I suppose that will be among the suggested names for Washington & Lee, once the president who saved Washington College from extinction is expunged from the record. The Committee, as a group of current W&L students call themselves, has set about to rewrite General Robert E. Lee’s legacy to be in accord with 21st century ethics. Why they have chosen to exonerate George Washington from such scrutiny seems disingenuous since our first President, the Father of our Country, made General Lee look like a sharecropper when it came to owning slaves.
I would suspect there is embarrassment amongst the professors of history at the prestigious Lexington University, surely among the finest colleges in the country. The Committee should be referred to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the recorded words of the Founding Fathers as they danced around the issue of Slavery. Given their private record contrasted with the wonderful sentiments of “all men are created equal and endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness,” how can one not be astounded at the magnitude of their hypocrisy?
The Committee, once they have brought the W&L administration to its knees, should turn its attention to Washington . . . DC, that is. Surely, we must knock down the Washington Monument, bulldoze the Jefferson Memorial into the tidal basis, forget about the Emancipation Proclamation and remind the world that Lincoln believed Negroes to be biologically inferior to whites.
Then there is the matter of more recent Presidents, some of whom have been racist to the core, as well as violent anti-Semitics. President Truman, one of the great Presidential surprises of the 20th century, made the founding of the state of Israel a reality in 1948, only to proclaim after the UN had acted that he “had never allowed a Jew, or would he ever invite one, into his home.” It’s ironic that his home was in Independence, MO.
If we are to judge our past leaders by current ethical standards, then there is no limit to the amount of tarnish that can be applied to their statues. In no way do I mean to justify the hateful position that they have taken in their lifetimes. Since the landings at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock it has ever been so. To re-write their history, glossing over their obvious faults, is just as erroneous. We honor them, in spite of their shortcomings, because of their contributions to our country.
George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” We must accept the past as it was, accurately recorded and passed down through the centuries. To revise it, either in a positive or negative way degrades its true value: To learn from it, to redress the wrongs that persist into today’s society, to celebrate the progress that has been made, recognizing that there is much left to do. Justice will never reign supreme, but we must constantly pursue it.
The Committee, although I am sure they see themselves as well-intentioned, would sully the reputation of heroes of a time long gone by. One might suspect that we will fare poorly if our ethics were to be judged by cyborgs of the year 2202. That’s the time, 188 years, it took from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. By the 23rd century this lonely planet may be uninhabitable.
In the meantime, let’s remember “liberty and justice for all.” Addressing those problems makes a lot more sense that the time-wasting protests we are currently seeing on that historic campus in Lexington.