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Opinion: Why John Kelly wasn’t completely wrong about Robert E. Lee

The Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Va.
(Chad Williams / AP)

To the editor: Mostly I agree with Jamil Smith, but I feel like we are splitting hairs when discussing White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s remarks about the Civil War. (“Doomed to fight the Civil War again,” Opinion, Nov. 2)

Kelly said that in the 1860s, Americans’ first loyalty was to their state. Robert E. Lee was asked by both sides to command their armies, but Lee reluctantly went with the South when Virginia finally seceded. As a career officer in the U.S. Army, he had hoped that Virginia would stay in the union.

Kelly was not necessarily agreeing with Lee’s actions; he was stating what conditions were at the time.

Many local governments in the South have found the Confederate memorials to be an embarrassment. Acknowledging our imperfect history while not trivializing its impact, and certainly by not lionizing its shortcomings, would be the responsible thing to do. Monuments should tell the truth about our history — even if we don’t like it.

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Glenn Bever, Lancaster

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To the editor: Smith shows how the Trump administration’s alternative realities now extend to the Civil War.

Kelly defended appropriateness of memorials to Lee, claiming that “it was always loyalty to the state first back in those days.” He should find a Civil War textbook and read about George Thomas, the “rock of Chickamauga,” and naval hero David Farragut, both southerners who fought bravely for the Union and ultimately for the end of slavery.

Confederate apologists need to understand that valor in the service of evil is still evil. This is understood in Germany, where one does not find monuments to the valor of the Nazis.

The statues of Lee and his fellow Confederates belong in museums, not in town squares. Public monuments should be maintained only for those, like Thomas and Farragut, whose deeds reflect values that will endure for the ages.

Daniel J. Stone, Los Angeles

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