This past Monday, October 30, White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly did little to help the Trump Administration’s reputation of being historically obtuse and insensitive with regards to our country’s history by making highly controversial remarks regarding the Civil War. The comments in question were made when an interview Kelly had with Laura Ingraham, of Fox News, took a turn to address the removal of Confederate monuments, a topic that has been plaguing the country with controversy since the summer. Kelly’s response to the subject was not only poorly executed from a historical standpoint but essentially concluded that the Civil War was fought for no good reason and that a little compromise could have ended the heated topic of slavery.
Kelly’s interview started to go south almost immediately after it began when a question arose regarding the removal of plaques dedicated to George Washington and Robert E. Lee in a Virginia church. When asked about his opinion on the removal of this honor from the church, Kelly replied by saying that, “Robert E. Lee was an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state.” He then goes on to explain that around the time of the Civil War, this strong allegiance to one’s state rather than the entire country was common and that in agreeing with these sentiments Lee was just doing what he felt was right. However, while celebrating Robert E. Lee may already seem like a piece of flawed logic, the real low point in this interview comes when Kelly continues on to say that the Civil War could have been prevented if the north and the south and been more willing to compromise with each other.
Kelly’s comments did not go unnoticed and his interview has since sparked a tidal wave of outrage among members of congress, as well as within the general population. Many have commented on how the Chief of Staff’s response is overall a poorly-crafted argument which does not account for historical accuracy. As a retired U.S. Marine Corps General who comes from a strong educational background, there should be no doubt that John Kelly knows enough about the Civil War to understand that his statement was false. There was no lack of trying to compromise between states in the time leading up to the war and death and destruction was obviously not optimal choice for any of the parties involved. In thinking that the only issue leading up to the Civil War was lack of compromise, Kelly is showing a severe lack of understanding of our nation’s history that should concern the citizens of this country.
Kelly’s comments are not only flat-out inaccurate, but they are also upsetting and frightening. As Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tweeted in response to Kelly’s remarks, “It is irresponsible and dangerous, especially when white supremacists feel emboldened, to make fighting to maintain slavery sound courageous.” In his response, the Chief of Staff is practically saying that since Lee was fighting for the good of his state, it was the right thing to do, even if it meant the continuation of slavery.
This point of view is disturbing to begin with, but when you take into account the current state of our country, with a president who won’t condemn blatant white nationalism, it becomes even scarier. It is hard to believe that after the great strides we have made to move forward as a safe and accepting nation, there are still people, including those in power, that have these horrifically old-fashioned ideas. Insinuating that a compromise could have prevented the Civil War is saying that it would be okay to have compromised away some of the freedoms that millions of people in this country currently enjoy and continue to fight for. America was built on the fact that everyone should have equal, unalienable rights, and while this does not always ring true, it is shameful to think that it could have been or should have been any other way.
Whether or not Chief of Staff John Kelly meant to appear as an uneducated Confederate supporter or not, his interview responses certainly seem to support this point of view. There is, was, and never will be a compromise when it comes to slavery, and saying there could have been any alternative to the Civil War is not only forgetting about what people have had to go through to enjoy the freedoms we have today but is also devaluing these freedoms by saying they could have been compromised away. In the state of our nation today, we must remember that the struggles we have endured as a nation had meaning and that our freedoms are inalienable and never could be or should be compromised.
Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.