The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) was established in 1839 as one of the nation’s premier military colleges. It has, in fact, been called “The West Point of the South.” For more than 180 years, VMI has served as incubator of some of America’s most storied military careers. Famous alumni include men who have so well served their country in wartime: George Patton, Chesty Puller, George Marshall, and Walton Walker, among others.
This week, another fine product of the institute, Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, resigned as superintendent. Peay, a respected and highly decorated four-star Army general has been in his position for 17 years. But he has apparently lost the confidence of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. (He of the famous Black-face/Klan-robe” photoshoot).
One cannot help but suspect that part of the reason for Peay’s sudden ouster had to do with this decision back in July not to remove any of the school’s Confederate statues or rename any buildings. Wrote Gen. Peay then:
We do not currently intend to remove any VMI statues or rename any VMI buildings. Rather, in the future we will emphasize recognition of leaders from the Institute’s second century. We will place unvarnished context on the value and lessons to be learned from the Institute’s rich heritage, while being mindful of the nation’s challenges and sensitivities to being fair and inclusive to all.
This is all moot now as this decision was immediately overruled by the Board of Visitors while the ink on the former super’s resignation letter was still drying.
There are, at present, two statues of Confederates on the campus and one honoring the young members of the VMI who fought at the Battle of New Market—for the South, of course, as this is Virginia we’re talking about.
One of the generals, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, was even an instructor at the VMI before fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. His statue has been targeted for removal first. In an obnoxiously self-congratulatory announcement, the VMI Board of Visitors called this a “bold and unanimous action.” Bold? Hardly. Bold would have been resisting the pressure of nihilistic activists, as Gen. Peay did. Sacrificing nothing to curry favor with a vocal P.C. mob is the opposite of bold. It is another trait that I sure hope isn’t taught to VMI cadets as they are supposedly being prepared for battle.
This action is incongruous for a school that calls itself a military institute that happens to be in Virginia, as the Virginian Jackson was one of the greatest generals this nation has ever produced. His campaign in the Shenandoah Valley and fluid operations in northern Virginia during the spring and summer of 1862, not to mention his brilliant flank attack against a superior Union army at Chancellorsville in May 1863 (where he was accidentally shot by his own men and later died) are legendary; they are analyzed by students of the military arts to this day. One would assume that goes for the cadets of the VMI, as well. The irony of removing his statue, “bold” or not, from this place, is plain to see.
There are legitimate arguments for eradicating Confederate statues from the public square, and I have come down on the side of these views…as I have said, I cannot understand how degrading and infuriating it might be for African-Americans to have to walk the streets of their own city where they pay taxes and see the homages to the men who fought to enslave them. It is an understandable objection. And so compromises have been discussed, including moving them to museums, or places where they have meaning, such as the battlefields on which they fought, where their stories are integral to understanding the historical events that took place there.
One must also think that a military college would fall under the category of just such context. Jackson, as I said, was a great general. And he also has a connection to VMI. Yes, like many in Virginia at that time, Jackson did own slaves. But he was also, by accounts of his former slaves, a kind master. Of course, this does not excuse the practice, or his part in it, but it should be noted Jackson was a fervent Christian who, according to The Washington Times, “struggled with the morality of a system that enslaved men and women with whom he shared a brotherhood as children of a loving God. Yet those same Scriptures that taught salvation also recorded centuries of slaveholding all over the world, which provided Jackson with the simplistic rationale that if it was condoned by the Bible, it must be acceptable.”
However, Jackson also defied Virginia law by founding and financially supporting, even from the front, a Sunday school for slave children. Teaching slaves to read and write was anathema in the antebellum South. Yet Jackson, believing that all God’s children should be taught the Bible and Christ’s ways, ignored the law, placing himself at risk of arrest.
Again, do not think this is in any way a Lost Cause justification for so wicked a system. It does, however, show us that often good men are the unwitting and inescapable products of their times…and this includes being born and raised in Virginia at a time that perfectly intersected with slavery and secession. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, were also Virginians who practiced slavery, but in an earlier age where they were placed in a position to create, rather than try to tear asunder, a great republic. They have monuments in our capital. But who is to say that, had Washington been born in 1832 rather than 1732, he would not have joined his beloved state of Virginia, as Jackson and Lee had, and lead a Southern army in her defense? Or, for that matter, what if Patton had been born in a previous era?
Is the accident of the timing of one’s birth the reason for whether or not they deserve remembrance…especially a military icon on the campus of a military institution? So one may study Jackson’s tactics apparently, but never be confronted with his image to and from the classroom in which the general’s lessons are taught? Is this not excess, as always is the case with social justice warriors? For them it is about the next struggle. There is no finish line because inoffensive utopia is unattainable in this world. The fact is there are no purely good people. Everyone, from the saints to the sinners, has flaws. At what point do we put them in context and stop this mad purification that will leave us with nothing but statues of Rosa Parks and Mother Theresa?
It should be noted that, in 1906, long after Jackson’s death, Rev. L. L. Downing, whose parents had been among the slaves in Jackson’s Sunday school, raised money to have a memorial window dedicated to him in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church of Roanoke, Virginia. If an African-American church can look past the sins to the decency of the inner man, cannot a military establishment give the same courtesy to one of their own?
One can understand, even if they do not agree with, removing Jackson’s statue from a public park or thoroughfare. But for the morality police, American history and the statues and monuments to those who made it happen are ripe for the picking. Do not be surprised if Leland Stanford, California’s viciously anti-Asian governor whose name is on a certain other institution, is targeted next. Woodrow Wilson certainly must be wiped clean of the collective conscience. Should Ford Motor Co. change its name to Schindler? Are we to go down the list of every American who, by accident of their births, lived their lives before the March on Selma? When does this end? It doesn’t, of course. It is the act of revolution that is the end in and of itself. To remove this most celebrated of military geniuses from the grounds of a most revered military college—one in which he was a faculty member no less—is the classic case of what another military man, Gen. Mark Clark, said of his soldiers’ lot, although in this case it is the social justice warrior. “Behind every hill is another river; and behind every river is another hill.”
Perhaps in places like the VMI, men like Stonewall Jackson should remain visible as reminders of what they have to teach those who are preparing to engage in another brutal practice: doing violence on our behalf. I’d rather know the man or woman walking the wall knows more about how Jackson stood his ground at Antietam, than whether or not in another time, in a different age, he did something immoral…something that person walking the wall may very well have also done had he/she lived when and where Stonewall did. There is a difference between taking an honest account of men’s lives, including their sins, and willy-nilly banishing them from collective memory. Maybe this is something Gen. Peay instinctively understood. And now he is gone. And I cannot help but think that, in a small way, this diminishes the prowess of the VMI. I guess we will find out when the bullets start flying. By then it may be too late.
Brad Schaeffer is a commodities trader, columnist, and author of the acclaimed World War II novel Of Another Time And Place.
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The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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