Robert E. Lee was not a hero, white supremacists are not Americans

Posted on August 16, 2017. Filed under: Civil Rights, Civil War, Politics, Slavery, The Founders, Truth v. Myth, U.S. Constitution, What History is For | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

There is no need to be careful about this. Anyone who served in the armies of the Confederate States of America was a traitor to the United States; anyone who led those armies all the more so. They were part of an armed rebellion against the U.S., which is the definition of treason.

That in itself is enough. But the fact that Confederates were fighting to protect and advance slavery, to create a slave state, means their rebellion was not just political, against the political entity that was the United States, but ethical, moral, and philosophical. They specifically rebelled against the U.S. move to end slavery of black Americans, and just as American abolitionists and antislaveryites based their work to end slavery on moral principle enshrined in the Constitution—that “all men are created equal”–American proslaveryites based their work to continue and expand slavery on a rebellion against that American principle.

The Confederacy was explicitly founded to protect and promote slavery. Its leaders made absolutely no secret of that at the time (see Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion for all the evidence from primary sources that you need). As Confederate vice-president Alexander H. Stephens said in his famous “Cornerstone speech“,

…the new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. [Thomas] Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. …The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. …Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind — from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just — but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.

I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal. [our emphasis]

We quote Stephens at nauseating length to show that the Confederacy was explicitly dedicated to the anti-American principle that non-white people are biologically inferior to white people. The Confederates themselves expressed it this way, as a rejection of and rebellion against the Founders’ plan and hope that slavery would inevitably end the United States because it was “wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically”, and the United States would not tolerate this because the nation was founded on the principle of equality.

Why does this matter now, on August 16, 2017? Because Stephens still has followers in this country. The Confederacy still has supporters. There are still people living in this country who do not support our Constitution or our law, or any of our founding principles. They call themselves Americans, and most were born here, but they are not. Americans are dedicated to the founding principles of the United States of America, which include the premise that all men are created equal. Anyone who fights this is not American.

And the man currently holding the title of President of the United States is one of them. Donald Trump is no American. He is, clearly, a Confederate president, taking up the torch from Alexander Stephens. In his press conference after a white supremacist/KKK/Nazi rally in Charlottesville, VA in which one woman was killed while protesting against the racist rally, Trump said that Americans protesting fascism were just as bad, and in some ways worse, than Nazis posing as Americans, and he took the fascist side:

What about the people of the alt-left, as they came charging at the alt-right, as you call them? [shouts] What about the fact that they came charging, they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.

As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day… wait a minute; I’m not finished. I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day. …I will tell you, I watched this closely, more closely than any of you people, and you had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. I think there’s blame on both sides and I don’t have any doubt about it and you don’t have any doubt either.

…there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. …the following day it looked they had had some rough, bad people–neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them, but you had a lot of people in that group who were there to innocently protest…

So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

Our quotes for all but the last paragraph were taken from video on Fox News’ website. So far as we saw the Fox News coverage did not include the last statement. Their commentator did describe these statements by Trump as part of a “brave and honest press conference, he pulled no punches… brutally honest, maybe too honest.”

Honest. We can’t help thinking of Stephens gloating that the premise that all people are created equal had finally been debunked as a fantasy, as fanaticism. If it’s “honest” to say that American protesting fascism are the criminals, and the fascists are the true Americans, innocent Americans, then we have entered a second civil war—or a second Confederate States of America, brought into being without a shot fired in official war.

For over 150 years, the citizens of the United States perpetrated a dangerous wrong by allowing statues of traitors who fought against the U.S. politically and morally, traitors who were dedicated to the lie that all people are not created equal, to stand. “Oh, it’s not about slavery,” people would say; “it’s just their culture.” We once heard someone say there are no statues to Nazi leaders in Germany. Why are there memorials to Confederate leaders in the United States? Now we see the result of 150 years of dedicated fighting after Appomattox by people who will never be real Americans, and a concentrated effort over the last 50 years, since the Civil Rights movement, to revive the Confederate States of America.

Needless to say, we can’t give in. While Trump has basically invited and urged Nazis to show up when the statue of Jackson is taken down, and has given new hope and excitement to Nazis in America, we Americans have to fight. It’s much harder to fight a guerrilla war than it was to go into actual battle during the Civil War. Right now the best path is to meet the Nazis wherever they go, and not remain a silent majority.

Every nation has a fraction of its population that urges fascism and hatred. Sometimes they manage to monopolize the microphone and take up more space in the media than their numbers justify. Now is such a time in the U.S. Now is the time to muscle these people back into the shadows if we can’t drive them out of the country. That’s the “brutally honest” truth.

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11 Responses to “Robert E. Lee was not a hero, white supremacists are not Americans”

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Far too simplistic.
And totally counter-productive in not seeking to address the causes of fascism. A lack of dedication to rational causality which is too characteristic of reactionary politics for comfort.

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Hello and thanks for writing. The time for admiring the problem of fascism and white supremacy is over. The causes of each are well-documented. What is needed now is not more listening, but action in the name of liberty and justice for all, equality of opportunity, and other American founding principles. Suggesting that we don’t yet understand why some people choose fascism is completely unfounded. We do. Nothing new is happening in that regard–there are no special, new reasons why it’s attracting some people now. It’s the same old story. It’s true that we need to address the causes of fascism, but that work is being done. It’s perpetual. The fight against racism and bigotry in all its forms will never be done. What can be done right now is to draw a clear line around what is true to the founding principles of this nation and what is not, and make that part of the work.

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Slavery, yes was a part of the war, but a very small reason for the war. With industry in the north, and agriculture predominately in the south, the economies, cultures, and lifestyles were polar opposites. The north began taxing the south for trade/sale of cotton and other agricultural goods. The North had a much larger say in federal issues, and the south wanted more rights to the states. That is why to a degree I understand the fight of the south. Obviously not for slavery, but the idea the federal government cannot bear full control of the states, and some states cannot bully other states. As for the leaders of the Confederate, I would remind them that Robert E. Lee loved the United States, but choose to fight to his state over his country. Lee said “I have fought against the people of the North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from the South its dearest rights. But I have never cherished toward them bitter or vindictive feelings, and have never seen the day when I did not pray for them.”. He also said ” “Madam, do not train up your children in hostility to the government of the United States. Remember, we are all one country now. Dismiss from your mind all sectional feeling, and bring them up to be Americans.” he was not fighting to preserve slavery. He was fighting to defend his state’s right to make decisions without federal government coming down on them. He still loved the US and urged the south to work with the south after the war.

Among many other reasons, if President Trump is a Nazi, why would he hire minorities at all in his cabinet?

The governor of SC WANTED this horrible upheaval to happen last weekend. He KNEW it was coming. If the Nazi group doesn’t have a right to assemble like other anti-american groups, then why were they given a PERMIT? The police were ready to do their job, but the governor stopped them. The governor is a big anti-gun advocate. He wanted an uprising so he could further his anti-2nd amendment agenda.

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Hello Elizabeth. Your argument that slavery was a “very small reason for the war” is simply unfounded. Read any of the declarations of secession and they are unashamedly frank about slavery being the only reason to secede. The quote from Lee about “our dearest rights” is a reference to slavery. The only decision his state wanted to make that it feared the new Republican president Lincoln would not let it make was to continue slavery.

Your claim about the governor of SC is both unclear and specious; the Charlottesville Nazi rally was in Virginia. As with all groups in the U.S., Nazis have a right to assemble, but not to engage in hate speech or violence. The Second Amendment is not about personal gun ownership.

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Americans appear to remain ignorant of the past, the present and the future. Like many of his generation Lee chose to defend his home state and after the war accepted the extinction of slavery as inevitable. However, from the time of the Founding Fathers through Jefferson, Jackson, Clay et.al they knew that the United States could not remain half slave, half free. Given the economic dependence of the South on cotton production the defence of slavery was inevitable.

As for ‘fascism’ I would draw attention to the article written by the socialist George Orwell in 1944 entitled ‘What is Fascism? in which he drew attention to those who had been called ‘fascist’ in print. They included conservatives,socialists, communists, Trotskyists, Boy Scouts, Catholics, War resisters and nationalists, including Zionism and the I.R.A. His conclusion was that in reality the term had been reduced to that of a political swearword as indeed it still is.

Fascism originated with the writings of the revolutionary syndicalist Georges Sorel whose myth of violence enabled Italian Nationalists to support the First World War and Mussolini to transpose Sorel’s hatred of liberalism and democracy into a nationalist cause which he defined as Fascism. Historians have added to the myth by injudiciously using the term to describe the system established by Mussolini to described Hitler’s regime. In philosophy and organisation they were different. It is often forgotten the Left were characterized as ‘social fascists’ by Stalin in his policy of seeking control over all socialist thought and organisation in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Mussolini’s Fascism was not based on race. When, under pressure from Hitler, race laws were introduced in Italy they were widely disregarded and not enforced.

If Trump was indeed a fascist he would have overthrown the constitution and undermined the courts (which is what Roosevelt did in the 1930’s). He’s not. He is a democratically elected President with little political experience often verbalizing the discontent of those who have been ignored by America’s ruling class who believe they are entitled to rule and despise those who oppose them. Americans, especially on the Left, see a phenomena which does not exist and have departed from the traditional method of seeking solutions to problems by consensus. Trump does not support Nazism, nor is he a fascist, he supports the liberalism of the eighteenth century lawmakers and interprets that in a way which some think is no longer applicable in the twenty-first century. I agree he has not anticipated the future by addressing the issue of gun control.

Articles such as ‘Robert E Lee was not a hero, White Supremacists are not Americans’ add fuel to the fire instead of dousing it. It perpetuates a myth which encourages violence. As the original author wrote, ‘Now is the time to muscle these people back into the shadows if we can’t drive them out of the country’. George Sorel and Benito Mussolini would endorse such sentiments. So who are real the American Fascists?

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Hello Dr. Thomas; thanks for writing. We stand by our position that any American who chooses to support secession and to lead a war to protect slavery is not a real American, because that person is not standing for our founding principle of liberty and justice for all. Seeing one’s state as a higher entity than the whole it is part of is distinctly contrary to our Constitution. And it seems very faint praise to say that Lee accepted the extinction of slavery as inevitable *after* he fought a long hard war to preserve it, and an indictment of sorts to ask us to give him credit for accepting the new law of the nation.

“Fascism” can indeed be used far too freely and thoughtlessly. Not everything is comparable to WWII or the Nazis. But we must be able to learn from history, and when we see that extreme xenophobic, racially or class-based nationalism often begins with free elections and ends with dictatorship, either after a long, destabilizing series of events or instantly, with a coup. You say Trump is not fascist because he was democratically elected and has not overthrown the Constitution and undermined the courts. First, many fascist leaders are democratically elected—including Roosevelt, whom you call a fascist; second, Trump’s administration is very much in the process of undermining the courts, by appointing neo-cons to judicial positions, especially in the appellate courts, and by racing to appoint judges to district and circuit courts, appeals courts, and and U.S. attorneys. By last July, Trump had nominated 55 justices in his first six months in office, compared with Obama having appointed 22. The Republican-dominated Congress has approved all nominations, in large part because 45 of these 55 Trump nominees are either from states that Trump won in 2016 or the judgeship they would hold is in a state Trump won. In states where both U.S. senators are Republican, Trump has nominated 30 people to judicial positions; in states where both senators are Democratic, just five. This is a practical way to ensure long-term neo-con judgments and is surely done in the hope of establishing less democratic government.

As to whether Trump supports nazism, anyone who claims that a group of self-described neo-Nazis fighting for white power includes “people who want to innocently protest” clearly has some sympathy for nazism. Protest what? The removal of statues honoring men who wanted to enslave non-white Americans. To split hairs about this is to turn a blind eye to the obvious. We are very interested to hear exactly how Trump supports “the liberalism of 18th-century lawmakers and interprets that in a way which some think is no longer applicable,” and we hope you will write back to explain.

We understand your final suggestion, which is that fighting hate with hate only produces more hate, and it’s a valid one. We at the HP do not endorse hate in general, but we cannot sit idly by while those who hate our founding principle of liberty and justice for all are encouraged by our president to do so. Like it or not, Americans inherit a commission from our Founding, which is to work for real democracy—not tyranny of the majority—and to expand protection of their natural rights to liberty and justice to all our citizens.

Just as we do not strictly interpret the Constitution, we do not strictly interpret fascism—that is, we believe that we must use that term as it has evolved through literal application since its original definition, by Sorel or by the ancient Romans, who coined the term. We define fascism in 2018 based on humanity’s lived experience of it in the 20th and 21st centuries, and we know it when we see it. It may be in its nascent stage right now in the U.S., but we do not intend to sit by and cautiously parse definitions while it grows.

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The preamble to the Constitution reads, ‘ We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’ Over the centuries the courts have ignored the preamble and made it clear that the Constitution itself does not define an American but invests power in the people to decide the type of society in which they wish to exist. By denying the right of all members of the Union to assert their viewpoint means per se you endorse the same authoritarian liberalism which provided the origins of Mussolini’s doctrine of fascism.

Secondly, ‘all men are created equal’ was not enshrined in the Constitution but was a phrase translated from an Italian by Thomas Jefferson and included in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson himself held slaves and while he was against it in principle the last 130 slaves he owned were sold to pay off his debts after his death. Defending New Orleans in 1814 Andrew Jackson called on free black men to join the defence of the city. He said, ‘ Distrust them and you make them your enemies, place confidence in them, and you engage them by every dear and honorable tie to the interest of the country, who extends to them equal rights and privileges with white men.” Note ‘Extend’ which means they did not have any such rights at that time. Jackson was also responsible for the removal of the Five Civilsed Tribes along the Trail of Tears. Does this mean he was not an American? The difference between what happened in the past and the situation now is a change in the political culture and sense of moral obligation. Your argument fails to address that issue by ignoring it. It also overlooks the fact that what politicians say is anything they think will get them elected. Truth is rarely a factor. However, Alexander Stephens’ speech (which you neglected to state was not a perfect report but only such a sketch of the address of Mr. Stephens as embraces, in (the reporter’s) judgment, the most important points presented by the orator.) Stephens was merely reflecting the view that was apparently held by the Founding Fathers. As a historian I regret you have chosen to paint a full picture but chosen to quote mine.

Your claim that Donald Trump is not an American but a Confederate President is manifestly and factually wrong and, frankly, demonstrates liberal fanaticism.. He did not support the Nazis but pointed out that the violence which arose started when the liberal protesters attacked those who had come in support of the rally In Charlottesville. Video evidence supported his viewpoint. No one who saw that evidence doubted he was right, other than your somewhat skewed interpretation. You cannot on the one hand claim the right of freedom of speech and defend those who exercise that freedom by attacking them. It’s a fundamental weakness in the philosophy of liberalism which originally produced Mussolini’s doctrine of fascism. To claim that there has been a concerted attempt to revive the Confederate States of America is an indefensible attempt to justify your own standpoint rather than subject it to a critique of reason. Hence your use nebulous phrases such as Trump has ‘basically invited and urged Nazis to show up when the statue of Jackson is taken down’ is a political statement devoid of realism. As previously stated a nation which forgets its past has no future. This is not because of the actions of the elected President of the United States but because of the intolerance of people like yourself who, in the tradition of Sorel and Marx, lack the intellectual integrity to debate issues but call for violence against those who disagree with your own prejudiced viewpoint. In that sense you are more of a traitor to the United States than the Confederacy because you do not believe that all are equal (the Constitution didn’t mention women by the way) only those who think as you do. It appears to me that you are expressing the tyranny of the majority who are disappointed that their sense of entitlement was not supported by an electorate they appear to have taken for granted.

Regrettably your failure to understand my argument is the natural result of blinkered thinking. For example, you claim I called Roosevelt a Fascist. This is untrue.You have inferred something which was not stated, nor meant. In addition, I would remind you it was Andrew Jackson who introduced the spoils system into American politics, not Donald Trump. Appointees to judicial office cannot be imposed they have to be approved. The idea that Trump should appoint Democrats to judicial office is nonsensical and will remain so until America abolishes the election of judges and prohibits the judiciary to have political agendas. Similarly you question what I mean by ‘Trump supports “the liberalism of 18th-century lawmakers and interprets that in a way which some think is no longer applicable,” I was referring to the question of individual gun ownership which personally I believe is a combination of a misinterpretation of what the Founding Fathers intended and a plague in American society. It appears to me the gun lobby is too powerful in the United States and Trump’s support for it is an error of judgement on his part. He also adheres to the principle of free speech which some consider to be too broad in society as a whole. Virginia where I used to live allows people to carry concealed weapons which I find deplorable.

The ‘brutally honest’ truth is that you appear afraid of engaging debating issues upon which you have already have already made up your mind and, as a result, seem to disregard any viewpoint but your own. This is in direct contrast to the way in which Grant accepted Lee’s surrender and allowed his troops to surrender with dignity and supplies. As for your claim you know fascism when you see it I regard this is nonsensical. Both from personal experience and historical observation I am far more familiar with Nazism, Fascism, Socialism, Communism and Anarchism, than you appear to be and regard your claim that there is nascent fascism in the United States to be the product of your own imagination rather than expressing any form of reality. At the last Presidential election my wife, who is an American, decided neither candidate had sufficient merit to earn her vote. If there is a problem in American politics that is it and nothing will change until money no longer rules the political roost. In fairness I do not think you are doing anything to change that.

The Confederacy was an attempt to form a new government based on the states’ rights of those who believed the Federal Government did not have the right to determine what applied in each state itself. This did not make those who supported this viewpoint non-American, simply defenders of their own economic and social interests based on principles, including slavery, which, quite rightly, were rejected by the United States although attitudes lingered on well into the twentieth century very often through apathy and lack of action by those who benefited from it. Thankfully the number of those who adhere to those attitudes has decreased substantially and giving any of them publicity is an error. Finally, thanks for writing. Nothing I have written is intended to be a personal attack simply an expression of a viewpoint which is different from your own and written in gratitude that I reside in the UK not in the USA.

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All Americans have the right to express their views. That does not mean we must accept them all, or refrain from calling those views out as traitorous to our founding principles when that is the case.

Andrew Jackson never extended the rights of citizenship to black Americans.

Stephens’ speech is published in full online and in print.

We never said that Trump is a Confederate president, and don’t know what that would be. And again, speech is free unless it strips others of their rights.

You did not explicitly call FDR a fascist; we extrapolated from your statement: “If Trump was indeed a fascist he would have overthrown the constitution and undermined the courts (which is what Roosevelt did in the 1930’s).”

Your personal history can only be unknown to us, and vice-versa.

The Confederacy made no bones about its fundamental founding principle of black slavery before and during the war. It was only after its defeat that it claimed to have simply fought for general states rights.

We appreciate your desire not to make personal attacks and share it.

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You wrote on 23 February,’We never said that Trump is a Confederate president’. However in your original article dated 16 August 2017, you stated, ‘ Donald Trump is no American. He is, clearly, a Confederate president, taking up the torch from Alexander Stephens.’ which contradicts what you now claim. As for your interpretation of what I wrote about FDR you substituted your opinion for what I wrote, the substance of which was Trump had not done those things which you considered ‘fascist’ whereas Roosevelt had undermined the courts in order to progress social policy which is not what Trump had done. This did not imply Roosevelt was a ‘fascist’ but a politician who knew how to use the American political system to effect change.

In addition, it should have been obvious from my previous contribution that I had read Alexander Stephens’ comments in full, including the note made by the person who reported them. I would point the claim that the Confederacy only claimed States’ rights as the reason for the war after the end of hostilities is inaccurate. Jefferson wrote of the government being a compact of states not a union subject to a central law. The thinking behind it was that they did not wish to replace Royal domination with Federal domination. In order to understand how people acted the way they did it is necessary to understand why they thought that way in the first place. My view is that you are presenting one side of a story rather than looking at both sides. The Confederacy was designed not just to protect slavery but the economic, social and class interests of those in control of political power.

As for free speech I take the view that Americans permit this to the detriment of democracy and social cohesion. As you are aware free speech is not an absolute given which is why ‘hate speech’ is outlawed and there is still no right to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre. I do not consider calling opponents ‘fascists’ or not ‘true Americans’ is helpful in developing sufficient trust to ensure progress. As for your final sentence that is something on which I’m glad we agree.

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We stand not “contradicted in what we claimed” about Trump being a Confederate president, but corrected, and we’re grateful for that.

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Acknowledged.

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