A recently unearthed speech from 1995, spoken by the current Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, is causing many to question whether his views on the Civil War and slavery are a revisionist posturing of the United States’ historical record.
Wilkie, speaking before the United Daughters of Confederacy in 1995 at the U.S. Capitol, before a statue of Jefferson Davis, praised the only president of the Confederate States of America, calling him a “martyr to ‘The Lost Cause'” in his speech, according to reporting from CNN.
Wilkie added that he wouldn’t be an “apologist for the South,” and that the war was too often viewed “through the lens of slavery,” which he said was “dishonest and a disservice to our ancestors.”
“We can’t surrender American history to an enforced political orthodoxy dictated to our children by attention-starved politicians, street corner demagogues, and tenured campus radicals,” Wilkie reportedly said.
It’s unclear if Wilkie continues to harbor such viewpoints, but reports from CNN confirmed that he was attending such rallies and events praising Confederate figures as recently as 2009.
The “Lost Cause” ideology is, according to some scholars, a means by which some Southerners have attempted to revise the purpose and reasons for the Civil War. The ideology de-emphasizes slavery as the root cause for states seceding from the Union and points to states’ rights and economic factors as more valid reasons for the war’s start.
Further, it promotes the belief that the South’s true cause was the promotion of values that were held before the start of hostilities, including chivalry and other gentlemanly tenets, according to Civil War Journeys.
The re-discovery of the speech by CNN came about as it was researching more information about the neo-Confederate movement, the news organization stated in its article.
The controversial statements by Wilkie that were published on Friday come about just one day after news surfaced that the VA had also tried to quash a staffer’s complaints last year following the violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
That staffer, Georgia Coffey, who at the time served as the VA’s chief diversity officer, had wanted the VA to make a more pronounced condemnation against the alt-right and white nationalist movements, per a previous report from the Inquisitr. Officials in the VA told her such a statement would not be made, so as not to contradict comments that had been issued by the president at the time blaming “many sides” for the violence.
The revelation of Wilkie’s statements will likely hurt his standing at the agency he heads. The VA is a very diverse workplace the in federal government, as nearly 40 percent of all workers at the department are minorities.