Trump right-hand man calls Confederate general ‘honorable’

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Washington (AFP) – White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has triggered a backlash by calling general Robert E Lee, of the pro-slavery Confederate Army, an “honorable man” in a Civil War provoked by an inability to compromise.

He made the comments Monday evening on the Fox News television channel as the United States faces a growing movement to take down statues and other monuments to generals and leaders of the 1861-1865 Confederacy.

Many Americans consider such monuments to be commemorations of a racist past.

“I would tell you that Robert E Lee was an honorable man,” Kelly said when asked about the nationwide debate over Confederate monuments.

“He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country,” he continued.

“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.”

Numerous commentators criticized Kelly’s suggestion that a “compromise” could have been possible over a question like slavery.

The daughter of slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr, Bernice King, called Kelly’s comments dangerous.

“It’s irresponsible and dangerous, especially when white supremacists feel emboldened, to make fighting to maintain slavery sound courageous,” she said in a tweet.

Tensions over the Civil War legacy peaked in August when extreme-right demonstrators and counter-protesters clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia, sparked by a white nationalist rally opposing the removal of a Lee statue.

Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others were injured when 20-year-old James Fields allegedly drove into a crowd of protesters.

President Donald Trump drew widespread condemnation when he suggested there was blame “on both sides,” and that there were “very fine people” among the white supremacist demonstrators.

He has since condemned the removal of Confederate statues as “ripping apart” US culture and history.

Kelly spent nearly four decades in the Marine Corps, retiring at the rank of general, and is considered Trump’s closest White House aide.

Normally averse to public commentary, Kelly last week delivered an emotive defense of the president, while lashing out at Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson. The congresswoman accused Trump of offending the widow of a US soldier slain during an ambush in Niger.



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