The Washington Post
The monument’s meaning
In his Sept 10 op-ed, “Lee’s statue is gone. It’s time to dismantle the myth, too.” Eugene Robinson, not content with removal of the Robert E. Lee monument, wished to demolish Lee’s reputation as a good person. The charges he made are distortions, but one charge, that Lee was dishonorable because he was a traitor, was particularly obtuse. Lee’s defense was that his first loyalty was to his home state, Virginia, and when Virginia seceded, his duty was to follow her. This defense, never tested in court, was plausible. Lee was not tried for treason, probably in part because the federal authorities doubted he could be convicted. Subsequent generations did not regard Lee as a traitor, because he acted on the basis of principle and against his personal interests. If Lee was a traitor, what of George Washington, an officer in the king’s army? Was Toussaint L’ouverture also a traitor? What of William (“Braveheart”) Wallace, the leaders of the Easter Rising in Ireland, and the German officers who attempted to assassinate Hitler, all of whom were executed as traitors?
Sen. Philip Hart, for whom the Hart Senate Office Building is named, once said of Lee, after noting that he waged war against this country in mature life, after education at the U.S. Military Academy and despite having sworn to defend it: “Why do we hold him in such respect? Basically because he was a man of conscience; that is why.” But, of course, Hart was an old-school liberal. How I miss them.
Jon Jewett, Ashland, Va.
The striking photograph that accompanied the Sept. 9 front-page article “In Richmond, Lee rides no more,” of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee being removed from its prominent perch, brought to mind similar images of Soviets taking down monuments to Lenin 30 years ago. Both national reckonings came on the heels of retreat from Afghanistan and against a backdrop of domestic polarization.
David Leatherwood, Reston