Gen. John Kelly has predictably ignited a media firestorm for summoning the temerity to state that Gen. Robert E. Lee was behaving like most Americans of his time by choosing state over national allegiance.
“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” Kelly said in an interview with Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham. “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.”
Sorry if I offend some of you, but I proudly and zealously place state and region over country. I happen to believe that the federal government is a constitutional republic conceived with sharply delineated powers and commissioned by the people of initially 11 (later 13) republics to operate as their common agent.
Modern Americans may even find it astonishing to learn early 19th century students at West Point, including the future Gen. Lee, studied a constitutional textbook written by attorney and legal scholar William Rawle and titled “A Constitutional View of the United States” that acknowledge the right of secession.
Of course, many of the nation’s premiere historians are weighing in on these intemperate statements, wondering how a man of Kelly’s immense accomplishments and responsibilities could harbor such antiquarian views.
“This is profound ignorance, that’s what one has to say first, at least of pretty basic things about the American historical narrative,” said David Blight, a Yale history professor. “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.”
As for the views of these historians, I call on all of you to consider how all facets of American education, for better or worse, have been transformed within the last 60-plus years, largely as a result of the infusion of federal money and the expansion of federal patronage that has followed.
This has been accompanied by what I have come to call a miasmic orthodoxy that has settled on all levels of American education. Under the circumstances, can you see how pluralistic thinking among scholars, especially within the humanities, has been undermined?