From a time when our national conscience wasn't infected with political correctness and our sensitivities were much more sensible in regards to American heroes . . .
exchange below between a critic of Robert E. Lee and President
Eisenhower offers perfectly contrasting views on this subject. What
makes Eisenhower's response so fascinating to me is who he was at
the time he wrote this letter. He was President of the United States
and a war hero of the United States Military. But not just any war hero.
He had served as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe
during WWII and was also the first Supreme Commander of NATO. No one can
doubt Eisenhower's loyalty to the U.S. military, to his country, nor
his concept of what defines an American patriot and, conversely, a
traitor. His perspective, experience, and position adds much weight, in
my view, to the argument that Lee is one of the most honorable and
patriotic men to have served his Nation(s). The fact a modern sitting
President, 5-Star Army General and war hero would offer such a clear,
pointed, and strong defense of a man who waged war against the United
States speaks volumes. Also worth noting is Eisenhower's use of the term
"War Between the States" and his defense/explanation of secession.
Eisenhower would, today, no doubt be labeled a "neo-Confederate" by
certain historians and academics. That, too, is something worth
Dear Mr. President [Eisenhower]:
"At the Republican Convention I heard you mention that you have the
pictures of four (4) great Americans in your office, and that included
in these is a picture of Robert E. Lee.
I do not understand how any American can include Robert E. Lee as a
person to be emulated, and why the President of the United States of
America should do so is certainly beyond me.
The most outstanding thing that Robert E. Lee did was to devote his
best efforts to the destruction of the United States Government, and I
am sure that you do not say that a person who tries to destroy our
Government is worthy of being hailed as one of our heroes.
Will you please tell me just why you hold him in such high esteem?"
Leon W. Scott, DDS
New Rochelle, NY
and in response to the above letter, President Eisenhower simply
explains why Lee is a worthy role model and American patriot worthy of
respect and emulation.
August 9, 1960
Dear Dr. Scott:
Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often
expressed admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that
we need to understand that at the time of the War Between the States
the issue of Secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years.
Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty,
both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of
principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.
General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely
gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the
Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an
arguable question in America; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his
officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious,
unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened
by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained
selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his belief in God. Taken
altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I
read the pages of our history.
From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s
caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree
that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare
qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his
painstaking efforts to help heal the nation’s wounds once the bitter
struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world,
will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.
Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.
Dwight D. Eisenhower