He who controls the past, controls the future; he who controls the present, controls the past

In case you’re wondering what recent development demanded a debunking of the neo-Confederate myth that Robert E. Lee opposed slavery, the answer is: nothing. Lack of inspiration being the mother of invention, I’ve decided to try launching a new feature, Mythistory Mondays, and the Lee article is the first attempt.

The idea is to make myself take at least a little time each week and pull my nose away from the grindstone of today’s affairs, in order to talk about something no less important—that is, yesterday’s affairs, and in particular to take on some of the tall tales about yesterday that you frequently hear today. I hope that the articles will be informative, useful, and well-written for Google—making them available to anyone who needs to pull up the information. That’s the hope, anyway.

Why bother? Well, in part because it’s useful. No matter what it is we face, no matter what we are struggling with today, yesterday is always relevant; history is what we live in, and we can’t help but be affected by the stories that we live amongst, and in. Removing the misunderstandings and distortions of history that are all too pervasive in our daily lives is, therefore, something imminently relevant to what we are doing today. But it’s not just that it’s useful: historical understanding is something worthwhile in its own right. Bogus mythistory is not just an obstacle for us, but also an injustice and an insult to the people who have come before us, and standing up for telling the truth about them is no less worthwhile just because we are younger than they are. There’s no more excuse for parochialism in time than there is for parochialism in neighborhood; and if Mythistory Monday does nothing more than replace one or two lies with one or two truths, that will be enough to have made it worthwhile.

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2 replies to He who controls the past, controls the future; he who controls the present, controls the past Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. jrforest

    I think RObert E. Lee is a great man. First, he is a hero in the Mexican war, which antually brought the New Mexico, Texas and California into the United States. Second, he fought nobely in the civil war, and he surrender his army instead turning his men into guerrilla fighters. Third, he accepted the result of war, the abolish of the slavery, and promoted the reconciliation of the nation.

    I do not think in his letter to his wife, Lee is defending the institution of slavery. Yes, he is criticizing the abotionists, but he is also criticizing the institution of slavery. Through research, I find that his opinion is that slavery in the south should be freed gradually (as the north did before) instead in a violent way promotely by people like John Brown. He kept the slaves for 5 years simply because it is too expensive to free them and send them out of Viginia as required by law then.

    Lee’s family did own slaves, but in the family, slaves were taught to read and write, which was actually forbidden in most southern states. Lee’s point was largely affected by his wife, who believed that slaves should get education and be able to stand as an individual independently after they get the freedom. Generally in Arlinton house, the slaves are treated well, although we have one instance of hash treatment. Except the small book mentioned above, for one of their slave, when he got married, they even hold a good ceremeny in the same room that Lee and his wife got married.

    I think we did have to put a person in his time, instead of judging it in today’s standard. Otherwise, we canot say Washington, Jefferson is a great person either.

    Lee is not a abotionist, Lee is neither a supporter of the slavery as an instition either. I would say, his political stance is typically moderate in his time.

    Well, the history turns out the the slavery is abolished in a violent way, but is there a way to end the slavery without sacrifising thousands of thousands of lives of young americans? If people did not get so excited? Secede? Lee did not support and approve, he actually waited until the last minute to resign from the US army. Virginia is his country and he has to follow wherever he goes, this is also puting the person in his time. It is a tradgety for him personally and also for the country, but I would say this is understandable.

    Lashing the slaves running away, this is harder to defend. But do not forgot he was a soldier and a deserted soldier would be shot in the time. I guess that may be his way of thinking. And you will be whiped when you vandalize a car on the street of Singapore by the law enforcement, today in 2006. So, again, you have to put a person in his time, and the country to judge a deed.

    We do not know if the war can be avoided, with the slavery dissappearing, but Lee obviously agreed more with this way. This may be wrong, or just not practical. But this is understandable and does not make Lee less a hero. At least, after the war, when the slavery is gone, he did express that he is happy to see that it is gone, although at such a high price.

    So, Lee was in support of graudual emancipation of slavery, although he condemned the violent abotionists. Lee does not support the secetion, but he had to follow his state. In regardless of this, Lee is still a greatman, a hero, just like George Washington is also a great man.

— 2010 —

  1. The Unrepentant Iconoclast

    Read Lee’s letter to his wife again and you will see that he thought slavery to be BENEFICIAL TO BLACKS, as a NECESSARY EVIL. In his own words:

    “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things.”

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