Manufacturing a Controversy

Rowan Scarborough over at the Washington Times has a story regarding portraits of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson at the Army War College.

He starts off with the ominous assertion that, “The U.S. Army War College, which molds future field generals, has begun  discussing whether it should remove its portraits of Confederate generals — including those of Robert E. Lee and Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.”

How does he come to this conclusion?  Because the war college, according to Scarborough, was inventorying its collection of portraits, and “During the inventory, an unidentified official — not the commandant, Maj.  Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III — asked the administration why the college honors  two generals who fought against the United States.”  So one person asked a question.  According to spokeswoman Carol Kerr, “There will be a dialogue when we develop the idea of what do we want the  hallway to represent.”

When the war college begins to consider what that particular hallway will represent, then, they will have a dialogue about what portraits/pictures will go into that hallway.  So far, I don’t see the problem.

Scarborough continues, “She said one faculty member took down the portraits of Lee  and Jackson and put them on the  floor as part of the inventory process. That gave rise to rumors that the paintings had been removed.”  Ah, so as part of the inventory process, the person assigned to that hallway took paintings off the wall and put them on the floor.  They weren’t removed from the room, they were just temporarily placed on the floor.  I see.  And that led to “rumors that the paintings had been removed.”  Apparently whoever started those rumors couldn’t conceive that those paintings laying on the floor were the same ones that had been on the wall.

Scarborough then quotes Kerr again:  “ ‘This person was struck by the fact we have quite a few Confederate images,’ she  said, adding that the portraits were rehung on a third-floor hallway. ‘[Lee]  was certainly not good for the nation. This is the guy we faced on the  battlefield whose entire purpose in life was to destroy the nation as it was  then conceived. … This is all part of an informed discussion.’ ”  So the portraits are back up and that one person is asking, in an academic setting, whether it’s proper for the US Army to honor a man who was responsible for the deaths of so many US soldiers.

Scarborough then opines, “It is the kind of historical cleansing that could spark an Army-wide  debate: Lee’s portrait adorns the walls of  other military installations and government buildings.”  So Scarborough takes one person asking a question in an academic setting and then calls it “historical cleansing” and imagines that this leads to a nationwide wholesale removal of Lee portraits from government buildings.

From what he’s written in this story, it seems to me that Scarborough has done nothing more than manufactured a controversy where none had previously existed.  One person asks a question, it somehow gets to Scarborough, and immediately he imagines a wholesale “historical cleansing.”  I think he’s been reading too much SCV material.  C’mon, man!  Is that all you got?

For the record, I think it’s good to ask that question, and it would be a good thing for the staff of the Army War College to have a full discussion of the question of whether they should put portraits of men who fought against the United States in places of honor.  It’s an academic institution and they should have a full debate on it.  Lee was an outstanding general, and for that reason he should be studied at the war college.  Perhaps his portrait should be displayed, along with other outstanding generals who fought for and against the United States.  I can imagine a good argument for a display that included not only Lee and Jackson, but also Rommel, von Moltke, Yammamoto, and others.  Apparently Mr. Scarborough is afraid of a discussion about what the War College wants to do and would like to try to intimidate the staff to shut them up.

But wait, there’s more.

Today, MGEN Cucolo posted a message about this story to the Carlisle Barracks Banner:  “Here’s what happened:  a few weeks ago, while relocating his office to a new floor in our main school building over the weekend, one of my leaders looked outside his new office location and simply decided to change the look of the hallway.  He took down, off the wall, a number of framed Civil War prints that depicted Confederate States of America forces in action against Union forces or depicted famous Confederate leaders.  He did this on his own.  There was no directive to ‘remove all traces of the CSA.’  Since this is a public hallway with seminar rooms and offices, the sudden new look drew attention the following week.  And since there was no public explanation of my leader’s action, some of my folks jumped to conclusions, even to the point of sending anonymous notes to local media.  We have since attempted to clarify the action within our own ranks.

“If it matters to any of you, you could walk into this building today, and see ornately framed paintings and even a few prints similar to the ones that came down off that hallway wall of Confederate forces and leaders mixed in and among countless other paintings and prints of the Army (and the other services) in action from the Revolutionary War through the current fight in Afghanistan.  I must admit, there are in fact a large number of Civil War paintings, depicting both North and South.  I can only assume one of the reasons there are so many is that we are barely 30 minutes from Gettysburg, home to many renowned artists, a few of whom have been commissioned by US Army War College classes of the past to capture some iconic scene of that conflict.”

Basically, then, there appear to be a few heritage instead of history types at the AWC who pitched a hissy fit while one person was making some changes to the hallway and instead of standing up like men and asking about it they sent anonymous messages to the media.  I wonder if they are SCV members.

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29 comments

  1. The title of the article: “Southern Discomfort: U.S. Army seeks removal of Lee, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson honors” was completely misleading. First there is no evidence that the “US Army” sought to do anything at all. Second, the discussion was about where to hand or not hang painting, not whether to revoke “honors” that had been bestowed on Lee or Jackson.

    1. Exactly right, Pat. The whole thing is just manufactured faux outrage.

  2. Rob Baker · · Reply

    You beat me to it. I just saw this article and was getting ready to write about it.

    1. I got it on Twitter yesterday, Rob. :)

  3. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    I’m surprised that Carol Kerr, a public affairs officer for the school I (do not know if she is the public affairs director or not) would take a stand, one way or the other, on what may become a controversial issue. Public affairs folks generally don’t do that although I tend to agree with her and think it’s a discussion worth having. Also interesting to note that the paintings have been relocated from the first floor to the third floor. Do you know if other paintings of former Confederates were also moved?

    1. She didn’t take a stand. I believe you’re conflating my remarks with quotes from her. Also, read the response from MGEN Cuculo.

      1. Bob Nelson · · Reply

        Kerr said, “[Lee] was certainly not good for the nation. This is the guy we faced on the battlefield whose entire purpose in life was to destroy the nation as it was then conceived. … This is all part of an informed discussion.” Is that not taking a stand or expressing an opinion on an issue?

        1. It looks to me as though she was quoting the person who raised the question.

          1. Bob Nelson · ·

            You are correct. It’s those sneaky little ‘s inside of “s. Not only do I need more coffee in the morning, looks like I need better reading glasses, too. LOL

          2. I don’t think it’s you, Bob. It looks to me as though Scarborough structured the quote to make it appear as though the US Army’s official position was that Lee was bad for the country. That’s in keeping with the dishonest headline and the whole tenor of the article.

  4. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    Used to be, twenty or thirty years ago Al, that when you read it in the Chicago Tribune or heard it from Chet Huntley, you could take it as gospel. Not true any more. Sad that so many news organizations seem more interested in selling papers or advertising (in the case of cable news) than in simply reporting the facts.

    1. Check out 19th Century newspapers. They were unabashedly partisan organs who pushed their opinions in all their “news” stories.

      1. Bob Nelson · · Reply

        True, but before my time. LOL Just seems to me that “journalism” has taken on a whole different meaning in the past twenty or thirty years.

  5. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    Versions I saw today on Fox and the Washington Times sites only show a single set of quote marks and attribute the quote to Kerr, not an unnamed complainer. Do you know if paintings of other ex-Confederates are also hanging in the halls at Carlisle? Have they also been moved? This story seems to be gaining some traction, which of course opens a can of worms with all the U.S. Army forts named for ex-Confederates — Forts Lee, Hood, A.P. Hill, Pickett and others.

    1. They have all kinds. It’s getting traction among people who just swallow this garbage without thinking about it.

  6. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    Another question, perhaps a bit off target, but I’ll ask it anyway. Do you know what has happened to the Indian Industrial School farmhouse at Carlisle. It was scheduled to be razed in 2012 to make room for new housing but I cannot find anything on Internet as to its current status. Thanks.

    1. It’s still standing.

      1. Bob Nelson · · Reply

        Do you know whether it’s been fixed up/rehabbed or is it just still in rather poor condition ala 2012 pictures?

        1. I wouldn’t call it poor condition. There is a military family living in it, as there has been for years. Carlisle Barracks has a policy of staff members and families living in the historic homes on the post, and this is no exception. I don’t think it looks bad.

  7. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    My good friend, Pete Taylor who graduated from the War College, reminds me that most of the paintings in the hallways were commissioned by graduating classes. His was the one of Gordon surrendering to Chamberlain at Appomattox.

  8. […] Is the United States Army still going to war against Lee and Jackson? […]

  9. I see that our good friend “Lady Val” has been made aware that maybe there’s a lot less to the original story than first reported, and is now insisting that “I need to know certainly before I use the matter in my newsletter.”. That’s a remarkable admission of uncertainty, coming from someone who usually goes out of her way to pull the fire alarms every time she hears that someone saw smoke, somewhere, sometime.

    Bonus points for Amanda Swart, who is appalled that “a black woman” might carry the same names as two of the Confederacy’s most famous generals. Not even trying to hide it, are they?

    1. Thanks, Andy. Ms. Protopapas has certainly shown no hesitation in the past when attempting to put her foot in her mouth.

  10. Apparently, “political correctness” is raising its ugly head once again, and is being used by some to deny our collective American History…to the detriment of all Americans. American History includes Confederate History, and all aspects of our collective history must be acknowledged…whether or not we “approve” of all of it. Just because we don’t “like” parts of our past, is no reason to ignore those parts, because to ignore them is to put ourselves in the unenviable position of possibly repeating them. After all, we’re not supporters of “ethical cleansing” in any shape or form, because we represent “tolerance” and “acceptance” of diversity. Now, it’s up to contemporary Americans to prove it, by accepting who we are, and how we arrived at this point in our collective history. Anything less is simply “unacceptable.”

    1. Apparently, Edward, you can’t understand the written word. Try to read the post again. The pictures are not being removed, but you’d rather bleat about an imaginary action than be interested in the truth.

  11. Buck Buchanan · · Reply

    As a retired Army officer and graduate of the Command & General Staff College I believe that portraits of men who turned their backs on their oaths and took up arms against the United States and the United States Army have no place within the halls of Army facilities, outside of museums.

    I have no problem if it was in the Army Hisorical Center at Carlisle but they don’t belong in the College.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Buck. My understanding is these were commissioned by graduating classes of the war college and presented to the war college by those classes. Given, that, my own personal opinion is that it’s appropriate to have them in the war college as a remembrance of past classes. Having said that, I think it’s appropriate to put a logical structure into place in which they are displayed in an accurate historical context. As you allude to, we should never forget that they were the enemies of the United States during the Civil War, and that they fought against the United States Army. I also believe that the historical context in which they’re displayed should reflect that great truth. They would, for example, fit in with a display that showed various enemies against which the US Army fought. That would also show a proper respect for our adversaries over the years.

      1. Al,

        The problem with your assertion that Lee et.al. were enemies of the United States doesn’t “line-up” with your idol’s position that the Southern States didn’t leave the Union, but were “rebelling” against it. Lee et.al. couldn’t have fought the Union, since they never left it, thus they weren’t “enemies” of the United States. If you want to continue to be a supporter of your idol, you’ll have to adjust your belief system to agree with his.

        1. I don’t have any idols, Edward. And your statement is ridiculous. Of course a citizen of the United States can be an enemy of the United States.

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