Sunday, December 26, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
I've just finished reading Robert E. Lee: A Life by Roy Blount, Jr. I don't really know Mr. Blount's political attitude. I presume it is left-leaning based on his close association with NPR. But I like his sense of humor and figured the book would be a good read. It is.
Mr. Blount's purpose might have been to strip General Lee of some of his iconic mystique and explore him as a person. I don't get the impression that Mr. Blount holds him in awe so much as in fascination. And I further get the idea that he really wants to find some dirt on Lee if there is any to find. If so, he finds none. You can't help but admire General Lee. He was imperfect, as befits a human, but he was also a great leader of men, brave, virtuous, and thoughtful.
And beautiful. Mr. Bount spends a great deal of time on General Lee's physical attributes, assembling a multitude of contemporaneous admirations of him from both men and women for both his handsome face and fine form of limb as well as his inspiring posture.
In the course of this pinup discourse on General Lee and speculation about even the male admiration for him physically, Mr. Blount makes a very telling statement: 'This was a time," he writes, "when homoeroticism was regarded as such an unspeakable abomination that a respectable man could indulge in it without being suspected of it."
How true! And how telling of our times. Other contemporary historians have even theorized that Abe Lincoln might have been homosexual. In the nineteenth century, no one questioned men sleeping together as Lincoln did with other penny-pinching lawyers traveling the judicial circuit in Kentucky. But somehow in today's jaundiced culture, such an event has to be homoerotic.
My guess is that the sleeping arrangement was quite unpleasant for all involved, especially the gangly Mr. Lincoln's bed partners, who had precious little space to sleep once he got under the covers. And given the sanitation of the times, let's not even think about the smells.
Be that as it may, now Congress has seen fit to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, to my mind the most practical accommodation of cultural mores in the military that could have existed. The policy recognized that different people have different tastes, but that in the military, consistency is a hallmark of discipline and personal tastes must take a back seat. What you do on your own time is your own business as long as it doesn't get in the way of the military life, so keep it discreet and we'll all get along.
Congress sees it differently. Congress (and a president like Obama), i.e. the federal government, is short on common sense. That's how they end up having hearings on doping in professional baseball. That's how they limit and prohibit oil drilling within our own lands and off our own coasts. That's how they refuse to protect our borders while practically strip searching grannies at airports. That's how they rationalize earmarks. How they raise taxes on the most productive and hand the proceeds out to the least productive. Insert your own example of their folly. There's at least one per day when they're on duty, especially in this lame duck session of Congress.
Mr. Lee was infamous not only for his military genius but also for his humility. He was not a stern leader; in fact, he was if anything lax in matters of discipline. (Read the book!) But he was a practical man and an effective leader. Is there anyone like him in a position of power today?