Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

In defence of General Lee

Sir: In your leader 'America's identity crisis' (19 August) you state that 'When General Lee emerged as a leader of that rebellion [the secession of the Southern states], we said that he had no cause that stood up to scrutiny.' The irony is that Lee did not disagree with that view. Unlike Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders, he was opposed to secession and believed that the Union should be kept intact.

Nor was he an enthusiast for slavery. A slave owner by proxy, he appears to have loathed the experience. In 1856 he wrote to his wife saying that 'In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country.' He supported his wife and her mother in their campaign to liberate slaves, and helped his wife and daughter to set up an illegal school for slaves at Arlington. All the Arlington slaves were freed in 1862.

These factors, his military genius and his reputation as a fine 'Southern gentleman' meant that Lee was admired almost as much in the North as in Dixie and was a unifying force after the war. In 1962 a Barracks at West Point was named for him.

So it is all the sadder, as you argue, that Lee has become politicised and a victim of 'identity politics'. As ever, you have to ask how much history those on either the right or the left of these arguments actually know.

Patrick Brooks

Chudleigh, Devon

A medieval practice

Sir: Julie Bindel's article (The 'sex worker' myth, 19 August) underlines the fact that men are prostitution's driving force and that they have society's protection, unlike the women they use. What kind of message does legalising prostitution send? That it is perfectly acceptable for women to sell their bodies. It promotes the idea that women are just 'pieces of meat', it brutalises men, and it debases sex itself.

In the future we will look back on the practice of allowing women's bodies to be bought as truly medieval.

Lorna Currie Thomopoulos

Woking, Surrey

Decriminalisation works

Sir: Julie Bindel's assertion that decriminalising sex work in Australia has not had a positive effect on HIV transmission is surprising. Sex work was decriminalised at the onset of the Aids epidemic in the 1980s, and Australia has been consistently admired in Asia for its low transmission figures. Equally surprising is the assertion that it has not had a positive effect on murder outcomes. In Sydney, sex workers have managed with ease to sustain charges of assault and rape against unruly clients. No sex workers have been murdered in brothels. In the unlikely case that it should happen in the future, brothel owners would probably lose both their licence and most of their clientele.

Michael Rolfe

Hunter's Hill, New South Wales

Universal racism

Sir: Carola Binney's discovery during her teaching year in China that racism was endemic ('Beyond the pale', 19 August) doesn't surprise me at all. In the early 1970s, I used to teach black African children in Botswana. I soon realised that while my students were (rightly) indignant about the racist treatment of blacks by whites in the neighbouring apartheid state of South Africa, where many of their parents had to work, they were oblivious to the fact that they themselves treated the indigenous Kalahari bushmen with equal contempt and regarded them as inferior.

Racism is a universal human construct and we should not be surprised that rapidly industrialising countries like China and India (with its institutionally racist caste system) have not yet fully come to terms with their own indigenous racism as we have tried to do in the West.

Stan Labovitch


Scaredy dons

Sir: While agreeing completely with Ashley Writtle ('Varsity Blues', 19 August), the most interesting thing about his article was his use of a pseudonym. …

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