09:21:23 am on
Monday 15 Jul 2024

In Proper Perspective
AJ Robinson

When I was an early teenager, I received a gift, the unusual and remarkable Book of Lists (1977), by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace. As you might imagine, it held lists, every page had a new list. I enjoyed it.

The lists were awesome.

I don’t know why I enjoyed Lists so much. Perhaps it appealed to my autism. It did have awesome lists.

Starting on page 37 was a list of “9 Outstanding Winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor.” Starting on page 219 was “The Catholic Index of Forbidden Books: 37 censored writers,” which included Victor Hugo, John Milton and Jean-Paul Sartre. Starting on page 338 was a list of “2 Men Who Posed as Women and 9 Women Who Posed as Men;” then entry for Dr James Barry was most interesting.

There was a list of people who were the real-life inspirations for fictional characters, physicians that tried to get away with murder, the shortest wars in history and so on. There was one list I found particularly interesting. It was the list of generals studied at West Point Military Academy, which included General Robert E Lee and German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.

I found that list surprising. Not only did Lee and Rommel both lose, but they were both on the side of the Bad Guys, as judged by history. On reflection, I understood why the West Point curriculum included them.

Both Lee and Rommel fought with honour and distinction, sometimes against fearful odds and, yet, managed to keep their command intact and find some victories. Lee won battles right up until his surrender at Appomattox and perhaps his finest hour was at a defeat.

At Gettysburg, when Pickett’s Charge was virtually annihilated and the men staggered back to the Confederate lines, Lee rode out to meet them. “All of this,” he said, “is my fault.” He said he included that fact in his report to the Confederate President when he offered to resign.

Such is the act of a true leader. Now, some might argue victories Lee enjoyed were due more to the incompetence of his opponents than his brilliance. That may be, but there’s no denying that he fought from a difficult position for several years and, yet, managed to lead his army to overcome many obstacles.

It’s with good reason candidates at West Point study the strategies and tactics of Lee and those of Rommel as well as Hannibal. Hannibal fought for years while deep in enemy territory, the Roman Republic; his troops lived off the land, as no supplies arrived from home, Carthage, yet he never lost a battle.

Hannibal has the most decisive victory in the history of warfare.

The Battle of Cannae stands as perhaps the greatest victory, ever. Modern generals have studied it for decades and often tried to re-create it. As a side note, I make use of the strategy in one of my time travel novels.

Yet, if you look around the cities of the United States and Germany, which country has statues and monuments commemorating the losers of their wars? There’s no Hitler Army Base in Berlin, no Goering Air Force Base in Bonn and, certainly, no shrines or other items to honour these men.

It is possible to remember generals, such as Rommel and Lee, in proper perspective. Hitler was a monster, Goering an idiot sycophant and Goebbels a sniveling weasel. Rommel a brilliant general who even Winston Churchill said was deserving of our respect.

George Washington led our nation to liberty and helped set up our government. He set the tradition of a president only serving two terms. Yes, he was a slave owner.

In his will, Washington freed his slaves. Some might find that a weak afterthought, but it was in keeping with the laws and traditions of his era. He tried to work within the system to change it for the better.

Robert E Lee and others, however nobly we think of them, were traitors to our Constitution. So, when we talk of tearing down monuments to slaveholders and oppressors, I think we can make a distinction and preserve some of them. Some are worthy and to victor go the spoils, including their representation in statutes.

History books, not public statues, put losing generals in proper perspective.

As for the others, there’s always the history books. If we have history books, we can give proper honour to brave and noble historical figures of all ilk. It’s totalitarian to erase those with whom we disagree or did not, a hundred or more years, live by 2020 common sense. Understanding why these figures were wrong is most important. Those oblivious of history are doomed to repeat it.

Combining the gimlet-eye of Philip Roth with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Working, again, as an engineeer, after years out of the field due to 2009 recession and slow recovery, Robinson finds time to write. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true. His teen vampire adventure novel, "Vampire Vendetta," will publish in 2020. Robinson continues to write books, screenplays and teleplays and keeps hoping for that big break.

More by AJ Robinson:
Tell a Friend

Click above to tell a friend about this article.