An Open Letter
to the Chief of Staff
Dear John Kelly:
I feel compelled to write to you in response to your interview with Laura Ingraham on Monday night (October 30th). Your statements about Robert E. Lee and the Civil War are so far from accurate that they demand correction. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s what you said:
“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.”
Aside from the fact that your “men and women of good faith on both sides” sounds strikingly like “President” Trump’s post-Charlottesville defense of Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists (“good people on both sides”), it is hard to believe someone who served in our military, someone who has a Master’s Degree from Georgetown in National Security Affairs and a Master of Science in Strategic Studies from the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. could be so, so ignorant about American History! Let’s parse your statement and consider the historical validity of each piece.
When you say “Robert E. Lee was an honorable man” how, exactly, do you mean that? Robert E. Lee took up arms against the United States government and its Constitution. Any way you look at that, it’s treason. How, other than from the point-of-view of a Southern apologist or Jim Crow promoter, do you put the words “treason” and “honorable” in a sentence together? Your “defense” of Robert E. Lee and what makes him “honorable” is, apparently this: “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.” Can we examine that statement, in light of United States History?
If you remember Shays’ Rebellion in 1786, when discontented Revolutionary War veterans stormed the statehouse in Massachusetts for their back wages because their farms were being foreclosed, the result was the call for a Constitutional Convention. Why? Because the states, operating essentially as distinct and separate countries, needed a stronger, centralized government. Individual states were in danger of falling into bankruptcy, being taken over by foreign powers, and, generally, not being able to help sustain the independence of the new nation. As a result, a Federal Republic was created as far more than a compact between the states --- it was, purely and simply, the ruling power and stronger than any single state. So, “honoring” your state over the Federal government, once again, is treason. And, just to question your logic in that statement about “150 years ago (that) was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days.” If that were the case, why did the North fight the South for leaving the Union? If everyone believed the state was more important, why couldn’t Lee and Virginia (and the rest of the Confederacy) just leave, without the North fighting for them to stay? Your thinking has a huge hole in, General Kelly --- but it certainly would be applauded in the Jim Crow South as they erected statues to Lee, et al to remind those now “free” African-Americans who was still in charge.
And while we’re talking about that Constitutional Convention back in 1787, let’s examine another statement of yours: “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.” Really? Okay, now maybe at UMass-Boston, where you got your B.A., and Georgetown, and the National Defense University, you never studied the history of the Constitution or the History of the United States from 1787 to 1861, but there were, in fact, quite a number of compromises made --- all in the interest of keeping the Union together and all made to benefit the slave-holding class.
Let’s start with the Constitution itself. We have the 3/5th’s Compromise that says (in the Constitution) that slaves count as 3/5th of a person for representation purposes, thereby giving the white residents in slave-holding states disproportionate representation in the House of Representatives. Another significant compromise is the creation of the Electoral College, preventing simple popular voting (where the South loses its 3/5th representation advantage!) to rule who is elected President. And then, of course, is the “Great Compromise” itself, the creation of a bicameral legislature with one House consisting of elected representatives based on population (again, the 3/5th’s clause helps the South), and an Upper House with equal representation (the Senate), thereby giving the less-populous South equal footing with the no-slave Northern states. But if those compromises aren’t enough, John, let’s examine a bit more U. S. History.
In 1820 we have the Missouri Compromise, which allows Missouri to enter as a slave state and admits Maine as a “free” state, establishing Missouri’s southern border (the 36-30 line of latitude) as the divider for future, Western states, as far as free/slave status was concerned (Southerners were pretty sure they were going to acquire Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico in the future, turning them into numerous Southern/slave states). Of course, the gold rush of 1849 screwed things up by making California eligible for statehood in 1850 --- and the 36-30 line cut right through California. So, to accommodate this new situation, we get the Compromise of 1850 --- which allowed California in as a free state but made fugitive slave laws stricter (see 12 Years a Slave to explicate that).
Of course, without the 36-30, how would we know if a new state (any of the territories between Missouri and California) were to enter the Union as “free” or “slave” states? Well, guess what, Johnny, another compromise: the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which introduced “popular sovereignty.” This concept was: once a territory had enough population to become a state, the inhabitants in that territory would vote on whether they wanted to be “free” or “slave.” What this led to, of course, was a mini-Civil War in “Bleeding Kansas” and, eventually, the Civil War --- because SLAVERY was the issue, John!
So, please, please, please stop using shopworn white supremacist arguments for “defending our history and heritage” when you are discussing the Civil War. What do those Confederate statues say to all our citizens of color, John? Putting traitors on pedestals and claiming there’s an “honorable” history to “respect” is a perversion of “all men are created equal” and harkens back to an era when hooded white men burned crosses to insure they remain in power. Brush up on your history. Tell the Truth.
Advanced Placement United States History Teacher (ret.)
see the videos for APUSH at: https://www.brightstorm.com/test-prep/ap-us-history/
(cut and past the URL for a free APUSH video course from yours truly!)