Anime’s Robert E. Lee

The idea for this article was ignited by my fascination with Robert E. Lee, with the flames of my imagination first stoked by Robert E. Lee on Leadership by H. W. Crocker III and fanned into a blaze by Emory Thomas’s Robert E. Lee: A Biography and Michael Korda’s Clouds of Glory, the latter of which I could not finish because its repetitiveness wore me out.  At the same time as I read the latter, I started watching Captain Harlock and could not but note the similarity between the personalities and struggles of Lee and Harlock.  Sure, they hold polar opposite views and habits concerning alcohol, but most of their other differences are superficial.  When you’ve finished the article, be sure to tell me whether you are struck by the same fact as your humble author: that Captain Harlock is the closest approximation to R. E. Lee among anime characters.

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Both figures impress one with how their polish and perfection mingle with a spirit of humility.  Lee was dubbed “the Marble Man” at West Point for his perfect obedience to his superiors and adherence to duty.  (Lee graduated West Point without a single demerit.)  With Harlock, we have also yet to see a real character flaw, save for Harlock’s audacity and alcoholic indulgence–though, Harlock even carries his indulgence to perfection as he never behaves drunkenly.  The characters of Space Pirate Captain Harlock look up to their captain in the same way that many looked up to Lee as a peerless soldier during his lifetime.

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In the later episodes, one notes that Harlock fights against superior numbers of Mazone with no one to relieve his men.  Does this not remind one of Lee’s desperate fighting in 1864 – 65 as the North began to win the war of attrition?  Yet, Harlock drives his men to give their last full measure in the fight against the Mazone in the same way as Lee threw all his units against often larger numbers of Federal soldiers.  (Some have exaggerated the discrepancy between the North and the South’s number of combat soldiers, but it seems generally true that Southern armies committed all their units during a major battle, while the North could afford to have units in reserve.)  Also, both Harlock and Lee fought essentially defensive campaigns with attacking vigor.  Just as Harlock advances into the thick of enemy Mazone when the situation warrants it, Lee was often so careless of his own safety that his adjutants and soldiers needed to restrain him from approaching too close to the enemy.

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Both men cleave to duty and honor–perhaps even for the same reason: freedom.  Harlock’s strange combination of adhering to a sense of duty toward Earth and his love of freedom is well known.  On the other hand, the historian Emory Thomas needed to delve deeply into Lee’s psyche in order to see that freedom was the goal of Lee’s obedience to lawful authority.  Thomas writes in his biography that God gave Lee liberty in exchange for obedience.  Not surprisingly, the manner in which both men used their freedom was to enjoy the company of their families.  Lee himself had a large family of seven children and even delighted to enter the circle of other families if separated from his own.  Harlock has no biological children, but stands in loco parentis for his friend’s child, Mayu.  Concomitant with their predilection for domestic settings, both Harlock and Lee far prefer the company of women.  Harlock is closest to Miime and Kei among his crew, while the rest are treated less intimately.  Lee himself was a thorough-going flirt, even going to far as to refer directly to his friend’s wife in a letter as a “blue eyed masterpiece.”  Lee was so upfront about his flirting and carried it out so innocently that his wife had no problem with it.

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Perhaps the icing on the cake is both figures’ faith in their subordinates.  Harlock famously allows his crew the freedom to follow their conscience and eschews any bitter feelings about them disobeying orders or failing to fulfill them.  Lee similarly refused to micromanage his men and was liberal with second chances.  When A. P. Hill demanded the dismissal of General Wright for a major blunder the general made, Le responded: “These men are not an army.  They are citizens defending their country.  General Wright is no a soldier; he’s a lawyer….When a man makes a mistake, I call him to my tent, talk to him, and use the authority of my position to make him do the right thing next time.”  How many great generals in history have had such a forgiving attitude!

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Let me end the article by pointing out another remarkable similarity: they place their confidence in an invisible friend.  Harlock’s friend has passed away by the time the series starts, but his personality is somehow still inside the Arcadia’s computer.  When all the chips are down, Harlock invariably turns to the Arcadia itself to extricate his crew from danger.  Of course, God is the Friend on whom Lee relies most often: “I tremble for my country when I hear of confidence expressed in me.  I know too well my own weakness, that our only hope is in God.”

To the right, you see the Prussian adventurer Heros von Borcke, whose prodigious strength earned him the nickname

To the right, you see the Prussian adventurer Heros von Borcke, whose prodigious strength earned him the nickname “Major Armstrong.”

So, what do my dear readers think about this comparison?  Is there another character more like R. E. Lee?  Has a fictional anime character strongly reminded you of another historical figure?

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