McLaughlin does not dispute that Lee was a cruel slavemaster who engaged in dubious interpretation of his father-in-law’s will to maintain possession of his slaves until a court ruled against him; that Lee betrayed his country in defense of slavery; that Lee turned a blind eye to the massacres and humiliations of black soldiers by his subordinates; that Lee kidnapped free blacks and returned them to slavery during his invasion of the North; that Lee publicly opposed the rights of the freedmen after the war; or that Lee, as president of Washington College, turned a blind eye to his students engaging in racist terrorism while punishing them harshly for trying to take extra time off on Christmas. Indeed, McLaughlin concedes, “Lee was no hero; he fought for an unjust cause, and he lost.”
McLaughlin does not dispute that the myth of Lee’s grace is a central part of the Lost Cause ideology used to justify racial apartheid in the South after Reconstruction, or that monuments, including the recently removed statue of Lee in New Orleans, were erected as symbols of white supremacy.
One might that, believing all of this to be true, McLaughlin would agree with me that Lee is not worthy of a statue in a place of honor, and that removing such statues is no tragedy. Instead, McLaughlin defends Lee’s record as military strategist. Even if he were correct on every point, it would say nothing about whether Lee himself is worth honoring. Benedict Arnold was also a talented general; Americans do not erect memorials to him in their public squares.