Since there are many hundreds of books about the Confederacy (and many about Lee himself), many movies, much historical documentation and still entire college classes devoted to the study of our Civil War, it is beyond ridiculous to claim anyone is promulgating that Lee “is a man best forgotten”!
Yes, Lee “was a complex man, worthy of study, remembrance and, for some things, respect” which is all borne out in the many books about him and his life as well as the documented writings and stories about him, so it is ludicrous to claim people see him as “one-dimensional”. Lee was and remains “a major historical figure” even to those who oppose publicly celebrating the Confederate iconography and neo-confederacy cult of ‘the Lost Cause’.
What many fail to grasp is that no one needs you to bow down and acknowledge that slavery was an abomination. What people of good conscience and integrity want is for Southerners who “worship” Lee and the Confederacy to stop sounding like racists and stop lying that there were so many “other reasons” the Confederacy was formed, seceded and caused war in our nation. The atrocity of slavery is decided and cannot be changed, the excusing it, and claiming honor among those who practiced it or defended it to the point of war is the problem.
One may consider any “aspects of the war” you please but you need to concede that the South, the Confederacy, brought that “widespread death and destruction” on themselves! The North did not set out to make war on the South, the North did not fire on the Confederacy without cause, the North did not even set out to free the slaves or take anything from the South. The South spoiled for secession and war and when they lost they wanted to blame the North, blame Lincoln, blame anything and anyone except themselves, even God. That was the birth of the Lost Cause cult that still exists. The Civil War was not done to the South, it was done by the South.
The United States Constitution, once ratified was not just something any state could just walk away from, that federal property would just be ceded to you. That land claimed by the United States of America would be freely given up.
Oddly enough, much of history is just “a set of facts”, “static dates and events” and the reality as recorded by those who lived it. Interpretation does not allow for the embarrassing contortions of neo-confederates and Lee worshipers. That is why there is so much push-back.
Do you assume that Lee and other Confederates were the only people who might have felt for the South and their predicament? Do you suppose no other military leaders held an allegiance to both the South and the United States? You act as if Lee’s choice was the only one before him but that is just not true. Others faced the same decision and they chose to hold their nation together rather than fight to divide it and there is just as much, if not more honor, integrity and Christian duty in that decision but you neo-confederates never see that, much less concede it.
In the heat of conflict people may end up on the ‘wrong side of history’ and there is only so much fault that can be attributed in their time. But 150 years later, all but fools can see that the Confederacy was not “on the right side of history”!
This was not a “messy divorce” as there was no divorce. There was a ‘leaving and keeping all I have gained’ but that was never agreed to. The Confederacy did not wait to see if secession could have been negotiated. They felt they had ‘king cotton’ and superior might if not superior numbers and they wholly misunderestimated Lincoln’s resolve to hold the Union together.
Like any propaganda campaign, the neo-confederates try to muddy the water with “Northern aggression” while ignoring the same of the Confederacy. “Northern obstinacy” while ignoring the same of the Confederacy. Saying the North “simplifies the story and adds details that are construed as justification of wrongdoing” while ignoring the same from the Confederacy.
Even if you totally ignore the issue of slavery, whatever other state right you believe they wanted, whatever tariff you believe was wrong, whatever political minority they were becoming, whatever tax burden you think was too much, STILL cannot justify what the Confederacy did. Therein lies the crux of your problem and of Lee’s. That is why men like Lee are still relevant today. Why we study them, try to understand how honorable men could take up arms against a nation they swore to defend, turn against their fellow Americans. The issue of wanting to keep and expand slavery just makes the other issues worse.
You are correct that the personal “tension between freedom and control” still “plays out in the lives of all of us every day” but it is because of Lee, because of the Confederacy, that so many are ready to make war again in a second.
What you need to accept and admit is that if Lee had “consciously tried to do the right thing, not by the standards of our day, but in his own time and place” he still could have chosen to leave slavery. Many already had, even in the South. It was not a foreign concept, it was just one he would not accept, a fight he would not take on.
In today’s world, do good qualities cancel bad? Do good works cancel bad? Did they then? Confederates did not and do not think that of Grant, Lincoln or Sherman but they cling to it for Lee, Davis, and Jackson.
Lee is not going to ever just “fade away as a hypocrite and a loser” but he was both and why 150 years later is that such a problem to admit when it is so freely screamed about Lincoln?
History is indeed a harsh judge, but unless plied with propaganda like Confederate iconography, a fair one.
A serious student of Robert E. Lee and the Civil War, knows well why racists who aggressively “wrap themselves in the Confederate flag” are “all floating in one slimy cesspool”. Those who refuse to see the truth and the connections down through the decades are missing some very important lessons. It seems we are doomed to “still fighting the Civil War.”