March 7, 2012 9 Comments
Do we still have honor here in the United States?
Maybe we need to define the term. After all it is used mostly in the military these days. Do you know why? Because in the military one often bets his very life on the accuracy of what someone verbally tells him. That’s a huge amount of responsibility on the speaker of that word, isn’t it? The lives of people ride on the truthfulness of what you say. In my business that happens too. If we are working on a power line and I tell you that it is dead, it’s likely you will take my word for it. Actually, you’re not supposed to but, if you’ve worked with me and trust me you probably will. That means I had better be right. Here’s a video from Nebraska PPD that makes my point better than I can.
They were lucky, everybody lived. That doesn’t always happen.
Part of honor is integrity, of course. It is integrity that drives us to do the right thing even when no one is looking. There are many places where I can cut corners and no one will ever know. Or will they? The cover on that box in the attic that I didn’t want to come back to put on, when the connection in the box arcs and burns the house down, will the Fire Marshal notice? Maybe, maybe not. I might get away with it. But you know something, I know and God knows, and I will pay a very high price. Integrity is often defined as “doing the harder right instead of the easier wrong” and that’s a pretty good definition as long as you realize that it applies to every thing you think and do in life.
The paragon of honor to many Americans who have studied our history may well be General Robert E. Lee, CSA. How about that, a Rebel as the paragon of honor. Do you know why? Because at all times he acted fully in accordance with his personal beliefs. A sovereign individual conscience in action.
A fairly new blogfriend of mine, danmillerinpanama, wrote about him a while ago, and I think you should read that article.
>There are and have been few like him.
General Robert E. Lee died one hundred and thirty-nine years ago on October 12, 1870 (now celebrated as Columbus Day) at the age of sixty-three. We, as a nation, have done with heroes and few remember him. The anniversary of his death will likely go generally unnoticed and unremarked upon. Yet he inspired a nation, or at least a fledgling nation, the Confederate States of America. Those who reminisce about him do so because of his devotion to honor, duty, integrity, for his compassion and for his wisdom. He had those now sadly rare qualities in rare abundance; although I (obviously) never knew him, I miss the likes of him today. When I read a news story dealing with our congresscritters, our president, or His administration, I scratch my balding head and wonder what happened.
The anniversary of General Lee’s death having been called to my attention by an article in the Canada Free Press, I read again Rod Cragg’s Robert E. Lee, General, A commitment to Valor. I could not find a link to the book on Amazon or even on Google, but somehow I had bought a copy at a used book store in rural Panamá. This article is largely based on it. This song is about General Lee’s life.
General Lee’s father, “Light-Horse Harry Lee,” distinguished himself as a cavalry commander in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1829, Robert E. Lee eventually rose to the rank of Colonel as commander of the U.S. Army’s Texas Department in 1860. Although he considered slavery a “moral and political evil,” he declined command of U.S. forces when Virginia seceded and resigned from the U.S. Army to take command of Virginia’s military forces. He felt that it was his duty to do so; his sense of honor compelled him. “I did only what my duty demanded; I could have taken no other course without dishonor.” He valued honor highly, and because of it chose to fight on behalf of his home, Virginia, rather than for the Union. On April 20, 1861, he wrote to the Secretary of War:
Sir, I have the honor to tender my resignation of my command as colonel of the First Regiment of Cavalry.
Very respectfully your obedient servant,
R.E. Lee, Colonel First Cavalry
General: Since my interview with you on the 18th instant, I have felt that I ought not longer retain my commission in the army. I therefore tender my resignation, which I request you will recommend for acceptance. It would have been presented at once but for the struggle it has caused me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted the best years of my life, and all the ability I possessed.
During the whole of that time — more than a quarter of a century– I have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors, and the most cordial friendship from my comrades. To no one, General, have I been as much indebted as to yourself, for uniform kindness and consideration, and it has always been my ardent desire to merit your approbation. I shall carry to the grave the most grateful recollections of your kind consideration, and your name and fame will always be dear to me.
Save in defence of my native state, I never desire again to draw my sword. Be pleased to accept my most earnest wishes for the continuance of your happiness and prosperity, and believe me, most truly yours,
When a substantial number of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy left to join the Confederate Army at the outbreak of the war, a special retreat ceremony was held at West Point, and Dixie is said to have been played in their honor.
There are a couple of takeaways here. First GEN Lee had a major struggle of conscience here between his duty to the United States and his duty to Virginia, his home. He solved it in the way he believed was correct and never looked back. I’ve never seen anything about it but I suspect that it nearly broke his heart when he saw the old flag advancing on his forces though.
The second is in that last paragraph. When the Southerners decided that their duty to their States outweighed (in their individual consciences) their duty to West Point, The Academy, knowing full well that they would next meet across a battle line, accorded them the honor of a special retreat ceremony. That is as good an example of honorable men (on both sides) as you will ever read.
One other thing that has always struck me as incredibly fitting, although it was planned by small, vindictive minds, is that Arlington House, which overlooks Arlington National Cemetery, was GEN Lee’s home, and it now overlooks some of the most honorable of Americans.
To me, and I hope to you, this is a lot of what is missing, in our country and its leadership (on both sides) today. I don’t have the map for going back, although I suspect the route leads through the church, but we need to make all haste on this journey.
- Locust Grove Gallery (civilwar150photos.wordpress.com)
- “Unlike his northern counterpart, Ulysses S. Grant, General Lee never sanctioned or condoned slavery” (gunnyg.wordpress.com)