George C. Scott on Robert E. Lee

Lee Chapel at the W&L Chapel

October 12, 2020, is the 150th commemorative date of the death of Robert Edward Lee in Lexington, Virginia.

“This is Election-Year America,” pronounced George C. Scott on the Today show in the spring of 1976, from a script he had written himself. A native of Wise County, Virginia, who had, for a time, attended the Virginia Military Academy, Scott led an on-camera personal tour of the Washington and Lee Campus and the downtown area. He stopped at Stonewall Jackson’s grave, walked past the President’s House, coursed into the Chapel, and stood beside Valentine’s recumbent statue of Lee as he continued with these words: 

This is 20th-century, thermo-nuclear, porno-liberated, cokey-alky, oligarchy, in-order-to-get-mine-I-gotta-grind-you America.
    What are you and I supposed to learn from or feel about the world and the character of a man like R. E. Lee?
    He’s cold. We’re cool
    He’s passe. We’re avant.
    He’s out of it. We’re up to here in it.
    Well, there are a few qualities this remarkable creature had which may serve us too, if we consider them.
    Quiet good humor.
    Adoration of children.
    Respect for hard work.
    Dedication to an ideal.
    Love of animals.
    Appreciation of duly constituted authority–coupled with an abhorrence of authoritarianism.
    A devotion to history, for, as General Lee said, “It is history that teaches hope.”
    Gentleness, and the aspiration to achieve gentlemanliness.
    Understanding of the state of being young.
    Courtesy toward the conditional frailty of advanced age.
    Acceptance of responsibility.
    Personal integrity.

After Scott’s performance on Today, so many people approached W & L for a transcript of his narrative that the University sought and secured Scott’s permission to reprint it. (You can access a transcript here.)

4 Responses to George C. Scott on Robert E. Lee

  1. Many individuals are greater than the cause they are fighting for, and can bring out the better qualities in the men they fought alongside. Although the years after the war were sadly imperfect, in terms of racial reconciliation, I always believe they would descended into a regional bloodbath had not Lee, Johnston and Smith surrendered the way they did. They were never plaster saints. They never satisfied the Union victors who expected (and still expect) them to have joyously accepted the Union victory as they say amid the appalling physical ruins of defeat. But contrast the ending of our war with that of the Chinese and Russian Civil Wars, or the continuing European Civil War of the 20th Century, or the continuing horrors of Africa. Both in quality and quantity, the magnitude of violence was far less, if still a tragedy. For that, Lee (and Lincoln) and the others deserve our gratitude.

  2. And far less than the unending civil wars in Ireland from 1641 to 1921. In fact, after the 1640’s civil war in Ireland, decades of what we would today call guerilla warfare ensued.
    Tom Crane

  3. In my opinion, Robert E. Lee was one of the finest military commanders, and one of the finest gentleman that this country has ever produced. When you compare him to the two choices that
    we have for president in the approaching election, you have to ask yourself is this the best that
    we can do?

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