Robert E. Lee: Saladin of the South

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.


About Karl Spence

Karl Spence is a retired journalist living in San Antonio. His work has appeared in National Review, the Chattanooga Free Press, American Thinker and at

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25 responses to “Robert E. Lee: Saladin of the South”

  1. For SJWs to be liars they’d first have to know history. They don’t. They’re just useful idiots in the full meaning of the term, rented by a thug, Soros, who inexplicably has not been removed by CIA, Mosaad or Russian forces.

    • You mean this history?

      “Lee’s cruelty as a slavemaster was not confined to physical punishment. In Reading the Man, the historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s portrait of Lee through his writings, Pryor writes that “Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families,” by hiring them off to other plantations, and that “by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.” The separation of slave families was one of the most unfathomably devastating aspects of slavery, and Pryor wrote that Lee’s slaves regarded him as “the worst man I ever see.””

      SJWs, as you call them, read our history. We just don’t pretend our self-loving myths are the same thing as real history.

      • the Atlantic – an impeccable source, as are the “historians” it would choose to cite.

      • Mr. Mathis, down here in the South we call people like you sexual intellectuals.

      • Slavery degrades both the slave and the master in different ways. Slavery is a terrible thing (it still goes on in some parts of the world) and Americans fought a terrible war to decide the fate of slavery in our country as a legal institution. Lee was on the wrong side and, assuming these reports accurate, mistreated human beings because they were slaves in ways that would not have been acceptable were these same persons free. I think one would find there are few who would support slavery today or support treating people in the manner described.

        But, there is more than one aspect to the Lee story, and, ‘worthy adversary’ is part of the story. As is ‘slave master’. To the best of our ability, we ought to attempt to grasp the entire story, not just the parts that we prefer.

      • and Americans fought a terrible war to decide the fate of slavery in our country as a legal institution.

        No they didn’t. Lincoln had already conceded the slavery issue. The only bone of contention between the North and the South was independence. The only question being fought over for the first two years of the war was whether the South would be ruled from Washington DC or Montgomery.

        The Corwin Amendment, which Lincoln explicitly supported, would have made slavery virtually permanent and irrevocable.

        Offering the South permanent slavery was not sufficient to keep them in the Union. They already has slavery. What they wanted was independence from Washington.

      • The CSA wanted ‘independence from Washington’ because they want to keep and expand slavery, for which there was growing opposition. Based upon my understanding of the events leading up to and during the American Civil War, there is no way to separate the impulse to secession by the Slave States from practice of slavery.

        As for Lincoln and the Corwin amendment, it was another example of Lincoln attempting to avoid a secessionist crisis by making concessions to the Slave States. It’s fairly clear that Lincoln was no ‘principled’ abolitionist and his primary focus was maintaining ‘the Union’, even if it meant slavery was allowed to exist as a permanent institution in the Slave States.

      • The CSA wanted ‘independence from Washington’ because they want to keep and expand slavery,

        They didn’t have to worry about keeping it, because it would require a 44 state union (1896 at the earliest) to abolish it if the 11 states that joined the confederacy opposed. It would require a 64 state union if the 5 Union slave states also opposed it. Slavery was not going to go anywhere so long as the Union remained whole.

        I’ve looked at the question of “expansion”. I used to believe this was a real thing, but actual evidence leads me to believe this was a manufactured issue. The only crop that made slavery profitable was cotton, and a modern cotton producing map demonstrates that it was impossible to grow the stuff above Oklahoma, and impossible to grow it in west Texas and further west without modern irrigation systems that did not exist in 1861.

        In other words, it was literally impossible to expand slavery to any of the territories. It simply wasn’t economically feasible, and so therefore it was not a real issue.

        After much researching on this issue in the last few years, I’ve noticed the fact that the South produced 3/4ths of all the export income earned by the United States at that time. As a result of imports with which they redeemed their export products, they ended up paying for 3/4ths the taxes to run the Federal Government. (some people estimate it is as high as 83%)

        Obtaining independence would have immediately put 100 million dollars per year into the South’s economy. Of course this would have came out of the New York/Washington DC economy, and if there is one thing about which the Robber Barons of New York and the Bureaucrats of Washington DC are concerned, it’s about the loss of their money.

        Obviously they weren’t going to have any of it, and so a war was needed to prevent it.

        This is an oversimplification, but the issue is too broad and complex to discuss with any degree of completeness in a single comment post.

      • Always ignored is the fact that had the South remained in the Union, slavery would have persisted at least 40 years longer.

      • Also, were Grant and Sherman good or bad slave masters? Just wondering if umbrage should be directed at Union slave holders too?

        Four Score and Seven years of Union Slavery, and people can only remember it in the Confederacy.

  2. So one must assume that there are quite a few Rommel statues in England., right??

    • No, but they still revere James Mason, you dope.

    • Not that I know of. I hope are some Rommel memorials in Germany. There certainly ought to be.

      Doesn’t Andy’s quip confirm what I said about Social Justice Warriors not accepting Southerners, those Lee-lovers, as fellow Americans, as countrymen? The Germans are German; the British, British. “We SJWs are Americans; those Lee-lovers are” — what?

      By the way, the British did erect a Rommel memorial of sorts: “The Desert Fox,” a movie based on British Brigadier Desmond Young’s book, in which British actor James Mason portrays Rommel and Young re-enacts his experiences as a onetime POW of Rommel’s and a post-war investigator of the circumstances of Rommel’s death.

    • No but there are statues of Oliver Cromwell and King Charles I whose forces fought the English Civil War.

    • Dozens of biographies in English, plus hundreds of books on the Desert War, are monuments to him.

  3. Maybe we just don’t like slavery. For honest reasons.

    “But years later, in 1866, one former slave at Arlington House, Wesley Norris, gave his testimony to the National Anti-Slavery Standard. Mr. Norris said that he and others at Arlington were indeed told by Mr. Custis they would be freed upon his death, but that Lee had told them to stay for five more years.

    “So Mr. Norris said he, a sister and a cousin tried to escape in 1859, but were caught. “We were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty,” he said.

    “And when the overseer declined to wield the lash, a constable stepped up, Mr. Norris said. He added that Lee had told the constable to “lay it on well.””

    • Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, ordered the 20th Independent Battery New York Volunteer Artillery to indiscriminately bombard New York City’s Irish men, women and children with deadly short-range grapeshot and ordered Generals Sheridan, Stoneman and Sherman to starve innocent Southern women and children by pillaging their food stores, burning their crops and slaughtering their farm animals. Furthermore, at the point of Union bayonets, the Southern ill and dying were forced out of homes and hospitals before those buildings were burnt to the ground.
      Additionally, Lincoln oversaw the torture, starvation and death of thousands of Southern POWs in Northern death camps, such as Point Lookout, Rock Island, Fort Delaware, Johnson’s Island, Camp Chase, Camp Douglas and Elmira.
      To say the least, they were different times.

  4. Lovely article. Winston Churchill said Robert E. Lee was the noblest American who ever lived.

  5. What I can’t figure out is how all of these Confederate statues are popping up all over the place seemingly overnight. I mean with all of the rage that the SJWs are focusing on them, they must not have existed last year.

  6. Do any of those who condemn The South for slavery condemn anyone else for it? Slavery existed for thousands of years. Does anyone who wants to tear down a Robert E. Lee statue also want to tear down mosques? Mohammad owned, bought and had sex with slaves. And he enslaved people. The only slave owners who are ever condemned are in the American South. The UN says there are 30 million people in slavery now.

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

    Now, ain’t dat de truff !

  8. Yale University was established by one of the premier slave fleet owners of that era. New York was named after another. Do the research. Hypocrites don’t want to know.