November 4, 2017
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
General John Kelly, Robert E. Lee, and the Marxist Ideological Prostitution of American History
You would think that David Duke had somehow been elected president. Or, maybe in this topsy-turvy, Alice-in-Wonderland period of history we are living through, that the reactionary Vladimir Putin had somehow actually taken over the White House. The editorial din, the screams of outrage seemed to drown out all other news. Surely, the very fate of the republic was at stake.
What had happened? The White House Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, had actually dared—and in public!—to defend the historical reputation and honor of Robert E. Lee. In our era of totalitarian political correctness, which parades in drag as an epoch of sublime “tolerance” and “free expression,” such views are the height of historical and cultural heresy—and not to mention what the Mainstream Media tells us—of political suicide. Such “heretical” views must not only be shouted down by what is termed “professional historians” (who act more like the Soviet politburo), but also banished from public discourse completely.
Kelly made his comments on the inaugural program of Laura Ingraham on Fox, “The Ingraham Angle,” Monday, October 30.
But what caught my attention was not some yahoo spouting bigoted screed. That is not what we saw, not what we heard. No; there before us was a lauded former Marine general, very calmly and reasonably making some points about our history and about Confederate commander Robert E. Lee who, until fairly recent years and the subversion and ideological transformation of American academia by outright cultural Marxists, was held in high regard by most Americans. His admirers have included such larger-than-life historical figures as Sir Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Here is the critical paragraph that got General Kelly into so much trouble with the dominant, culturally Marxist historical profession (the entire interview is available as a video online):
“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.”
That sent the cultural Marxist editorial writers at The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post, and on major news networks, into a frantic tizzy, scurrying to find weighty “academic” opinion not so much to present serious arguments against Kelly, but, rather, to ridicule him and, as it goes in most politically-correct academic circles these days, to paint him as ignorant and obscurantist, someone who should be shunned—and scorned.
So, The Post turned to two history professors at Columbia University, both of whom have written scholarly tomes that satisfy the requirements of the modern establishment, cultural Marxist approach to our nation’s history. Stephanie McCurry and David Blight eagerly weighed in [https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/10/31/historians-respond-to-john-kellys-civil-war-remarks-strange-sad-wrong/?utm_term=.43f698d42611]. But rather than present specific arguments against Kelly’s comments, they took refuge in the “argument from Authority,” that is, regurgitating the modern historical narrative that: (1) the War Between the States was only about slavery, (2) the Northern side was engaged in a semi-religious crusade to free the slaves, while the Southern side was dedicated entirely to defending the peculiar institution, and (3) any Southerner who fought for the Confederacy was a “traitor.”
Implicitly, this argument assumes that secession was an unconstitutional act of treason, and that for states to engage in it was an act of rebellion and, for individuals, a traitorous act. Yet, despite the condescending assurances of Professors McCurry and Blight that this is the correct view, the question was not only far from decided in 1861, historically the preponderance of evidence—actual factual evidence—indicates that most Americans, and most of their leaders, believed during the pre-war period that secession was an acceptable constitutional option in serious circumstances.
In particular, the two academics attack General Kelly's belief that the War was avoidable, if there had been more of a willingness to compromise, to reconcile differences. For that inability, they blame the South. Yet as recent historians like William Marvel and Thomas Fleming have chronicled, it was the Lincoln administration that torpedoed every effort at peace during the critical months of early 1861.
What is more disquieting about the position taken by McCurry and Blight is the underlying assumption that modern scholars have somehow come up with “new” facts that overwhelmingly support their views. To use Professor Blight’s expression, he and McCurry and other contemporary historians have “exploded” the pro-Southern reconciliationist narrative that earlier historians once held. Yet, the simple fact is that there is no boat load of new “facts” but only an ideological reinterpretation of the same old facts, and that re-interpretation is guided by previously announced and pre-set Marxist objectives. It is that ideological template that controls the contemporary historical narrative and dominates the historical profession.
Earlier historians like the brilliant William A. Dunning, Avery Craven (The Coming of the Civil War), Francis Butler Simkins (The South Old and New), and more recently Ludwell Johnson (North Against South: The American Iliad, 1848-1877), Thomas Fleming (A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We fought the Civil War), Thomas di Lorenzo (The Real Lincoln), and William Marvel (Mr. Lincoln Goes to War) are discounted, accused of pro-Southern bias, a failure to understand the underlying “racial” nature of American history, and an inability to comprehend the “real meaning” of the Constitution (a “meaning” that strangely remained mysteriously “hidden” to every president and every major American political leader beginning with George Washington through James Buchanan!).
To understand the attacks on Confederate monuments and on the reputations of men like Robert E. Lee, one must understand that those assaults are essentially ideological in nature, and that history is being used and manipulated to carry them out. This was first recognized by the late Eugene Genovese, perhaps the greatest of recent historians of the South, who noticed the obdurate unwillingness of fellow members of his profession to acknowledge the rich complexity of Southern history and their resistance to factual information that countered their tendentious views.
The multiple and feverish media attacks on General Kelly must be seen in this light. Columbia historians like McCurry and Blight, and their epigones in the Mainstream Media, zealously seek to further a cultural Marxist vision of America and, thus, to advance the ongoing transformation of our society. For such professors and their indoctrinated translators, history serves only to facilitate their ideological agenda.
Fifty-seven years ago (1960), President Dwight D. Eisenhower offered his view of General Lee, and it remains a marvelous personal statement on Marse Robert and his legacy. There is more historical wisdom and knowledge in Ike’s words than in all the collected scholarly tomes of McCurry, Blight, Eric Foner, piled higher and deeper.
The president wrote the following letter in response to one he had received, dated August 1, 1960, from a Mr. Leon W. Scott, a dentist in New Rochelle, New York.
Scott's letter [http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1721192/posts] reads:
“Dear Mr. President:
“At the Republican Convention I heard you mention that you have the pictures of four (4) great Americans in your office, and that included in these is a picture of Robert E. Lee.
“I do not understand how any American can include Robert E. Lee as a person to be emulated, and why the President of the United States of America should do so is certainly beyond me.
“The most outstanding thing that Robert E. Lee did was to devote his best efforts to the destruction of the United States Government, and I am sure that you do not say that a person who tries to destroy our Government is worthy of being hailed as one of our heroes.
“Will you please tell me just why you hold him in such high esteem?
Leon W. Scott”
Eisenhower's response, written on White House letterhead on August 9, 1960 reads as follows:
"August 9, 1960
Dear Dr. Scott:
Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often expressed admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that we need to understand that at the time of the War Between the States the issue of Secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.
General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his belief in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.
From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.
Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.