I agree with the conclusion of The Post's June 18 editorial, "Portrait of Gen. Lee," but I question some of the statements that precede it, such as, "It's good that people are arguing over him."
Those doing the arguing usually have less interest in clarifying history than in promoting their own agendas. Often, they also are those least qualified to make pronouncements about historical questions.
The editorial also says of Lee, "His racial views were not advanced." By today's standards neither were those of Abraham Lincoln or Woodrow Wilson. Eminent historians, however, have pointed out the unworthiness of judging the past by the present. In "The March of Folly," Barbara Tuchman quotes an English historian to the effect that, "Nothing is more unfair than to judge men of the past by the ideas of the present."
And the eminent American historian of Harvard University, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who also was a liberal Democrat associated with the Kennedy administration, points out that "history is not therapy." Our officials should leave the fighting over a historical figure to the academics or the fine arts commissions and should instead be arguing about how to solve the problems of today.
A. DANE BOWEN Jr.
"Portrait of Gen. Lee" is a fair, balanced presentation of the spat taking place in Richmond over the display of the general in a mural along the newly opened Canal Walk.
I take exception on only two points. First, Robert E. Lee was a planter only to the extent that he tried to get the Custis farms on a paying basis during leaves of absence in the late 1850s. He was a professional soldier from the time of his graduation from the U.S. Military Academy in 1829 until the surrender of his army at Appomattox in April 1865.
Second, he was a slaveholder but had no moral tolerance of slavery, having stated in his only will, dated Aug. 31, 1846, that the family slaves were to be "liberated as soon as it can be done to their advantage & that of others."
In a letter of June 16, 1859, Lee advised the assistant adjutant general of the Army that he needed another extension of leave of absence from his regiment in Texas in order that he might sell the land and proceeds of the estate of his father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis of Arlington, and emancipate the slaves as soon as debts could be paid from the sales. The task was completed in 1863; Lee took the time to have the manumission recorded in a court in Richmond in spite of the heavy burdens placed on him as commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia.
If Gen. Lee's likeness is not restored as part of the murals depicting the history of Richmond, there will be a void in the presentation and thus a loss to the viewing public. Gen. Lee will lose nothing. His favorable place in history is secure.
ROBERT C. PENISTON