Still working on a very turbulent and difficult move – oy, this one has been hard. Nonetheless, I have recently been informed that the world has been marching on without me. For those of you who aren’t suffering move-induced-lack-of-time-and-spare-energy, I thought you might like to hear all about the cool praise-y things the United States’ President’s chief of staff General John Kelly has to say about Confederate general and slaver who came across as particularly cruel to his slaves compared to other slavers Robert E. Lee. It turns out that, even at this point in my moving process, I have some thoughts to express on these “thoughts” that Kelly had on television with Laura Ingraham sitting across from him.
Kelly’s great, wise thoughts included that Lee “acted in good faith” when turning traitor to his country and organizing the mass killings of (mostly) white people in order to preserve his right to kill Black people at his whim. To be fair, Kelly also said that the leaders of the United States and its military had also “acted in good faith”. Since Kelly said that, your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke has been forced to wonder if perhaps ending slavery was a bad cause after all. I mean, if Kelly believes you can defend slavery “in good faith” an abolitionist might just have to question hir premises, y’know?
But Kelly didn’t finish his comments on the US Civil War with his “both sides had some good people” comment. No, he also said
the lack of an ability to compromise led to the civil war.
Well, sure. I think everyone would have been happier if slaves had weekends off and a workweek capped at 80 hours. It’s too bad that some people didn’t go for the obvious, “You can be free and own your own property and choose who you love and where you sleep on the weekends, but sunrise monday I’ll whip you if you aren’t working before I wake up,” compromise. But that’s what happens when you have strident people on one side who are all like, “My property I do want I want with the dozens of people I own,” and other strident people are all like, “Hey, slavery is actually fundamentally wrong and there’s no way to do slavery right, even if you just limit it to monday-friday.” If only the United States had really listened to the white men who liked to own and beat other people. It is tragic that the anarcho-leftwinger-antifas of 1854 couldn’t find a way to work within the political process and form a political party with abolition as a central plank and then go about a 6 year mission of education and persuasion that encouraged people to vote for a government that actually believed in freedom for all men, but instead got all cranky and -with no warning- on 9 January 1861 and again on 12 April 1861 suddenly pulled cannonballs out of South Carolina’s guns right onto their supply-ship-sailing and Fort-Sumpter-based heads.
Oh, as an aside and for no particular reason, I just wanted to say right now that y’know what’s really great? that President Trump has someone guiding his administration that understands and prioritizes politics and diplomacy in a way that makes up for Trump’s deficiencies. Thank goodness Trump has people like Kelly around to hold things together.
I thought Kelly was particularly astute when he declared:
men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had to make their stand.
Yes. Exactly. People of at least two genders, consciences were followed both by folks who stand for enslaving people, beating them, and even killing them on occasion pour encouragez les autres, and by folks who stand against enslaving, beating, and killing people. Kelly, however, had no position on whether or not some of these stances might actually have been better than others. He does, helpfully, inform those of us in doubt that yes indeed
History is history.*1 And, uh, there are certain things in history that were good, and other things that were not so good,
For instance, cheap labor is good, as is betraying your country and killing its soldiers, so long as you scream the name of your state-of-residence while charging across a battlefield at US military service members. Kelly is still looking for an example of the not-good. Or, maybe he’s not looking, because it was at this point, I am quite sure, that he invisibly handed his beer to an invisible person on set, asking them to hold it until he was done with this next statement:
I think we make a mistake though, in society and certainly as individuals, when we take what is today accepted as right and wrong and go back 100, 200, 300 years or more and say what those people … what Christopher Columbus*2 did was wrong. Y’know, 500 years later it’s inconceivable to me that you would take what we think now and apply it back then. I think it’s just very, very dangerous.
Conservatives and their objective, never-waffling morality just want you to know that you can’t possibly expect that standards of judgement today would be applicable to actions taken 150 years ago (or vice versa). So please, let’s not talk about good and evil or anything. Robert E. Lee and other slavers acted in good faith according to the morality of their historical moment when absolutely everyone thought slavery was just fine. I mean, okay, you might find 3/5ths of a person here or there that believed the thinking that endorsed slavery had certain moral problems with which it might need to wrestle, but need I remind you that 3/5ths of a person is not a person?
EVERYONE was totes fine with slavery back then. How would a confederate general from 1850s Virginia ever even come across an argument raising questions about the morality of slavery which the general could then choose consciously to endorse or not endorse? I mean, that would require, like, high-profile coverage of an ongoing debate that included abolitionism as a central issue or something.
So let’s not judge Lee. Let’s not even judge the morality or merits of enslaving entire peoples and bringing them to the United States in death ships whose crews murdered (or manslaughtered or negligently-homicided or whatever) one half to two thirds of the Black folk they forced aboard. We can’t even judge the actions good or bad, because that would kind of imply a judgement about the people who took those actions. John Kelly wants you to remember that rendering moral judgements is very, very dangerous. I mean, first you decide that wholesale kidnapping, mass murder, and enslavment of survivors of your mass murders is bad, then next you might be going about doing some kind of crazy talk, like “It’s not okay to drone strike to death 100 people at a wedding because 5 or 10 people at the wedding hate that people in their country are being drone striked to death by US Americans.”
I mean, seriously – can any country in the world maintain its critical national security infrastructure without drone-striking the general area of people who don’t like it when that country kills people with drones? So the next time you think about some topic like … Okay, maybe not inventing a time machine so that we can go back to 1870 and enhanced interrogate confederate generals like Nathan Bedford Forrest about who is planning what racist, terrorist murders to return Black people in the southern US to the state of subjugation in which they existed before the civil war, no, nothing like that. Let’s think of another example.
Like maybe if you think about what ideals you want children to hold today for the betterment of our society and our nation when our children grow up and if you then maybe contemplate maybe removing a hunk of metal that communicates the message that people who fought for slavery and founded the KKK and organized anti-black terrorism built up quite the respectable set of lifetime achievements that a child looking at that statue might want to emulate … right at that moment, you should remember John Kelly, and how dangerously endangering it is to make moral judgements about contemporary education and civic life using contemporary morality because Lee and Forrest might get their ghostly fee-fees hurt and then the terrorists win.
John Kelly. Adult in the White House. Stable political and diplomatic hand. Wise leader. Brave hero.
*1: When I watched the interview, it seemed pretty clear that he was trying to say that events that happened in the past should not be the subject of present day concern. Because they’re over. So what are you complaining about. Like that guy on trial for murdering someone, but the murders have like, already happened, y’know? No changing them now, so why are we wasting time on this?
*2: Italics mine, but meant to communicate the obvious vocal stress he placed on the name Christopher Columbus during the interview.