Robert E. Lee: Saladin of the South

- September 6th, 2017

Here’s a little anecdote from Hollywood’s Golden Age that contains a lesson for us today. This is how the Egyptian scholar Amro Ali tells it:

Film titan Cecil DeMille opened up negotiations with King Farouk for permission to film in Egypt the epic story of Moses in “The Ten Commandments.” The King agreed but was then deposed in July 1952. DeMille had to engage in furious renegotiations with the new rulers, as the filming was set to start in the autumn of 1954.

A few months before that deadline, DeMille and his colleagues were taken in a state car to a military encampment where Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser himself “strode in, filling the tent with a blinding charisma that was all dark burning eyes, flashing white teeth, and impeccable English.”

DeMille was telling Nasser and Hakim Amer (Minister for War) why the film will be good, and they started to laugh uncontrollably. Nasser got hold of himself, and then burst out laughing again. To the incredulous look of DeMille.

“You tell them what you are laughing about!” Nasser ordered Amer.

After Amer caught his breath, he began: “Mr. DeMille … we grew up on your film ‘The Crusades,’ and we saw how you treated us and our religion. Our country is your country.”

The slightly longer version of what Amer said: “‘the Crusades’ was immensely popular here in Egypt. It ran for three years in the same theater in Cairo, and Col. Nasser and I saw it no less than twenty times. It was our favourite picture when we were attending military school. And Col. Nasser was called ‘Henry Wilcoxon’ by the other students because he would grow up to be a great military leader someday, just like Coeur-de-Lion.”

With that the deal was sealed, and Nasser’s army even acted as Pharaoh’s soldiers in the film. 

DeMille’s stalwart star (and later associate producer) Henry Wilcoxon had played “Coeur-de-Lion” (Richard the Lionheart) in “The Crusades” (1935). But the thing that so impressed the Egyptian officers that they would welcome DeMille with open arms did not involve the star. It involved Wilcoxon’s co-star, Ian Keith.

Keith had portrayed “Saladin, Sultan of Islam” in the film, playing him as a noble, generous, and honorable adversary to the crusaders led by Richard. At one point, Richard’s bride, Berengaria (portrayed by Loretta Young), calls Saladin “magnificent.” In the finale, Saladin, having fought Richard to a standstill, grants a truce and an exchange of prisoners, and he allows the crusaders to enter Jerusalem as unarmed pilgrims. And, having captured Berengaria, Saladin releases her, because (as she tells the overjoyed Richard) “Saladin bade me tell you: ‘All captives shall be freed.’ He will not hold me without love.”

Ian Keith as “Saladin”

DeMille didn’t invent the legend of Saladin’s nobility, which had been part of European lore since the events “The Crusades” depicts. But neither did he sugarcoat the Muslims’ conquest of the Holy Land. “The Crusades” shows crosses toppled, icons and scriptures burned, and Christian women sold into sexual slavery. The Egyptians who saw DeMille’s film did not object to any of that. What they loved was the way Saladin himself shines through.

What does any of this have to do with current events? Three words: Robert Edward Lee.

General Lee may fairly be considered the Saladin of the South: a noble adversary honored even by those who fought him. And, just as any Christian who refuses to honor what is honorable in Saladin may fairly be said to hate Muslims, any Social Justice Warrior who today refuses to so honor Robert E. Lee may fairly be said to hate Southerners. The Lee statues that dot the American landscape are not symbols of hatred; they are objects of it.

Yet. back in the day, or I should say, in the night they drove old Dixie down, hatred was not the spirit that prevailed. Ulysses S. Grant would write in his memoirs that upon receiving Lee’s surrender, “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” And Grant silenced his army’s guns, which had begun firing a salute in exultation on the event, saying, “The war is over. The rebels are our countrymen again.”

The feeling in the victorious North came to be, “You fought a good fight, Reb.” Not that the Rebellion’s cause was good, but that the valor, prowess, and self-sacrifice of the rebels themselves was worthy of admiration. Such remained the prevailing sentiment in all of America, all the way through to my childhood, which coincided with the Civil War’s centennial. And if you stop to think about it, doing honor to the South does honor to the North as well. What glory is there, after all, in vanquishing a contemptible foe?

When the U.S. Army decided to turn Lee’s home in Arlington, Virginia, into a cemetery for Union war dead, the idea may have been conceived spitefully. But the move became a tribute to Lee in spite of itself. There stands Lee’s mansion, surrounded by Union graves like so many scalps around a tepee. It’s a testament not only to the courage and dedication of those who fought to preserve the Union, but also to the fearsome price that must be paid by anyone who thinks to conquer Americans, even when the conqueror is American himself.

So, do any of today’s Antifa thugs view today’s Lee-lovers as fellow Americans? Would any Social Justice Warrior today say, as Grant did, “The rebels are our countrymen again?” The question answers itself.

Consider another example, one especially appropriate in light of those other Live Action Role Players, the ones who marched around in Charlottesville with torches, as if they were extras in “Triumph of the Will.” Antifa is good at beating up people in the street, as good at it as any stormtrooper ever was. But beating real Nazis takes something more, something Winston Churchill had and Antifa doesn’t.

In all this world, Adolf Hitler had no deadlier enemy than that great British war leader. Had Churchill not become prime minister in 1940, Britain might well have made peace with Nazi Germany. Hitler then would have been free to achieve his dream of conquering Eurasia from Calais to Vladivostok. And when America’s turn came to go toe-to-toe with him, then even with every Lee-loving Southerner pitching in to whip the Axis, we might not have prevailed against such a behemoth. Had Churchill not lived, we all might be speaking German today.

Here’s what Churchill said about Hitler: “Nothing is more certain than that every trace of Hitler’s footsteps, every stain of his infected and corroding fingers will be sponged and purged and, if need be, blasted from the surface of the earth.”

Erwin Rommel

But here’s what Churchill said about Hitler’s favorite general, Erwin Rommel: “His ardor and daring inflicted grievous disasters upon us, but he deserves the salute which I made him—and not without some reproaches from the public—in the House of Commons in January 1942, when I said of him, ‘We have a very daring and skillful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general.’ He also deserves our respect because, although a loyal German soldier, he came to hate Hitler and all his works, and took part in the conspiracy to rescue Germany by displacing the maniac and tyrant. For this, he paid the forfeit of his life.”

Today’s SJW statue-defacers claim that honoring Lee is the same as favoring slavery. If so, Churchill must be a crypto-Nazi, for what else can explain his honoring Rommel?

Maybe the real explanation is that the Social Justice Warriors are liars as well as haters.


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