Truth does matter

So the White House chief of staff is a fan of the Southern secessionist defenders of slavery.

Kelly was interviewed on Fox last night and delivered this pile of crap.

Kelly was asked about the decision of a church in Alexandria to remove plaques honoring George Washington and Robert E. Lee.

“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” Kelly said. “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.”

Men and women of good faith; their conscience.

It’s just rhetoric to put the label “good faith” on a military defense of the custom of holding people captive and forcing them to do hard labor for life. Sure, no doubt many of them had persuaded themselves there was nothing morally wrong with that at all, and in that very limited sense they were acting in “good faith,” but so what? People can convince themselves of anything.

And it’s a perversion to say their “conscience” had them violently defend slavery. Slavery is not morally defensible, so violently defending it is not a matter of “conscience.”

“That statement could have been given by [former Confederate general] Jubal Early in 1880,” said Stephanie McCurry, professor of history at Columbia University and author of “Confederate Reckoning: Politics and Power in the Civil War South.”

“What’s so strange about this statement is how closely it tracks or resembles the view of the Civil War that the South had finally got the nation to embrace by the early 20th century,” she said. “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.”

And he’s a general and the president’s chief of staff – he should have a much better grasp of US history than that.

Kelly makes several points. That Lee was honorable. That fighting for state was more important than fighting for country. That a lack of compromise led to the war. That good people on both sides were fighting for conscientious reasons. Both McCurry and David Blight, professor of history at Yale University and author of “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory,” broadly reject all of these arguments.

“This is profound ignorance, that’s what one has to say first, at least of pretty basic things about the American historical narrative,” Blight said. “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 Gen. Kelly has a long history in the American military.”

Exactly. In his jobs, he should know better.

Blight described Kelly’s argument in similar terms as McCurry — an “old reconciliationist narrative” about the Civil War that, in the last half-century or so has “just been exploded” by historical research since.

The idea that compromise might have been possible was rejected out of hand by both McCurry and Blight.

“It was not about slavery, it was about honorable men fighting for honorable causes?” McCurry said. “Well, what was the cause? . . . In 1861, they were very clear on what the causes of the war were. The reason there was no compromise possible was that people in the country could not agree over the wisdom of the continued and expanding enslavement of millions of African Americans.”

There’s also a sickening pseudo-Romantic story in the background.

Kelly’s framework is “also rooted, frankly, in a Lost Cause mentality that swept over American culture in the wake of the war, swept over Northerners,” Blight said, “this idea that good and honorable men of the South were pushed aside and exploited by the ‘fanatical’ — ironically — first Republican Party.”

You can see that dopy story in the way Gone With the Wind was filmed, in 19fucking39.

Both historians, though, held particular disdain for the idea that putting state over nation was the essence of the fight.

“My God, where does he get that from?” Blight asked. “That denies the very reason to be, the essential reason for the existence of the original Republican Party, which formed in the 1850s to stop the expansion of slavery and ended up developing a political ideology that threatened the South because they really were going to cordon off slavery.”

“It’s just so absurd,” Blight said. “It’s just so sad. It’s just so disappointing that generations of history have been written to explode all of this and yet millions of people — serious people; experienced, serious people and now people with tremendous power — have grown up believing all this.”

Absurd and sad and worse, because of the tremendous power. Kelly repeated his absolute refusal to apologize for his vicious lies about Representative Wilson.

There was, however, a small silver lining.

“This Trump-era ignorance and misuse of history is forcing historians — and I think this is a good thing — to use words like ‘truth’ and ‘right or wrong,’ ” Blight said. “In the academy we get very caught up in relativism and whether we can be objective and so on, and that’s a real argument.”

“But there are some things that are just not true,” he said. “And we’ve got to point that out.”

Ahahaha…why truth matters. Yes indeed.

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