There is a strange cult of personality that has grown up regarding Robert E. Lee, which has unfortunately given rise to several myths. With that in mind, let me discuss Lee with a few simple examples.
First, until the time that Benedict Arnold sold out his country, he was one of the greatest commanders in the fledgling United States Army. Arnold's skills were decidedly better than George Washington's. However, we have no monuments to Arnold, despite his long string of victories that helped establish our nation. Instead, Arnold's name has become synonymous with traitorous behavior.
In a like manner, Robert E. Lee may have been a decent commander, though perhaps not nearly at the level that modern-day mythology has portrayed him. Nevertheless, when faced with the decision of where his loyalties were, Lee turned his back on his nation in its hour of greatest need. Like Benedict Arnold, history should remember Lee for being the traitor that he certainly was.
Second, with regard to slavery, you cannot make the case that Lee opposed slavery while overlooking the facts that Lee was an outspoken racist who owned slaves, regardless of how well they may have been treated. Lee participated in the recapture of slaves, and following emancipation Lee felt that blacks were unequal to whites, blacks should not be allowed to vote, blacks lacked the intelligence to be involved in politics, and he supported plans to export African Americans to Liberia. Lee had many opportunities to speak publicly in opposition to slavery, yet he never did. Lee had many opportunities to speak publicly in opposition to racism, and he never did. Lee had many opportunities to speak publicly in favor of the rights of African Americans, and he never did.
In summary, Lee was not an American hero who is worthy of the misplaced adulation that many people have chosen to give him. Lee was not simply a product of his times - history clearly shows Lee was a traitor in every sense of the word, and racist to the core. The romantic vision that many people seem to possess of Robert E. Lee is completely undeserved.
Taking all of the preceding information into account, I do not consider the removal of public monuments to Confederate traitors - like Lee - as an attempt to "erase history," as some people claim. Personally, I believe that removing statues of men who sold out their country is finally putting history in its proper perspective. These men were traitors - not heroes. They are unworthy of public worship, and it is a great tragedy that our country is littered with dozens of shrines to the undeserving. However, their statues should be moved to museums, where people can still remember these men's treachery. If people truly wanted to "erase" these traitors from history, then we would be removing all mention of them from our history books, but that is not the case. Instead, our society is finally taking the time to correct a great injustice that has been done; we are reexamining the lives of these traitors, and removing testaments to their betrayal.
UPDATE: This post is one of several that I had written, which I later discovered had never been set to "public."