Robert E. Lee's historical significance is once again a hot topic. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly commented praising the Confederate soldier that made notable documentarian Ken Burns respond to Kelly by schooling him on the Civil War.
The interview with the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security aired Monday night on Laura Ingraham’s new Fox show. Kelly was asked to weigh in on the removal of plaques in Alexandria, VA, honoring George Washingon and Robert Lee.
“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”
The fact that Kelly implied that fighting for the state was more important than fighting for the country and that Robert E. Lee was an honorable figure was, according to Columbia University professor Stephanie McCurry, a "profound ignorance." She has a point.
"It’s the Jim Crow version of the causes of the Civil War. I mean, it tracks all of the major talking points of this pro-Confederate view of the Civil War.”
Yale History professor David Blight struck down all the points Kelly made about the Civil War:
“I mean, it’s one thing to hear it from Trump, who, let’s be honest, just really doesn’t know any history and has demonstrated it over and over and over. But General Kelly has a long history in the American military.”
And while other critics and historians cried foul over Kelly's view that the lack of a compromise ignited the Civil War, a legit authority on the subject took to Twitter to remind us all of the one dominating cause.
Of course, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Kelly's comment by saying that all leaders "have flaws" but you can't ignore their contributions to American history. "Gen. Kelly was simply making the point that just because history isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean that it’s not our history.”
Sanders even referenced Burns' 1990 PBS documentary, “The Civil War," and southern writer Shelby Foote's comment on compromise supporting Kelly's statement. "I do know that many historians, including Shelby Foote in Ken Burns' famous Civil War documentary, agreed that a failure to compromise was a cause of the Civil War," she said.
Burns later indirectly responded.
And a conversation on American history detonated on Twitter.
Exploring context around racism.
Examples of compromise.
Going through the thread in response to Burns' was akin to visiting the Twilight Zone. Or something more sinister.
Professor Blight made it succinctly clear that Robert E. Lee was not one to budge on slavery.
"Of course we yearn for compromise, we yearn for civility, we yearn for some common ground. But, look, Robert E. Lee was not a compromiser. He chose treason."
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