Defense One Radio, Ep. 82: “Robert E. Lee and Me”

Here’s a good interview with BG Ty Seidule.

Here are some excerpts:

“What I figured out was that history is dangerous, and because it goes after our myths and our identities. And when we figure that out, that the stories that we grew up with as children, that they either weren’t true, or that they covered up other parts that we didn’t learn — it’s a wrenching experience. And, you know, for me growing up as a kid in the South, I mean, I revered Robert E. Lee, I revered all these people. And then when I was much later in life, that I started realizing that in fact, these were lies. And they weren’t just lies; they were lies with a pernicious purpose, which was to create a society based on white supremacy to keep the boot on the neck of Black America. And that was tough. It was tough to write about the lynchings; it was tough to write about these things, because it’s gruesome, it’s terrible. But that’s who we are. And I firmly believe that the only way that we can get beyond it, that we can ensure a better future for ourselves, our children or grandchildren, is to first come to terms with our racist past. And that’s what I tried to do in this book is just using my own experience, is to go through each part of my life, and each place I lived — you know, Alexandria, Virginia; and Monroe, Georgia; and Washington and Lee University; and the United States Army and West Point — and find that all of them, every one of these places had a history of racism, of white supremacy, and even of racial violence. And when I did that, I knew that the only way to really tell this story that people would be able to listen to it without — well they’re still going to be upset, but maybe more people would listen to it if I use my own story to do that, rather than just being sort of a know-it-all historian and writing in the third person, that if I wrote the first person maybe it would be more effective.”

“The thing about America is it changes very slowly — until it changes really fast. And we’re in one of those areas right now, where the idea of, where the history is changing. Remember, history is always changing, because there is no one spot where you go, ‘Okay, this is the spot — 1912. And we’re never going to change from what we thought in 1912.’ Of course, in 1912 was a change from what we thought in 1865, which was the change from what they thought in 1850. So the ideas are always changing. And, you know, I think the other important part of that is that the percentage of black cadets went from 6% to 15%; the memorialization changed. I mean, we had — there was a statue of [Ulysses] Grant that was put up there, right before I left we changed the name of the change. The name of the latest barracks or dormitory is named after Benjamin Davis, Jr, the great Black leader of Tuskegee Airmen. So yeah, it absolutely changes and it’s ready to change again.”

“I mean, that’s why we have to study the past. Because we recognize it and acknowledge it because we have had a racist past. But just because we’ve had a racist past doesn’t mean we have to have a racist future. But we will be there unless we acknowledge and work on what was a racist past. So yeah, I’m a firm believer that the United States of America can be what it wants to be. But the foundation of being the best we can be, is understanding our history.”

You can access the podcast here.

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