White House Chief of Staff John Kelly waded into the long-simmering dispute over the removal of memorials to Confederate leaders saying in a televised interview on Monday night that "the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War."
In the interview on Fox News' "The Ingraham Angle," host Laura Ingraham asked Kelly about the decision by Christ Church, an Episcopal congregation in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, to remove plaques honoring President George Washington and Robert E. Lee, the commander of Confederate forces during the Civil War.
"Well, history's history," said Kelly, whom President Donald Trump moved from secretary of homeland security to be his chief of staff in July. "You 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. I think it shows you just how much of a lack of appreciation of history and what history is."
Confrontations over removal of Confederate monuments have exposed deep rifts in American society between advocates who argue that the Civil War is a foundation stone of American history whose combatants acted out of conscience and those who contend that the memorials honor Southern defenders of slavery who betrayed their country by launching an armed rebellion.
A subset of pro-memorial advocates includes so-called alt-right political activists and white nationalists, who were blamed for violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August when a car drove into a group of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring 19 other people.
The following is the full transcript of Kelly's remarks on the removal of Confederate statues:
Well, history's history. And there are certain things in history that were not so good and other things that were very, very good.
I think we make a mistake, though, and as a 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 Christopher Columbus did was wrong.'
You 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. I think it shows you just how much of a lack of appreciation of history and what history is.
I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. 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.
Alex Johnson is a senior writer for NBC News covering general news and technology and religion. He is based in Los Angeles.