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The Difference Between Washington and Lee

George Washington and Robert E. Lee – two slave holding, Virginian, soldiers, who could not be more different because of their choices

A normal refrain from conservatives and confederate apologists when the issue of removing confederate statues is, “who’s next? Washington? Jefferson? They owned slaves! They were racists!” The President echoed those sentiments this week. They are entirely correct about the slavery and racism and entirely wrong about the point of removing Confederate monuments. Let us examine two men, intertwined by history, profession, geography, marriage, and social class: George Washington and Robert E. Lee. 

On the surface these two men are so similar that it would stand to reason that eliminating Lee from monuments must mean doing the same for Washington. Lee and Washington both lived in the Alexandria and Arlington region of Northern Virginia. They were both soldiers who were worshipped by the men they led. They were both plantation owning slave holders, who never could reconcile their genteel manners with the barbarism of American chattel slavery. Lee even married into Washington’s step children’s family. Arlington House – Lee’s home – was originally designed as a shrine and museum in honor of Washington. 

Washington Crossing the Delaware – one of the many moments of his nation building military career

However there is a crucial difference, one of causes and oaths. Washington spent his life – with brief interludes at Mount Vernon – in the service of his country. Not his state, but his nation. He fought the British to secure the independence of his country, and was ready to come out of retirement in the last years of his life to defend it from the French. He literally laid out the location of the nation’s capital that bears his name. His life was devoted to the United States. He was the first American.  

Lee was on track to match Washington’s national achievements. He graduated at the top of his class from West Point. He served with bravery and distinction during the Mexican War. And had helped run the Military Academy. In the spring of 1861, as more southern states followed the example of South Carolina, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion. When Lincoln asked General Winfield Scott – a fellow Virginian who would remain loyal to the Union – who should lead this army in the field? Scott did not hesitate: Colonel Robert E. Lee. The War Department offered Lee command of the army with the rank of Major General. It would have been the crowning achievement of an illustrious military career. However, Lee understood that his home state of Virginia would most likely secede. He turned down the Lincoln administration and resigned his commission rather than “take up the sword” against his home. This is an understandable position for Lee to take. If an officer is unable or unwilling to carry out the executive’s orders, then they should resign. However what came next moves Lee from the Washington column into a column bordering on treason. Despite the oath he had sworn upon graduation from West Point to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, Lee joined the armed forces of the Confederacy. In this capacity he inflicted 223,000 dead and wounded upon the United States Army. Nearly one third of all the dead and wounded suffered by the north were in battles conducted by Robert E. Lee.* 

Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox to Ulysses S. Grant – the end of fighting during the American Civil War

Lee had a choice. He could have served his country in its hour of greatest need. He could have retired and stayed home from the war, either would have made him a significantly less controversial figure. However he chose to take up arms against his country in defense of the greatest evil America had ever seen: slavery. 

Washington was a patriot who gave his life for his country, Lee was one foreign intervention from being guilty of treason. So no, Washington and Lee are not the same, and advocating for the removal of Lee statues does not mean one will want to take down the Washington Monument any time soon. 

*This is my own rough calculation from adding up Union casualties from the following battles and campaign: Seven Days Battles, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Bristoe Campaign, Mine Run Campaign, Overland Campaign, Siege of Petersburg, and the Appomattox Campaign. Union dead and wounded for the entire war are counted at roughly 640,000.

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Why You Shouldn’t Defend (Let Alone Normalize) Neo-Nazis

Anti-fascist agitators preparing to disrupt Nazi meetings

Let us file this under things I never thought I would have to say: Nazis are evil.

A little background, neither of my grandfathers had to fight the Nazis. My paternal grandfather turned 18 after the war in Europe ended, and my maternal grandfather was the sole adult male working on his family farm (thus exempt from the draft). However, my grandparents lived through World War II, and knew many a man who never returned (or returned ruined by the experience) from places such as Kasserine, Salerno, Anzio, Normandy, Eindhoven, and Bastonge. Thus, the idea that seventy-five years later “patriotic” Americans would be openly brandishing Swastikas, making the Hitler salute, and chanting Nazi slogans would appall them.

Unless you have been living under a rock you know by now that a group of Neo-Nazis, Klu Klux Klansmen (an organization so superior that they can’t spell “clan” correctly), and other assorted ne’er do well White Supremacists, marched in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. They were met by counter demonstrators and the in the ensuing clashes, three people died and nineteen more were injured. The President has made ineffectual remarks on the subject. He is either a coward or a racist, neither are traits one wants in the Chief Executive of the leader of the Free World.

The KKK are terrible, but every American student who has studied Reconstruction, Jim Crow, or the 1920’s knows this, but I would like to turn my attentions to the National Socialist Movement (NSM). They are the remnants of the American Nazi Party, and they are a fascist, anti-democratic political movement that has no place within the American political tradition that begins with the words, “All men are created equal.”

Here are a few gems from their website (which forced me to type National Socialist Movement into Google and now I’m worried that Google will think I’m a Nazi),

First, they are a political party that would deny political and civil rights to people based on race, a concept so vague, (as a Catholic, do I count as White? They do not say), as to be useless as an effective governing principle.

4. Only members of the nation may be citizens of the state. Only those of pure White blood, whatever their creed, may be members of the nation. Non-citizens may live in America only as guests and must be subject to laws for aliens. Accordingly, no Jew or homosexual may be a member of the nation.

5. The right to vote on the State government and legislation shall be enjoyed by citizens of the state alone.

We therefore demand that all official appointments, of whatever kind, whether in the nation, in the states or in smaller localities, shall be held by none but citizens.

These points would render all non-whites as non-citizens incapable of voting and would be deprived of due process protections. For all the “Free Speech” advocates out there, the NSM’s platform includes suppressing the free press of all “non-American” voices,

23. To facilitate the creation of a national press we demand:

(a) That all editors of and contributors to newspapers appearing in the English language must be members of the nation;

(b) That no non-American newspapers may appear without the express permission of the State. They must not be written in the English language;

(c) That non-Whites shall be prohibited by law from participating financially in or influencing American newspapers, and that the penalty for contravening such a law shall be the suppression of any such newspapers, and the immediate deportation of the non-Americans involved.

The publishing of papers which are not conducive to the national welfare must be forbidden. We demand the legal prosecution of all those tendencies in art and literature which corrupt our national life, and the suppression of cultural events which violate this demand.

But as mentioned previously, how does one define “white?” This group would utilize the Freedom of Speech to gain power and deprive others of that same right.

Finally, the NSM is a classically warmongering, anti-democratic organization,

3. We demand land and territory (colonies) to feed our people and to settle surplus population.

5. …We oppose the corrupting parliamentary custom of filling posts merely in accordance with party considerations and special interests-without reference to character or abilities.

25. To put the whole program into effect, we demand the creation of a strong central national government for the nation; the unconditional authority of the political central parliament over the entire nation and its organizations; and the formation of committees for the purpose of carrying out the general legislation passed by the nation and the various American States.

These points show that NSM, if allowed to gain power would wage wars of conquest, eliminate opposition political parties, and dismantle our federal system of government in favor of an authoritarian state.

Again, this does not feel like something I should have to do, but it is, Nazis are evil. There never has been a “good” Nazi. It is disheartening to see the President of the United States blame “both sides” for violence, when one side demands the destruction of our liberal, democratic way of life. It is reassuring to see the righteous anger that many have responded to this event with. It will require constant vigilance to insure that this monstrous ideology is not allowed a foothold in this country.

Why Putin is Smiling

Vladamir Putin – President of Russia, autocrat, and opponent of the Western Liberal system

The Weekly Standard last week featured Vladamir Putin with the question, “Why is This Man Smiling?” Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election to my mind had three objectives. The first was to reorient American foreign policy. Second, to disrupt and paralyze American decision making. And finally, to tarnish the idea of liberal democracy inside of Russia. Read more…

How the North Won the Civil War: Part I – Emancipation

Any history of the Civil War requires an understanding that slavery and the South’s inability to rid themselves of it, or, indeed compromise on it, led inexorably towards war. Last week, I wrote about how slavery was the cause of the war. This week I will explain how the North’s willingness to fight the war over slavery, rather than simply for Union began the process of victory. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 laid the foundation not only for the Thirteenth Amendment, but also for eventual Union victory. Emancipation had many great effects on the war. I will be focusing on two in this post: the exclusion of European Powers from the war,and the intelligence gained by the Union armies from recently freed slaves. Read more…

What the Civil War Was About (Spoilers, it’s Slavery)

Last week, President Trump stated that he did not understand why the American Civil War could not have been worked out. Furthermore he stated that people do not often enough ask, why was the war fought. He is wrong. Unfortunately, he is not alone in his wrongness. Far too many Americans are unwilling or unable to accept the fact that the Civil War was, above all else, about slavery. Whatever reasons one brings up in an argument about the causes of the war, they all lead to the same place: slavery. State’s Rights? The states’ rights to what? Slaves. A clash of economic systems, between an industrialized North and an agrarian South? The South’s economy was based on slavery. A fight over tariffs? The South disliked tariffs because it was less industrialized, because of slavery. And this is not all ex post facto thinking, we know the war was about slavery because the people of the time said that it was about slavery.  Read more…

Verdun, Fort Douaumont, and National Honor at its Worst

French troops retake Fort Douaumont outside Verdun. The fighting around Verdun occurred mostly through artillery bombardments, or vicious hand-to-hand fighting – Source: Wikipedia

World War I was a titanic struggle. A struggle which involved millions of men and the destruction of vast quantities of wealth. The conflict, which raged around the world for four, horrible years, was dominated by battles that demonstrated how far Western Civilization had advanced technologically and organizationally, while throwing into sharp relief how stunted it was morally. World War I was not the first “industrial war,” but it was the war where industrialization had been taken to another level. Warfare was becoming a science more than an art. Plans were made and executed without thought to deviation, because the plans had been created by formula, and thus had to be correct. This technological and industrial warfare was wedded to an intense nationalism and militarism. Warfare was supposed to be good for the soul. National honor was sacred, and should be defended to the last drop of blood regardless of what might be lost in the process. The Battle of Verdun in 1916 – it was fought from February through December – was the worst expression of this. In an area of no more 200 square miles just over one million men would be killed or wounded. That equals about 5,000 men per square mile. Verdun’s strategic importance was questionable at best, but national honor had to be satisfied, and it was a god that was satisfied with blood alone. Considering the size of the battle, I will limit my discussion here to the battle in and around Fort Douaumont, which had some of the most dramatic fighting of the campaign.

Read more…

The Somme One Hundred Years Later

“Battle of the Somme, Attack of the Ulster Division” – notice how the British troops are standing upright as they move forward – Source: Creative Centenaries

Lines of men moving of men moving forward, with rifles sloped and the sun glistening upon their fixed bayonets, keeping their alignment and distance as well as if on a ceremonial parade, unfaltering, unwavering – Colonel Macrory, 10th Inniskillings [1]

On July 1st, 1916, the largest army the British had yet put into the field during World War I went “over the top” in the Somme River valley. One hundred years later we still feel the reverberations of the “Great War.” The First World War unleashed the horrors of the second, the post war divisions of the Middle East are continuing to haunt the world one hundred years after Sykes and Picot drew their “line in the sand.” The Somme is a special sort of horror though. It destroyed – both physically and morally – an entire generation of British people. It showcased in an unnerving way, the futility and brutality of modern war. Remembering the heroism and sacrifice of the Somme is how we can best avoid the mistakes of ever allowing it to happen again. The battle, like many World War I battles, lasted for months – in this case from July to November 1916 – and involved millions of men, therefore I will focus on the first day of the battle and follow the progress of the 36th (Ulster) Division from Protestant Northern Ireland. Read more…

Why the American Revolution was Justified

Colonel George Washington at the time of the Seven Years War - Source: Wikipedia

Colonel George Washington at the time of the Seven Years War – Source: Wikipedia

It is a trend among liberals to belittle the American Revolution. The principle reason for this is to say that what the Revolution was simply over taxes, and the taxes that Britain was asking for were not that high. Thus, what Americans were going to war for were the purely selfish reasons of a greedy elite. Furthermore it s should not be celebrated. This – and conservatives fail to make the distinction as well – forgets the second part of the rallying cry of American rebels in the 1770’s and 1780’s: “No taxation without representation!” There are three reasons why the American Revolution was justified: a lack of effective representation, the age of the colonies, and the unprecedented nature of the taxes. Read more…

The Tragedy of the “Pals” Battalions

Lord Kitchener, British Secretary of War, and creator of the “New Army” that would go into battle for the first time at the Somme – Source: Wikipedia

I will be writing a full blog post on the Battle of the Somme within the next week, but I want to take a moment to talk about the most tragic aspect of the Somme. World War I killed over ten million men during four years of war, nearly one million of those men fought in British Imperial forces (British, as well as Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, Indian, and so forth). The Battle of the Somme has a high bar for tragedy since it would drag out to over five months and kill or maim over one millions British, French, and German soldiers, but the British Pals battalions take the prize for most tragic. The Pals were a new type of soldier, specially recruited, deeply connected to home, and the antithesis of professional soldiers. Read more…

Russia’s Intractable War in Syria

Russian special forces – Spetsnaz preparing for a mission during Russia’s last forray into the Greater Middle East; the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan – Source: Wikipedia

I have written here before about the dangers of intervening in Syria’s civil war. The response normally given by hawks to those who would not intervene is the idea that Russia has filled the void created by a lack of American leadership. It can very easily appear that Russia is making strategic gains at the expense of the United States in the Middle East. However, this is an outsiders view into a regime that curtails the free press and rarely, if ever, admits to mistakes. Thus it is possible that Russia’s intervention may not goes as planned. I highly encourage you to read this post from War on the Rocks: Russia is in Charge in Syria: How Moscow Took Control of the Battlefield and Negotiating Table. I have quoted the part I think most relevant. Read more…

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