In his column of July 21, Michael Kelly notes that Abraham Lincoln "had done great good," repeating the simplistic hagiography that envelops the man. Winners write history, but in cold fact Lincoln was responsible for the deaths of some 600,000 men, North and South, the equivalent in today's population of 4 million.

The Civil War decimated the South in the name of abstract ideology, destroying its economy and leaving its heartland in ruins. The punitive measures following the war, such as discriminatory freight rates, which made industrialization impossible, converted the South into a poverty-stricken rural colony of the industrial North for 80 years. Only at the end of World War II did it begin to recover.

Lincoln is an icon today because he "freed the slaves," something he did only partially and reluctantly as a cynical maneuver to keep the European powers, which sympathized with the South, neutral.

He is a peculiar figure to be idealized for racial tolerance, since in the Lincoln-Douglas debates and elsewhere he repeatedly called for shipping the "Negroes" back to Africa and repeatedly insisted that blacks and whites could not live together in harmony.

It's time we begin to rewrite the Lincoln myth as dispassionate history, as we have with Jefferson. He was an ego-driven obsessive with a superb gift for rhetoric. A reasonable man would have let the South secede since 90 percent of its people wanted to, just as Serbia should have let Kosovo go rather than beating it into submission in the name of the nation state.

EDWARD HARPER

Annapolis