By AFRO Staff
Despite rising chorus of proponents, including among Congressional Republicans and military generals, President Donald Trump said for his administration changing the name of any of the 10 Army bases that are named for Confederate Army officers is a “non-starter.”
“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “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.”
An ad by progressive veterans group VetsVote likens an imaginary military base named after Osama bin Laden to those named after Confederate officers. (Image capture from Twitter)
To amplify Trump’s view, his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said he is “fervently” opposed to changing the base names and believes that doing so would amount to “complete disrespect” for soldiers who trained there over the years. He also said he would veto any legislation requiring those name changes that comes to his desk.
Trump administration Housing Secretary Ben Carson, who is Black, said June 14 that naming bases after Confederate generals was done in post-war reconciliation efforts and to change them now would have “exactly the opposite effect” — and that society needs to stop looking for history to be offended by.
“We have to recognize that we have a history and to try to hide that history is probably not a smart move,” Carson told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
Supporters of disassociating military bases from Confederate Army officers argue that they represent the racism and divisiveness of the Civil War era and glorify men who fought against the United States. Of the 10 Confederate generals whose name graces military bases, some were slaveholders, others mistreated captured Union soldiers and one was linked to the Ku Klux Klan after the war.
The discussions of those divisive legacies has gained resonance in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a White Minneapolis police officer, and the widespread protests demanding equality and justice that followed.
The U.S. military recently began rethinking its traditional connection to Confederate Army symbols, including the Army base names. The Navy and the Marine Corps, for example, are now banning public displays of the Confederate Army battle flag on their installations, casting their decision as necessary to preserve cohesion within the ranks.
Paul Eaton, a retired two-star Army general and a former commanding general of Fort Benning, said Trump’s statements go against ideals the Army stands for.
“Today, Donald Trump made it official. 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,” Eaton said.
David Petraeus, a retired four-star Army general, said the renaming move, which he supports, amounts to a “war of memory,” and that before deciding to rename bases like Fort Bragg, where he served with the 82nd Airborne Division, the Army must be ready to follow its own procedures for such change.
“The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention,” Petraeus wrote in an essay published Tuesday by The Atlantic. “Now, belatedly, is the moment for us to pay such attention.”
On June 14, Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under the Bush and Obama administrations, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the current climate offered an “opportunity.”
“I think the time has come,” he said. “I think that there is the opportunity not only to name some of these places for some of our great generals of the 20th century but also individuals such as African American and other minority Medal of Honor recipients and so on.”
In starker terms, veteran organization VoteVets, which claims 700,000 members, likened the naming of bases after Confederate officials to naming one after Osama Bin Laden.
“We wouldn’t name American military bases after enemies who attacked our country,” states the video produced by the progressive group. “But 10 military bases still bear the names of Confederate army traitors — enemies who took up arms against the United States in defense of slavery.”
So “why does Donald Trump so desperately want to keep the names of other racist enemies on our Army bases?” the group added in a Twitter post accompanying the video.
Even Trump allies have expressed measured and even outright support for the rebranding.
Name changes have not been proposed by the Army or the Pentagon, but on June 8, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters they were “open to a bipartisan discussion” of renaming bases such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Benning in Georgia.
One June 10, the Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee voted to mandate that the Pentagon remove Confederate names, symbols and monuments from military bases and equipment within the next three years.
And on ABC’s “This Week” June 14, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., agreed bases should be named, likening it to schools having namesakes that serves as role models.
“You would have that on a military base as well,” Lankford said. “So, if you have a military base that is named after someone that actually rebelled against the United States government, then you would want to be able to go back and look at that name. That should be a pretty basic principle.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.