Author Topic: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee  (Read 151 times)

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Offline velkyn

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myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« on: Yesterday at 02:26:32 PM »
a particularly good article on the myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee and the nonsense of the "lost cause" myth of the confederacy.


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Every state that seceded mentioned slavery as the cause in their declarations of secession. Lee’s beloved Virginia was no different, accusing the federal government of “perverting” its powers “not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.” Lee’s decision to fight for the South can only be described as a choice to fight for the continued existence of human bondage in America—even though for the Union, it was not at first a war for emancipation.

During his invasion of Pennsylvania, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia enslaved free blacks and brought them back to the South as property. Pryor writes that “evidence links virtually every infantry and cavalry unit in Lee’s army” with the abduction of free black Americans, “with the activity under the supervision of senior officers.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/06/the-myth-of-the-kindly-general-lee/529038/

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #1 on: Yesterday at 08:42:56 PM »
Informative read; thanks, velkyn. A more complete picture of Lee than I've gotten before. For instance, making it clear that famous line about slavery being "... a moral & political evil in any Country." is a quote mine:
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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. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.

From one of the linked articles:http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/08/arlington-bobby-lee-and-the-peculiar-institution/61428/
Quote
The entangled lives of the slaves and their masters, the emotional, historical, sexual, and communal connections, could mean only one thing: that these beings were equal as part of mankind; equal in their human instincts, passions, desires, and inclinations, including the desire for self-determination. Equal, as Lincoln said, in the "right to eat the bread without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns. . . ." Capable, as George Washington finally realized, "of a destiny different from that in  which they were born." Robert E. Lee would never cross this threshold. He could embrace the need for justice, but it was a justice defined by unjust principles. His racism and his limited imagination meant that he never admitted the humanity of the slaves with whom he lived. In avoiding that truth, he bound himself to slavery's inhumanity.
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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #2 on: Yesterday at 10:19:24 PM »
Let's not forget that Lincoln himself was far from humane by modern standards.  It is true that he was opposed to slavery, but his ideal solution would have been shipping all the freed slaves off to Liberia, not allowing them to continue living in America.  In fact, he wrote this in 1854[1]:

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What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery, at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon. What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially, our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not.
In other words, Lincoln was not much better than Lee for his time.  It's easy to forget that the idea of giving black people full political and social equality was pretty much unacceptable during the time before the Civil War.  The ones who supported it were considered wild-eyed radicals like Frederick Douglass and John Brown.

Neither Lee nor Lincoln, nor most people of their time, can be held up as moral signposts for our time.
 1. https://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/slavery.htm
« Last Edit: Yesterday at 10:31:19 PM by jaimehlers »
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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #3 on: Yesterday at 11:11:51 PM »
So then, the solution is clear.

Remove all statues and memorials of all those who did not vociferously defend the inherent rights and equality of all people in action and in words.
« Last Edit: Yesterday at 11:24:18 PM by Mr. Blackwell »
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Offline Azdgari

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #4 on: Today at 03:08:56 AM »
What is your genuine idea of a solution, Mr. B.?
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #5 on: Today at 04:09:31 AM »
I doubt you'll find many statues (if any!) of people who shared the same socio-political attitudes that are approved of today.  Further back you go, the worse that will be.

So perhaps Mr.Blackwell is right - either we DO remove all statues.....or, we accept that while an individual may well have held views that are today considered wrong, the statue is celebrating their achievements - in Lee's case, of being generally a brilliant military commander.
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #6 on: Today at 05:40:32 AM »
So then, the solution is clear.

Remove all statues and memorials of all those who did not vociferously defend the inherent rights and equality of all people in action and in words.
Disagree.  First off, that's not a clear solution at all, and second, the 'simplicity' of such a solution is patently absurd.

People can come up with rationalizations for why we should put up statues for someone every day of the week and twice on Sunday, you know, but the question we should be asking is why certain groups wanted those statues were put up in the first place, not the reason they publicly gave to sell it.

Even if Lee was a brilliant military general, why does that mean he should get a statue?  And at the end of the day, Lee lost.  Frankly, he was fighting subpar generals and even so, lost badly to a flagrantly subpar general (McClellan) and a so-so general (Meade) on the two occasions he invaded Northern states.  Yeah, he fought acceptably well on the defensive.  But it's relatively easy to fight on the defensive, especially with the advantages of the rifles at the time.  So why should he get a statue for being a "brilliant military general" when he wasn't all that brilliant?
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #7 on: Today at 06:20:38 AM »
....the question we should be asking is why certain groups wanted those statues were put up in the first place, not the reason they publicly gave to sell it.....

Hmm.  I'd be very interested as to how you'd make that determination! 

We can indeed have our suspicions as to what the "real" meaning was, but I think its very shaky ground to start proclaiming "you said this, but I know you meant that - so that's what I will base my decisions on".

(Regarding Lee's military career, his armies were outnumbered for the vast majority of the Civil War engagements (in some cases knocking on for being outnumbered 2:1) and had a pretty good record against Grant, for example, nor did he do too badly in the Mexican-American war.  I don't think it would be a stretch to say that without Lee, the Union would have won the war earlier.  So I think there's at least a reasonable case for him to be "statued" for his military career - but that's probably not really the point!)

Always a tricky one with Civil Wars, as opposed to where "our brave lads" marched off to fight "those evil swines" from other countries!  In the UK, we've got statues dotted about to both Cromwell and to Charles 1, both of whom can have good and bad things said about them.  My main point though was that if we delve into the background or personal opinions of everyone we have even built a statue to, we would be hard-pressed to find any that - in all or even most respects - share our modern sensibilities.
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Offline jetson

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #8 on: Today at 08:02:02 AM »
Albert Einstein was partly responsible for some of the worst massacres of human life by advocating the use of atomic weapons. Some say the atomic bomb prevented more deaths than it created. But Einstein is celebrated for other accomplishments that seemingly outweigh his involvement in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

What is missing in what we learn about history and its most popular actors is balance. What is so wrong with pointing out everything we know and allowing people to decide on their own how they feel about certain historic actors? Do we all have to celebrate Einstein's accomplishments and ignore his role in the deaths of so many civilians? Do we just continue to brush that off as though it is a better truth?

One of the biggest problems with the United States is that it consistently fails to admit to its own mistakes and decisions that caused real harm. As far as I'm concerned, it makes us better and helps the healing to admit when we're wrong. Hiding those truths is probably harmful in the long run (as in our history of racism and NAtive American genocide).

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #9 on: Today at 08:29:57 AM »
Actually, most of the Southern generals were better, by comparison, than the Northern ones.  The two best Northern generals, Grant and Sherman, had far less military experience than virtually all of the Southerners.  Most of the other Northern generals weren't all that good.  Meade was one of the better ones but he was still fairly average.

In addition, rifles give a substantial advantage to the defender.  So do fortifications (even battlefield fortifications).  There's a reason that the North won both Antietam and Gettysburg, both of which were defensive battles, and it certainly wasn't the caliber of the commanding Northern generals.  Especially McClellan, who was next to incompetent when it came to tactics and strategy.  I'll grant that he got lucky by finding a copy of Lee's battle plans, but when you get right down to it, he still won.

And don't make too much of how long the war took either.  The Anaconda Plan, proposed by Winfield Scott, which ended up being pretty much the way the North ultimately won, was in no way intended to be fast.  I couldn't find anything on how long it was expected to take, but given the state of the Northern army and navy, I would be really surprised to find that it would have been less than three years under the best possible circumstances.  Attacking across Virginia, by comparison, was just plain stupid, due to the rivers and the topography.  It would not have taken a military genius to hold against incompetently-led Union forces, as most of them were until Grant.

And even though Grant wasn't all that good, he still beat Lee into the ground in less than a year, through little but numbers and refusing to quit.  It certainly wasn't through military strategy or acumen.  So let's not spend too much time complimenting Lee in winning against incompetent or marginally competent Northern generals.  Was he good at his trade?  Yes.  Does he deserve to be remembered for it?  Yes.  But it's very debatable whether he kept the South alive much longer than it would have survived anyway.  I doubt any of the Northern generals before Grant could have successfully prosecuted a campaign in Virginia even against a Southern general not of Lee's caliber, unless they were down near McClellan's level, and without the defeats in Antietam and Gettysburg (because Lee took chances to try to win the war (, the South might have lasted longer against Grant.



How would I make that determination?  First off, I'd look at when the statue was put in place.  Second, I'd look at who put it in place and who paid for it.  Third, I'd look at the dedication for the statue and any inscriptions on it.  And fourth, I'd consider who is using it as a rallying point today, and why.

Dollars get you doughnuts those could give you a good idea what the original intention of putting the statue up was.  Maybe not so much the last one but it should still be considered.



jetson also makes a good point here.  Hitler was a monster in many ways, but he still pulled Germany out of the Great Depression.  If he had died of a heart attack in, say, 1936 or 1937, he would be remembered very differently today.
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Offline stuffin

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #10 on: Today at 08:51:10 AM »
So then, the solution is clear.

Remove all statues and memorials of all those who did not vociferously defend the inherent rights and equality of all people in action and in words.

That is the problem with putting up statues and monuments to people; We all know no matter how good people are there is always a dark side to a person.

Another issue is the time these people (Lee/Lincoln ) lived in, it was normal for white (wealthier) people to see slaves (black people) as inferior, we all would have thought along these lines if we lived back then. I think we need to proceed with caution when we judge them using the morals of today. I'm not saying their views were right but we must understand the perspective of the time. That fact that we still have people who maintain that perspective is what I find troubling.

Also, my HS history teacher taught his class that Lee was a remarkable General. He would never fight on Sundays, always took his troops out of harms way and would bring them back to fight come Monday. Not sure how true that was. Also, he claimed Lee was a great strategist and won many battles he shouldn't have. But, reading about him recently, because of the recent events in C-ville, I kind of doubt he was a as Great General as my HS history claimed.
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Offline velkyn

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #11 on: Today at 09:59:50 AM »
the SPLC has this report:  https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/whoseheritage_splc.pdf

and it indicates that the statues were by and large not put up by southerners to honor their heroes, but by people decades latter who were doing their best to remove the rights from African Americans.

Quote
Two distinct periods saw a significant rise in the dedication of monuments and other symbols. The first began around 1900, amid the period in which states were enacting Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise the newly freed African Americans and re-segregate society. This spike lasted well into the 1920s, a period that saw a dramatic resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been born in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. The second spike began in the early 1950s and lasted through the 1960s, as the civil rights movement led to a backlash among segregationists.


addendum: apparently Lee did fight on Sundays: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Days_Battles 
« Last Edit: Today at 10:05:29 AM by velkyn »
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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #12 on: Today at 11:38:40 AM »
Here is Robert E Lee's opinion on Confederate (and Civil War) monuments, written in 1869.

http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=/xml_docs/valley_news/newspaper_catalog.xml&style=/xml_docs/valley_news/news_cat.xsl&level=edition&paper=rv&year=1869&month=09&day=03&edition=rv1869/va.au.rv.1869.09.03.xml

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Gen. Lee was invited and forwarded the following reply:

Lexington, VA., August 5, 1869.

Dear Sir--Absence from Lexington has prevented my receiving until to-day your letter of the 26th ult., inclosing an invitation from the Gettysburg Battle-field Memorial Association, to attend a meeting of the officers engaged in that battle at Gettysburg, for the purpose of marking upon the ground by enduring memorials of granite the positions and movements of the armies on the field. My engagements will not permit me to be present. I believe if there, I could not add anything material to the information existing on the subject. I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered. Very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
R. E. Lee.
« Last Edit: Today at 11:40:23 AM by jaimehlers »
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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #13 on: Today at 05:57:17 PM »
Here's an addendum to my earlier post about Lee's ability on the battlefield.  Most of the legend of his prowess comes from the fact that he kept beating back larger Union armies in defending Virginia.  And that's fair, except that you have to consider that the generals in charge of those offensives were a sorry pack of semi-competents.  McClellan was one of the worst generals on the Union side, for example.

This was proved be the battle of Antietam.  McClellan had advance knowledge of Lee's tactics, and still moved like an arthritic snail.  He still won.  Antietam almost destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia; it suffered over 10,000 losses, more than a quarter of it's total effective force.  The Union army suffered sightly higher losses, but it was a far smaller proportion of it's total numbers.  The Union army already outnumbered Lee's by more than double; after the battle, it was closer to 2.5 times.

Only McClellan's sluggardness allowed Lee and his army to escape, letting the best chance for an early victory slip away.  Now imagine Grant being in charge of that battle.  He would have broken Lee's army like a rotten twig.  It might have ended the war right then and there; it certainly would have shortened it drastically.

Just some food for thought.
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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #14 on: Today at 07:10:55 PM »
What is your genuine idea of a solution, Mr. B.?

Either leave them all up but put another statue or plaque beside them that expose the truth of the matter or take them all down and put them in a national museum.

I'm not buying the slippery slope argument of Donald Trump or his ilk but he did make a valid point no matter how retarded the messenger is. How far back do we want to scrub our racist, misogynistic slave holding past? I understand many people want to get rid of the statues that glorify the confederates. Hell, Baltimore just removed a statue of Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney. He had nothing to do with the confederacy but he wrote the majority opinion for the Dred Scott case. By this logic, all the other Justices who voted in the majority of that case should have their statues removed...if there are any.

Look at William T. Sherman, one of the great Heroes of the Civil War. After the war he was put in charge of the interior to deal with the Indian problem. He and Gen. Sheridan were largely responsible for breaking the will of the plains Indians to get them to resign themselves to their designated reservations. His idea was to destroy all the buffalo so that the Indians would have no choice but to submit.

So, yeah...he fought on the side that freed the slaves then went on to enslave the Indians.

He's got a few statues sitting around.

So. Are we just going to focus on the southern confederates who fought the Union?

What exactly are we trying to accomplish by destroying statues?

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Offline velkyn

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #15 on: Today at 07:22:16 PM »
Mr. B, I'm not sure where you get the idea that if statues are removed, we are somehow ignoring the past.  Those statues in question were an attempt to revise history and make the confederates seem like heroes when they were anything but.  They were traitors, and they were killing others because they felt that they had to own other human beings. 

I think that statues of Sheridan, etc should also be torn down if they make a hero out of a villain.  Sherman, Sheridan, etc have to be judged on what the statue is showing, why it was put up and consideration of what was done in their lives.  It is no simple answer in many cases, but in the case of the Confederates, most, if not all of them, were famous *only* for what they did in the USCW and they were put up to make a false claim in support of Jim Crow laws and resistance to civil rights. 
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Offline One Above All

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #16 on: Today at 07:39:23 PM »
Removing statues is not at attempt at rewriting history.
Teaching children that slavery played no role in the USA's civil war is an attempt to rewrite history.
Teaching children that the south didn't lose the civil war is an attempt to rewrite history.
Teaching children that secession and sparking a civil war is not treason is an attempt to rewrite history (as well as the constitution of the USA; IIRC that's where the tidbit about secession being a treasonous offense is).

People want to remove a statue. This does not change what happened, and it certainly doesn't keep people from learning what happened. People don't go to statues to learn history. If they want to learn history, they read books or talk to old people.
Other people want to teach their children lies because it suits their agenda. This is an actual attempt at changing the facts.
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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #17 on: Today at 07:57:44 PM »
I think that statues of Sheridan, etc should also be torn down if they make a hero out of a villain.  Sherman, Sheridan, etc have to be judged on what the statue is showing, why it was put up and consideration of what was done in their lives.

I think it's worse to glorify someone for their good deeds if they are not also recognized for their evil deeds. It's like hiding skeletons in the closet. The Catholic church does that sort of thing in order to protect their image.
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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #18 on: Today at 08:57:23 PM »
Grant refused to have a mural of Lee's surrender painted on the Capitol Rotunda.  Lee refused to go to Gettysburg to help memorialize that battle.  Both of them knew what many fail to ever grasp - that war is not something to be memorialized, but to be regretted and put behind us as fast as possible.

I learned all about the Civil War without ever once seeing any of the statues or memorials.  I did get to visit both Antietam and Gettysburg once.  But I didn't do it to see statues.  I saw it because I wanted to learn more about America's most brutal war, which still has the most deaths of any war America has ever fought in.  Well over 600,000 battlefield deaths.  Like having 9/11 happen, over and over again, more than 200 times in total.

And now, we stand on the brink of another civil war because of people who never learned that lesson of history and never learned the one taught in WWII.  Who seek to use statues put in place to glorify a failed cause well after it was lost to justify their own vile desire to kill anyone who doesn't happen to fit their belief of what an American should be.  Who are apparently intent on dragging America through another hellish civil war, one which will be far deadlier than the last simply because of how much more deadly the weapons are, for their putrid ideology.

I would give almost anything if it stopped this war I can see coming as plain as day.  If it could stop all the future Charlottesvilles where the ideologues responsible plan to do even worse to terrify and kill whoever they need to in order to bring everyone else to heel.  But until the rest of America decides stands up for the future and stand against our hateful past, against the kind of people who think the people that murderous racist hurt and killed with his car are nothing more than dangerous animals who can be killed at will.  That's from an interview with one of the other racists who brought no less than four guns plus a knife to this 'peaceful' rally and who gloated about how they'd attempt to do better than Charlottesville next time.  It's at the tail end of the video clip I'm about to post, an embedded reporter who caught what these people were really saying, what they were really trying to do, what they really believe.

https://youtu.be/P54sP0Nlngg

It's over 20 minutes long, but I recommend watching the whole thing, as sickening as it is.
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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #19 on: Today at 09:06:55 PM »
When Donald Trump was talking over the weekend, a reporter asked whether Donald thinks statues of Robert E. Lee should stay up.  Donald said "I would say that's up to a local town, community, or the federal government depending on where it is located."

So today local governments started removing statues, including the Robert E. Lee statue, where currently tonight a few thousand young folks have come together singing.

Someone said, a majority of German families wouldn't like having an Adolf Hitler elementary school. 

If these statues upset African Americans and enough people agree, they should be taken down. To continue Trump's point, if we get to the point where enough Americans are angry at what George Washington or Thomas Jefferson represent- which obviously is in no way the current situation - then those symbols should and will be removed also.
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Re: myth of a humane General Robert E. Lee
« Reply #20 on: Today at 09:42:34 PM »
Exodus 20:4King James Version (KJV)
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

If we are going to be iconoclasts, lets do it for everything.
« Last Edit: Today at 09:44:17 PM by Mr. Blackwell »
When I criticize political parties or candidates, I am not criticizing you. If I criticize you, there will be no doubt in your mind as to what I am saying.