April 26, 2019
President Donald Trump defended Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Friday, claiming that many members of the military have told him Lee is among their favorite generals.
Lee had a long career in the United States Army and was at one point offered command of the Union Army, but is most notably remembered for taking up arms against his country during the Civil War.
Trump was asked on Friday about his 2017 comments about “very fine people on both sides” following a neo-nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one dead.
“Oh, I’ve answered that question,” Trump fired back. “And if you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly.”
Trump argued that his comments about “very fine people on both sides” were not made in reference to the neo-nazis and white supremacists in attendance, but for those who went to the rally because they felt strongly about keeping a monument of Lee in Charlottesville. The president called Lee, “a great general, whether you like it or not.”
“I’ve spoken to many generals here, right here at the White House, and many people thought of the generals they think that he was maybe their favorite general,” Trump added. “People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee, everybody knows that.”
Trump didn’t specify which U.S. generals praised Lee in conversation with him.
Lee has been the subject of extensive historical revisionism since the end of the Civil War. Today, Lee retains a mythic — but inaccurate — status in the minds of many Americans.
Defenders of Lee will most often claim he simply aligned himself with the South out of a sense of duty to his home state of Virginia. They claim Lee disapproved, or was at least dispassionate, about the issue of slavery. Others simply praise Lee’s supposed military prowess, though that too has been called into question by historians.
But Lee’s own words betray many of the myths still promoted about him to this day. An 1865 letter to his wife lays bare Lee’s true feelings on slavery. The Confederate general calls the institution of slavery “a moral and political evil in any country.”
But Lee’s letter continues, arguing that slavery was “a greater evil to the white than to the black race,” and that the slaves were “immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically.”
“The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things,” Lee wrote. “How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.”
© 2019 IJR