I have a fascination with knowledge. Knowledge, for its ability to inform, captivate and clarify. Reading this collection of the Lee letters gave a new look into an old hero. In the South, many have caricatured his memory to that of a hero of State’s rights. However, his life and legacy was and is much more complicated. He was distant to many but incredibly intimate with family. He was a man of his upbringing.
Like the engineer General Lee was, this book is structured from a strong base and expands to give a fuller view of the man. It does not over sentimentalize but humanizes by exposing both his incredible strength and destructive failings. He was an advocate for self-discipline and quality education, but only for white Americans. He was a racist; he was paternalistic with a wicked temper.
In contrast to the fairy tale that the post-war South cultivated and many white supremacists advocated, he was not a state’s rights advocate. The book, Reading the Man by Elizabeth Brown Pryor, eloquently demonstrates how the post-war Lee and others tried belatedly to portray a State’s right agenda outside of their advocacy of the continuation of slavery but his writings have betrayed him.
This is a story in his own words of a man that was ambivalent and racist, who preferred to maintain slavery or dispose of the slaves because like his Virginia peers he thought blacks to be inferior. He was not a righteous warrior. His cause, the cause of the Confederacy was not just.
In the end, he was like many today, indifferent to the suffering of non-white Americans because fundamentally they think us inferior. They believe that keeping us subservient is in our own best interest. The paternalism is clear and is killing us.
Go ahead, read this book and examine our current state of affairs, and you too will realize that our country has not come far enough. Later in his life, General Lee suggests that the struggle was more important than the possibility of victory. Too many of us have not come to that realization.
The struggle is real, and those who choose not to join have chosen the side of indifference and death.