As the military wrestles with racism and its symbols, the commander-in-chief draws a line.
As U.S. military leaders grapple publicly with racism and its symbols, their commander in chief has drawn a line: Army bases will continue to honor Confederate soldiers who took up arms against the United States of America.
“It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc,” President Trump tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a...history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom. The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.....Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!”
Calls to rename the facilities — Forts Benning, Bragg, Gordon, A.P. Hill, Hood, Lee, Pickett, Polk, Rucker and Camp Beauregard — are not new, but have resurged this week amid the widespread protests over the police killing of George Floyd and a nationwide discussion they have launched.
On Monday, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy announced that he is now "open" to a renaming, a service spokesman said.
On Tuesday, John Nagl, Paul Yingling, and Mike Jason urged McCarthy to go ahead and “end this unambiguous practice of institutional racism. It is entirely within his power to correct this injustice; he needs no Congressional authorization or permission from the President to do so.”
“The Army betrays and belittles those sacrifices by honoring domestic enemies of the United States,” they wrote in an oped published by Defense One. “Those who fought for the Confederacy committed treason in defense of slavery.”
They proposed to rename each base for a Medal of Honor recipient from the state where it is located: North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, for example, for WWI hero Sgt. Henry Johnson; Texas’ Fort Hood for Vietnam vet Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez, and others.
Responses to Trump’s Wednesday tweet included this from Paul Eaton, a retired two-star who once commanded Fort Benning: “Rather than move this nation further away from institutionalized racism, he believes we should cling to it and its heritage, by keeping the names of racist traitors on the gates of our military bases. These bases were named long after the Civil War was over, by whites who wanted to fight back against progress towards racial equality. Donald Trump stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them, and against the ideals that the United States Army stands for.”
More broadly, this week has seen U.S. military leaders speak out on racism and its symbols. On Friday, the Marine Corps announced that it was banning all public displays of the Confederate flag; on Tuesday, Navy officials announced plans to do the same.
And the officer who is soon to become America’s first black service chief, Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, released a video “in which he spoke in starkly personal terms about his experience as a black man in America, his unequal treatment in the armed forces and the protests that have gripped the country after the killing of George Floyd in an encounter with Minneapolis police officers,” as the New York Times put it.