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The Lessons of Robert E. Lee By: Richard Poe
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, November 08, 2001

THE MUSLIM WOMEN are back. For several weeks after September 11, they had vanished from the streets of my neighborhood. Now they walk without fear, in their robes and veils.


I am glad they are back.

Many of those women may hate me. Some may have personal ties to the terror networks.

If New York is hit again say, by a suitcase nuke it is not impossible that some of those women may end up dancing and ululating in triumph over my ashes.

All of that is possible. Yet I am proud that they can walk the streets of New York unmolested.

An Indian writer recently noted that any massacre by Muslims in India comparable to the Twin Towers attack would likely have resulted in a fearsome slaughter of Muslims throughout India.

We do things differently here in America. We rain death on the guilty. But the innocent may walk among us in peace.

We owe our magnanimity, in large measure, to the example of our forefathers. One of these was General Robert E. Lee.

Lee has taken a beating in recent years. Because he fought for the Confederacy, his image is being removed from public places all over the south, as a symbol of "hate" and "racism."

Yet, a remarkable book called Robert E. Lee on Leadership by H.W. Crocker III has convinced me that "Marse Robert" would have been the first to protect innocent Muslims on the streets of New York.

The book gives life and flesh to Lee’s greatness. It explains why Winston Churchill viewed Lee as "one of the noblest Americans who ever lived," why British Field Marshall Viscount Wolseley called him, "the most perfect man I ever met," and why Theodore Roosevelt honored him as, "the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth."

Lee was a terror to his enemies. In battle after battle, he routed well-fed, well-equipped Federal forces two and three times the size of his own starving, threadbare army.

Yet, like George Bush today, Lee was criticized for being too soft on the enemy.

Union commanders were notorious for their abuse of southern civilians. They encouraged their men to burn and loot at will.

When Lee invaded Pennsylvania in 1863, many southerners hoped the Yankees would get a taste of their own medicine. But that was not Lee’s way.

He prohibited "wanton injury to private property" and ordered his soldiers to pay for any supplies they took from civilians.

The Yankees were not grateful. They appreciated Lee’s gallantry no more than Osama bin Laden appreciates Bush’s. Their only response was to send General Sherman burning and looting his way through Georgia.

Today’s historians and teachers seem as hard-hearted as Sherman himself. Dismissing Lee’s virtues, they accuse him of fighting for an evil cause the preservation of slavery.

Yet, Lee opposed slavery.

In 1856, he wrote to his wife, "In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral and political evil in any Country."

Lee believed that slaves should be emancipated gradually, their owners compensated, and the slaves trained and set up in steady jobs.

Lee never personally owned slaves. He was given charge of his father-in-law’s slaves after the man died. Lee freed them all, in slow stages. By the time Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, every slave in Lee’s charge had been freed.

Lee once urged Confederate president Jefferson Davis to emancipate all southern slaves and to allow "the use of… negroes as soldiers" to fight the Yankees. Davis rejected the plan.

After the war, Lee continued to set an example in treating black freedmen as equals.

At a service in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, a black man created a stir by rising to receive communion.

One witness reported that the parishioners "retained their seats in solemn silence and did not move," while the priest looked "embarassed."

It was Robert E. Lee who broke the ice. He strode up the aisle and knelt beside the black man to take communion. Others then rose and followed his lead.

Men of such magnitude are rare in history. They come but once in a century.

It is time to replace Lee’s portraits, wherever they have been taken down, time to restore Marse Robert to the schoolbooks, and to honor him as the great American he truly was.

Never again should we squander our heritage so recklessly and to so little purpose.

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