But when he goes attacking Shelby Foote, he’s putting himself on the fightin’ side of me.
Specifically, Kelly has been excoriated for daring to call Robert E. Lee an “honorable man” and expressing the same view of the Civil War put forward in Burns’ enormously popular 1990 Civil War documentary. Up until this week, Burns’ series had been a celebrated work—a restored version of the series aired on PBS just two years ago. But now, at least according to Jonathan Chait of New York magazine, Burns’ masterpiece is a “disaster,” mostly because it relied heavily on interviews with Foote.
Foote is, of course, the author of his own celebrated Civil War masterpiece, a three-volume narrative history of the war, each about a thousand pages long, that stands as a triumph of American history and literature. The trilogy, which began as a contract with Random House to write a short one-volume history to mark the war’s approaching centennial, took Foote 20 years to write.
The volumes, published between 1958 and 1974, were almost immediately hailed as a seminal contribution to American letters. Writing in The New Republic, literary scholar and critic Louis D. Rubin Jr. said Foote’s trilogy “is a model of what military history can be.” The New York Times Book Review called it “a remarkable achievement, prodigiously researched, vigorous, detailed, absorbing.” (Presumably by today’s standards these reviewers would be upbraided for praising Foote.)
All of which is true. Now watch as a real mental pygmy crawls up on a better man’s shoulders and starts thumping his scrawny chest.
But because we live in an ignorant age, Foote’s reputation is getting dragged through the mud. In an article noting that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Kelly’s comments by citing the Burns documentary, Chait writes that Burns relies heavily on Foote, and “Foote presented Lee and other Confederate fighters as largely driven by motives other than preserving human property, and bemoaned the failure of the North and South to compromise (a compromise that would inevitably have preserved slavery).”
This should be dismissed as a simple case of historical ignorance, especially since it’s been repeated so often by a Wikipedia-reliant press corps over the past few days. Even someone with a cursory knowledge of the Civil War should know that the war came about, as all wars do, because of a failure to compromise.
In our case, the entire history of the United States prior to outbreak of war in 1861 was full of compromises on the question of slavery. It began with the Three-Fifths Compromise written into the U.S. Constitution and was followed by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (which prohibited slavery north of the 36°30’ parallel, excluding Missouri), the Compromise of 1850, then the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and eventually led to the election of Abraham Lincoln and the subsequent secession of the southern states. Through all this, we inched toward emancipation, albeit slowly.
In other words, the breakdown of all those decades of compromise did indeed lead to the Civil War. This is a point that Foote and other historians have made many times and that Kelly tried his best to paraphrase. Compromising on slavery had been part of how America stayed together, and staved off war, from the beginning. No historian disputes this. But for writers like Chait and The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, compromise was a bad thing because it preserved slavery. That such compromises limited slavery’s spread and put it on the path to extinction carries no weight with them.
That’s because Coates, like all too many black Americans, suffers from complete tunnel vision when it comes to slavery, especially as it intersects with and vivifies their default hatred for America. Our historical experience with slavery is shared by plenty of other nations and cultures stretching back to antiquity…except for the part where we fought a most hideous and bloody war to put an end to it. In that, we’re unique.
To put the cherry on all this pluperfect dumbassery, Coates conveniently ignores—as all his fellow Leftard America-haters do—the inconvenient fact that slavery is still practiced in plenty of African and Moslem nations to this very day. Not that you’ll ever hear one word of protest uttered by them over that inconvenient little fact. The only instance of the “peculiar institution” that seems to matter to them is the one that happened here, and was abolished going on two centuries ago.
All of which means Coates and his contemptible ilk can and should be fairly ignored—not just on this issue, but every other one too. Anybody so willfully blinded by their own over-emotional dimwittedness on any one issue is not to be trusted to have a remotely intelligent take on anything else. Thankfully, Foote’s legacy will far outshine and outlast whatever meager, noisome droppings will end up having to serve Coates as a pitiful excuse for one.