Defending R.E. Lee

The campaign against one of the greatest Americans ever continues. The Richmond-area Boy Scouts have stripped Robert E. Lee's name from their uniforms, title, and logo.

How sad, given that Lee's life, and the maxims by which he lived, are exactly what the growing generation of boys in this country needs.

Everyone knows why the Scouts dropped the name, but the reason is unimportant. The important thing is the example of manhood of which the Scouts are deprived.

Lee's Life

Many have used superlatives to describe Lee. Lee was "the most perfect man I have ever met … made of different and finer metal than other men," one admirer said. "He is an epistle," said another, "written of God."

Lee lived by the code of honor and chivalry. He embodied dignity, manly bearing, and valor. A pious Christian, his principal object was doing God's will.

Lee's code can be found in a small volume called The Maxims of Robert E. Lee for Young Gentlemen, published by Virginia Gentlemen Books and the source of the quote used here.

A humble man, Lee once said, "I know of nothing good I could tell you of myself." Indeed, he would likely say the Scouts should have taken a different man's name.

As president of Washington College, he shaped the lives of many young men. "You cannot be a true man," he told his students, "unless you learn to obey."

"Study hard," he told them, "be always a gentleman, live cleanly and remember God." And he once told Stonewall Jackson's minister, "I dread the thought of any student going away from the college without becoming a sincere Christian."

"Do your duty," he wrote to son Custis. "That is all the pleasure, all the comfort, all the glory we can enjoy in this world."

"We must all try to be good Christians," he said to a 5-year-old boy, "that is the most important thing."

The stories that demonstrate Lee's character are legion and cannot be repeated here.

Whom Would They Revere?

Boy Scouts should be clamoring to adopt Lee's name.

But no. They erased it.

And to be replaced by whom? Arthur Ashe, a tennis player? There's a statue of him in Richmond. How about Abe Lincoln, the American man-god, whom we are supposed to worship with sacrilegious veneration, and whose effigy recently arose amid the streets of Richmond?

Perhaps the Scouts can learn to emulate him.

Perhaps they will learn to regale their friends with jokes so filthy the women and children must leave the room, or to laugh at the misfortune of others, as Lincoln laughed when Gen. Sherman told him about burning Georgia. Perhaps they will learn to lie and exhibit false piety.

What A Boy Scout Should Be

Modern Scouts likely never learned much about Lee, but removing his name certainly won't help matters. Lee's example is sorely, desperately needed in a society that produces video games in which men maim women, and music videos in which singers gleefully advocate rape and murder.

What kind of boy was Lee?

"He was a most exemplary student," a teacher said. "He was never behind-time in his studies; never failed a single recitation; was perfectly observant of the rules and regulations of the institution; was gentle, manly, unobtrusive, and respectful in all his deportment to this teachers and his fellow students."

Sounds like what a Boy Scout should be.

May 17, 2003

Syndicated columnist R. Cort Kirkwood [send him mail] is managing editor of the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Va.

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