While I’m thinking of Richard Weaver, let me recommend his essay “Lee the Philosopher,” originally published in the Georgia Review in 1948 but available online—with a few glaring text recognition errors—here. Writing at a time when the United Nations was brand new and Stalin and Mao’s project of overthrowing the Chinese government had not yet succeeded, Weaver reflects on what a few of Robert E. Lee’s gnomic sayings reveal about the depths of that most handsome and inscrutable man.
One of the deepest, and most poignant, is Lee’s famous remark—recorded in a few slightly different versions—made from the heights overlooking the battlefield at Fredericksburg: “It is well this is terrible; otherwise we should grow fond of it.”
Weaver in “Lee the Philosopher”:
What is the meaning? It is richer than a Delphic saying.
Here is a poignant confession of mankind’s historic ambivalence toward the institution of war, its moral revulsion against the immense destructiveness, accompanied by a fascination with the “greatest of all games.” As long as people relish the idea of domination, there will be those who love this game. It is fatuous to say, as is being said now, that all men want peace. Men want peace part of the time, and part of the time they want war. Or, if we may shift to the single individual, part of him wants peace and another part wants war, and it is upon the resolution of this inner struggle that our prospect of general peace depends, as MacArthur so wisely observed upon the decks of the Missouri. The cliches of modern thought have virtually obscured this commonplace of human psychology, and world peace programs take into account everything but this tragic flaw in the natural man—the temptation to appeal to physical superiority. There is no political structure which knaves cannot defeat, and subtle analyses of the psyche may prove of more avail than schemes for world parliament. In contrast with the empty formulations of propagandists, Lee’s saying suggests the concrete wisdom of a parable.
Take some time to read the whole essay. You can read it at the link above or a few other places online, or collected in The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver, an insightful and beautifully written compilation of pieces on various aspects of historical Southern culture, politics, and belief.
And if you’re wondering why, after all this time, people are still invested in Lee and find him fascinating, what strange deeper resonance he has within the mind of the South, here’s Weaver again in The Southern Tradition at Bay, the doctoral thesis that eventually became his first published book:
Military history and autobiography bulk very large in Southern ‘literature,’ and no one acquainted with the history of the South will omit the influence of the soldier. Indeed, an inventory of the mind of the soldier is very nearly an inventory of the Southern mind.