhere are festooned with suitably framed printed as are conference rooms, headquarters, banks, and local restaurants. The Civil War is popular because the uniforms and flags are colorful, cannons and horses abound, and the soldiers romantic. The West comes in a close second, and more recently our wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan have become popular.
Much ado about nothing, but further proving that journalists, even including supposed conservative journalists like Rowan Scarborough should be taken with a very large grain of salt.
“In other news, the US Navy just announced that it is banning swearing and foul language at its training facilities (per Navy Times).”
As a former drunken teen-age sailor (1962-1965) let me say that a US Navy that bans foul language makes as much sense as a construction company that bans concrete. How are you going to hold anything together? We have Marines marrying Marines with nary a woman involved but we forbid a little cussing? This country is no longer fit for any real young man to serve. I advise any young man who should ask me to stay away from the current military.
Let me get this straight, any sailor who “cusses like a sailor” is now to be brought up on charges?
Some used to say that the typical Navy man had the cleanest body and the dirtiest mind of any serviceman. Now I suppose he is expected to have the most perverted body and mind but he can’t say anything worse than , “Golly Gee Whiz, Batman”?
Is that even allowed?
Hmmm...wonder what will constitute “foul language”....
“Hmmm...wonder what will constitute foul language....”
Anything that would have been considered patriotic in my day will definitely be foul language in the new Navy.
Not to mention speaking truthfully about certain undesireable yet protected groups.
His worst examples are face-on view. Look at the RH leg of the horse on the far right. Nightmare.
He needs to do like George Stubbs and visit a slaughterhouse and make careful sketches, or if he can't stomach that, hire himself out to groom a couple hundred of them.
We have enough Confederates on our family tree to man a substantial platoon . . . none however fought with Lee, we were all in the Army of Tennessee. Most survived the war, about half were wounded, and some killed or died of disease.
He told me that he bought a fiberglass horse and had it installed in his back yard. I suppose that helped with the anatomy and proportions, but not so much with the articulation.
I don’t think that he would have cared much for mucking stalls.
Some fiberglass horses are better than others. He must have gotten one like this:
It's not so much mucking the stalls as grooming the rascals. Nothing like handling them in detail - currying, combing, brushing, shampooing, braiding manes and tails, picking hooves, etc. to learn how they're put together. Plus watching them move, looking for little lamenesses, helping the farrier, longing them and driving in long reins - it all helps. I'm no artist, but I can draw you a horse, just from 50 years plus of handling them.