History and Leftist Inconoclasm

He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression; and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy and a man without guile. He was a Caesar without his ambition; Frederick without his tyranny; Napoleon without his selfishness; and Washington without his reward.

Benjamin Hill on Robert E. Lee


Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts notes that Mark Shea has embraced the leftist crusade of purging the nation of all things Confederate:



Why should we have a monument in our capital named for a hypocritical racist slave owner?  Or for that matter, why should our capital be named for one?  Mark Shea explains.  Mark isn’t advocating the eradication of Washington’s name from his home state, or the destruction of the Jefferson Memorial, or the closing down of Independence Hall, or moving the presidential residency from a building built on the backs of slaves.

Nothing in his post, however, could be used to condemn such actions.  In fact, the post could be used to defend such actions.   As a Believer, I’m a little bothered by the sudden emergence of the ‘erase the Confederacy and everyone in it’ movement that has gained steam since the Charleston Shooting.  Mark himself decried the sudden removal of Confederate symbols from museums and other historic locations.

Nonetheless, he seems fine with the removal of monuments for even such luminaries as Robert E. Lee, who often was compared to Erwin Rommel, a brave and noble man on the wrong side of the debate.   Sure, you could argue there is a dearth of high schools or statues celebrating Rommel, but that is because for the longest time, people actually believed that the American South, if not America, and Nazi Germany were different animals.  Now, of course, those differences are eroding.  Since there is typically good and bad in most people, places, and things, deciding to weigh all equally on the Nazi Comparison scale seems a dangerous trend.

In fact some could argue, as Mark appears to, that there was little moral difference between the North and South.  Perhaps the rest of the US was every bit as bad.  And if so, then why keep anything honoring it or those who fought for it?  No more God bless America?  Just God damn America?  Perhaps.  Given that in my lifetime I watched a concerted effort to stop seeing such historical luminaries as Attila the Hun, or such civilizations as the Vikings or the Mongols in purely negative ways, I have a hard time seeing the reverse trend when it comes to America.

Go here to read the rest.  Mark has always been fairly ignorant about history so I am not surprised to see him in his current full leftist mode endorsing Orwellian historical iconoclasm.  However, if his current political fever ever breaks he might learn a few things about General Lee for example, perhaps he might start with what I wrote in 2008:


Some of our readers south of the Mason-Dixon line no doubt have perhaps felt left out in my many posts regarding Abraham Lincoln.  I am fully aware that great Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War, and one of the greatest of Americans, of his time or any time, was Robert E. Lee.


Always outnumbered, with troops often dressed in rags, ill-fed, ill-supplied, he led his men to magnificent victories in the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.  Fighting another great general, Grant, he achieved a stalemate in 1864 against an army that had more than a two-to-one advantage, and prolonged the life of his country by almost a year.  A fighting general with a propensity for taking huge risks, he was also a humane man with unfailing courtesy for both friend and foe.  A true Christian, he did his best, in turbulent times, to live the teachings of Christ.

In regard to the great issues of his day, he was opposed to secession as he indicated in this letter to his son “Rooney” on January 29, 1861: “Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our Constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom and forbearance in its formation, and surrounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will. It was intended for ‘perpetual union’ so expressed in the preamble, and for the establishment of a government, not a compact, which can only be dissolved by revolution, or the consent of all the people in convention assembled. It is idle to talk of secession.”  When Virginia seceded however, he decided that he had no choice but to fight in her defense.

As to slavery,  before the Civil War Lee condemned it in private correspondence, viewing it as an unmitigated evil. While not an abolitionist he hoped that Christianity and education would eventually end slavery.

Pursuant to the terms of his father-in-law’s tangled pro se will, he manumitted his father-in-law’s slaves.

For years prior to the Civil War, Lee and his wife financially supported black families in Liberia, part of their efforts to encourage freeing slaves to participate in setting up a free black state in Liberia. Lee and his wife led by example, freeing their slaves and offering to pay the expenses of all of his former slaves who wished to settle in Liberia.

Lee was in favor of enlisting blacks in the Confederate army from the moment that it was proposed in 1864, and stated that in simple fairness the black soldiers should be guaranteed freedom for themselves and their families.  His thoughts on black troops are set forth in these letters.  I have little doubt that if it had been in his power Lee would have used black troops from the beginning of the war with freedom being their reward for volunteering to fight.

After the war Lee stated that rather than fighting for slavery he rejoiced that the outcome of the war had ended slavery. That this was no idle comment was demonstrated by Lee while at Church one Sunday morning soon after the war.

Lee after the Civil War opposed immediate suffrage for former slaves, but only on the ground that they currently lacked the education to exercise the franchise responsibly. He led a successful campaign to remedy this by championing the public funding of schools for blacks in 1869-70.  He repeatedly expelled white students from Washington University, of which he was President after the war, who engaged in attacks on blacks.

In the midst of defeat Lee gave a great gift to all Americans.  By not starting a guerrilla war against the occupying Union troops Lee ensured that the Civil War was not merely the prelude to an endless cycle of wars between the states.  In devoting his remaining years to education in a defeated and devastated South he was a shining example to the veterans who followed him of dignity and courage in the face of adversity.  There have been greater generals than Robert E. Lee, there have been few greater men.

“The man was loved, the man was idolized,
The man had every just and noble gift.
He took great burdens and he bore them well,
Believed in God but did not preach too much,
Believed and followed duty first and last
With marvellous consistency and force,
Was a great victor, in defeat as great,
No more, no less, always himself in both,
Could make men die for him but saved his men
Whenever he could save them was most kind
But was not disobeyed was a good father,
A loving husband, a considerate friend. “

Stephen Vincent Benet

As faithful readers of this blog know, I am Abraham Lincoln’s biggest fan on the internet, and when it comes to the Late Unpleasantness, my sentiments are all with the boys in blue.  Mark however, in his attempt to reduce history to a leftist morality fable, merely displays that he completely misses the point of studying history, which is to understand the past and the people who lived in the past.  If we can’t do this for our countrymen who fought bravely for what they believed right a little over a century and a half ago, and reduce them to merely stick figures to be condemned, we do no harm to them but we do great harm to ourselves.  One of the great lessons of the Civil War is that we are all one people, white and black, North and South.  Attempting to erase one side in that vast struggle is to forget these words of Lincoln:

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?




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  1. By erasing the memory of history we are condemned to repeat it. Paraphrase of George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

  2. I think its time Mark should team up with Bill Nye as a new comedic duo. Kind of like Laurel and Hardy

  3. This hysteria is a neo-Talibanic effort to enforce a vision of social purity on the part of zealots. There is no logical end to it that would exclude eradicating any street, town, city, or monument named after Washington.

  4. I’m in favor of leaving most Confederate memorials intact for this simple reason: the men that Mark hates with an incandescent rage did something for which all Americans should be grateful: with almost no exceptions, they encouraged the South to accept the verdict of the battlefield and reconcile with the nation. If they had not–especially Robert E. Lee, who rejected guerilla warfare at the end–America would be a weakened garrison state. A few statues is a small price to pay for freedom.

  5. Mark hates with an incandescent rage did something for which all Americans should be grateful: with almost no exceptions

    Good point.

    One problem is that some political figures have virtues expressed only in private life. That statue of Pitchfork Ben Tillman might properly be moved to a museum.

    Agreed. The Confederacy is merely a momentary stand in for the true leftist target: the United States of America.

    Half of it is black politicians (or passing-for-black politicians like Ben Jealous) who are bereft of ideas and have nothing better to do but mark territory. The other half is academic types like Wm. Chafe who wish to set themselves up as arbiters of value in American history and life. I’m inclined to tell both sorts to take a hike.

  6. The only thing that really annoys me about The American Catholic, is the time it wastes complaining about nonentities like Mark Shea. Who cares?

  7. “One problem is that some political figures have virtues expressed only in private life. That statue of Pitchfork Ben Tillman might properly be moved to a museum.”

    That point is well-taken. I’m much more amenable to removing the statues of Confederate politicians as opposed to their soldiery and combat commanders.

  8. The only thing that really annoys me about The American Catholic, is the time it wastes complaining about nonentities like Mark Shea. Who cares?

    About 15 years ago, he was one of the more widely circulated Catholic (non-fiction) writers in the country. By and large, magazine journalism has fallen on hard times in the intervening years and (I suspect if you examined the question carefully), the audience for that sort of thing is demoralized to a degree it was not at that time. Shea himself has been suffering from some sort of middle-age decay of occult origin, so has likely lost his audience (though gained an audience among a modest corps of cranky palaeos). I suspect he gets bookings from people who are familiar with some of the monographs he’s published in the past and just have not reviewed his online writings.

    One problem is (and you can see this looking at Ignatius Press catalogues) is that Catholic writers who are accessible to general audiences with work in print tend to be deceased (Regine Pernoud, John Senior, and, more recently, Ralph McInerney), very old (Peter Kreeft), retired and silent (Sandra Miesel), or on the cusp of retirement (Robert George). There does not seem to be anyone younger coming down the pipeline.

  9. It galled me that students at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, where Lee presided after the war, campaigned and succeeded in removing Confederate symbols on campus. I never understand why, with all the colleges in the United States, why students attend a school and attempt to change their culture. Why not just attend another university?

  10. I never understand why, with all the colleges in the United States, why students attend a school and attempt to change their culture. Why not just attend another university?

    You recall Sandra Fluke, against her economic interest, elected to attend Georgetown in order to pester the school administration.

    It’s doubtful the youths who engage in this sort of tripe (or the faculty and administration who are their collaborators) are the sort to attempt to appreciate the world around them as is.

    One thing I’ve noticed, now that Nat Hantoff has died, is that the progressive dispensation is occupied almost entirely by people who trade in sentiment (on the one hand) and people who are forever making accusations (on the other). Be nice if the vanguard of 50% of the population weren’t given to self-aggrandizement morning, noon, and night, but we do not live in that world.

  11. Checking some data online, it would appear that about 50% of their matriculating freshman are not Southerners. The place is a swank and selective private college. They recruit from the professional-managerial bourgeoisie with a leavening of patrician types. To some extent, these are now status markers in that set.

  12. I live3 and hour away from New Orleans. One of the most well-known landmarks is Lee Circle, with the statue of Gen. Robt. E. Lee atop a tall column, the column’s foundation an island that operates as a traffic circle for St. Charles Sreet and the iconic St. Charles streetcar line. It amazes me how the powers that be namely politically correct liberals have successfully garnered enough support for the dismantling of this and other monuments. In the case of Lee, who as the article correctly noted, was not a racist and along with his wife did what they could to help black Americans every way they could. It’s apparent those who advocate the removal of Lee’s statue are victims of their own ignorance and also the dishonesty of the mayor and others who are most certainly aware of the General and Mrs. Lee’s charitable work. This situation is also an indication of the failure of both our educational institutions for spending more time indoctrinating their student rather than teaching real history.

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