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Rename Military Bases? Absolutely

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Jamie Malanowski raised an issue I’d never thought about in a New York Times op-ed piece arguing that military bases named after Confederate leaders should be renamed. And there are a whole bunch of them other than the obvious one, Fort Lee.

The idea that “now, we are all Americans” served to whitewash the actions of the rebels. The most egregious example of this was the naming of United States Army bases after Confederate generals.

Today there are at least 10 of them. Yes — the United States Army maintains bases named after generals who led soldiers who fought and killed United States Army soldiers; indeed, who may have killed such soldiers themselves.

Only a couple of the officers are famous. Fort Lee, in Virginia, is of course named for Robert E. Lee, a man widely respected for his integrity and his military skills. Yet, as the documentarian Ken Burns has noted, he was responsible for the deaths of more Army soldiers than Hitler and Tojo. John Bell Hood, for whom Fort Hood, Tex., is named, led a hard-fighting brigade known for ferocious straight-on assaults. During these attacks, Hood lost the use of an arm at Gettysburg and a leg at Chickamauga, but he delivered victories, at least for a while. Later, when the gallant but tactically inflexible Hood launched such assaults at Nashville and Franklin, Tenn., his armies were smashed.

Fort Benning in Georgia is named for Henry Benning, a State Supreme Court associate justice who became one of Lee’s more effective subordinates. Before the war, this ardent secessionist inflamed fears of abolition, which he predicted would inevitably lead to black governors, juries, legislatures and more. “Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?” Benning wrote. “We will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth, and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination.”

Another installation in Georgia, Fort Gordon, is named for John B. Gordon, one of Lee’s most dependable commanders in the latter part of the war. Before Fort Sumter, Gordon, a lawyer, defended slavery as “the hand-maid of civil liberty.” After the war, he became a United States senator, fought Reconstruction, and is generally thought to have headed the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia. He “may not have condoned the violence employed by Klan members,” says his biographer, Ralph Lowell Eckert, “but he did not question or oppose it when he felt it was justified.”…

Changing the names of these bases would not mean that we can’t still respect the service of those Confederate leaders; nor would it mean that we are imposing our notions of morality on people of a long-distant era. What it would mean is that we’re upholding our own convictions. It’s time to rename these bases. Surely we can find, in the 150 years since the Civil War, 10 soldiers whose exemplary service not only upheld our most important values, but was actually performed in the defense of the United States.

Indeed. It is an insult to black soldiers who are stationed at those bases, especially.

Comments

  1. slc1 says

    A perusal of a list of US military bases does not indicate any named after George Thomas, a native Virginian who remained in the US army and defeated Hood overwhelmingly at the battle of Nashville. I would suggest that one of those bases, currently named after a traitor, be renamed Fort Thomas.

    By the way, the author of the New York Times oped says that Robert E. Lee was, “a man widely respected for his integrity and his military skills”. Actually, Lee was one of the most incapable commanding generals in history.

  2. Abby Normal says

    As a philosophical question I would agree. But from a practical perspective I would want to see a cost analysis before actively pushing for the change. I’ve been burned enough times by “simple name changes” for departments at my company to know that these things often turn out to be much more expensive and troublesome than intuition would lead us to expect. If it’s going to cost tax-payers half a billion or interfere with active projects like the VA’s data mapping, I can live with the insult. But if the logistics experts at the Pentagon have good processes, absolutely go for it.

  3. says

    How about the Confederate Memorial at Arlington, with the Daughters of the Confederacy’s script, “Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni” (essentially, if memory serves, “The wrong side won”)? Yes, I realize it can’t be changed. That would destroy a tradition that goes way back to 1914. Maybe a nice plaque pointing to the rest of those interred in Arlington could be added.
     

    Yet, as the documentarian Ken Burns has noted, he was responsible for the deaths of more Army soldiers than Hitler and Tojo.

    What? It’s not Lee’s fault. It’s Lincoln’s. Take that, history!
     
    Karen Locke “Won’t happen. It’d inflame the Republican Southern white base.”
    Now you’re just being ridiculous. I mean, you’re implying that there are things that won’t inflame them.

  4. raven says

    Karen Locke “Won’t happen. It’d inflame the Republican Southern white base.”

    They are already inflamed. They’ve been inflamed since they lost the civil war in 1865.

    It would inflame them a lot more though. Inflamed squared.

  5. matty1 says

    It’s funny how Republican now means opposed to the legacy of the first Republican president. Maybe Lincoln’s rotating corpse could be used as some kind of power source.

  6. says

    The Confederacy seceded from the United States. The Confederacy attacked the United States. The Confederacy fully surrendered to the United States. The Confederacy no longer exists. Why the heck are we still honoring enemies of the United States?

    To put it another way, if we give the Confederacy a free pass enemies of the United States raising arms against the United States, then we should be glorifying ALL the enemies of the United States. If we say that the Confederacy were a special case, because they used to be citizens of the United States, “strayed” from the path, and “returned” to being citizens, then we should similarly honor American “terrorists” who took up arms against the government of this country.

    … and yet (not too surprisingly) we don’t.

  7. chilidog99 says

    I think we should rename ALL the bases, and that we should auction off the naming rights.

    Think about it. The Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Paris Island could be the “Home Depot Marine Recruit Center.” Schoefield Barracks in Hawaii could be the “Sleep Number Barracks.” Peniscola Naval Air Station could be the “Unical Air Station.” Fort Hood could be “Fort Koch Petroleum.”

    Think of the potential revenue.

    Next, I want to talk about my plan to sell advertising space on the sides of military vehicles deployed in foreign countries.

  8. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    It is an insult to black soldiers who are stationed at those bases, especially.

    It’s also an insult to those of us who argue the government has an obligation to defend our individual rights over the tyranny of traitorous states who fought a war in order to continue to deny the most fundamental rights that are worthy of protection: life, liberty, property, speech, conscience, association, and on and on. Even worse these states fought this war in order to deprive these rights of the very people living in their jurisdiction. Government can’t get much more illegitimate and evil than that.

  9. says

    So, the reason why we can’t rename these bases is because the neo-confederates will through a tantrum that we’re disrespecting their heritage of slavery and treason?

    You really want to see heads explode, start naming bases after people like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

  10. says

    d.c.wilson “You really want to see heads explode, start naming bases after people like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.”
    Name the next supercarrier the USS Obama.

  11. abb3w says

    @6, Modusoperandi

    How about the Confederate Memorial at Arlington, with the Daughters of the Confederacy’s script, “Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni” (essentially, if memory serves, “The wrong side won”)?

    More literally, “The victorious cause pleased the gods, but the defeated was Cato’s”; from the Latin epic Pharsalia (Book I, line 128 or so) about the Roman civil war between Caesar and Pompeii. The comparison of the two wars is a very imperfect parallel, as Pompeii was fighting to preserve (and Cato arguing to support) existing political institutions rather than trying to establish new ones to preserve cultural institutions; though I think the comparison of Lincoln to Caesar was popular in the press at the time.

    I suppose you could go with “the best man lost, because God said so”. And on that level, it’s a bit more apt. The South had greater and more numerous romantically heroic figures; the North had the material resources, and the unromantically practical men like Ulysses S Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. Plus, Cato was indeed a coldly practical slave plantation owner.

  12. slc1 says

    Re abb3w @ #16

    Not to forget General George Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga” and General Phil Sheridan, hero of Thomas Buchanan Read’s famous poem, Sheridan’s Ride.

  13. wpjoe says

    I have to agree with Karen @1. It won’t happen in our lifetimes. Also, it won’t happen if proposed by yankees. You think you can tell CSA states what to do? Maybe someday, when GA has a black governor or a democratic majority, Ft Benning could be renamed. Not before.

  14. slc1 says

    There is an army fort in Virginia named for Confederate General and Virginia native A. P. Hill. Renaming it Fort George H. Thomas would would be most appropriate.

  15. okstop says

    @slc1 (#3)

    I think Lee is grossly over-rated, but I’m not sure I’d call him incapable. He was always extremely effective on defense, on numerous occasions successfully executing complicated withdraws. He had a solid grasp on all the necessary skills for a general officer of his day and no worse an organizational doctrine than any other field-grade officer of his era (comparing his headquarters to Thomas’, who was ahead of his time, would be unfair). His major flaws as a commander were his inability to see strategically beyond his own theater of operations, and whatever drove him to attack over and over again in situations where offensive operations were clearly not in his best interests. I’ve read some authors who put the latter down to the honor-culture of the South and Lee’s own insecurities about the legacy of Light Horse Harry, but its arguably possible that some of his blunders in this regard were simple fatigue and illness. Lee was, on the whole, a capable enough commander who, on paper, grasped the strategy necessary to bring about a Southern victory (short version: delay and defend) but who could not, in the field, seem to bring himself to stick to such doctrine. He most certainly doesn’t deserve his absurdly inflated reputation (thanks, DS Freeman!), but neither was he an incompetent.

    You want incompetent general officers in the Confederacy, look no further than Hood. The man was utterly unsuited for anything above company command, in my opinion, but, then, a shortage of good generals was a perennial problem for the CSA (another fact that flies in the face of “conventional wisdom” about the War, especially here in the South).

  16. sharonb says

    Rename Fort Stewart, outside of Savannah, as Fort Sherman; and play “Marching through Georgia” after Reveille.

    Guaranteed to get the citizenry riled!

  17. erichoug says

    I dunno, I drive by Fort Hood on a semi regular basis and this is the first time I have ever heard of it being named after a Confederate . I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case with most people. But then, I largely agree with you on the confederacy and the people trying to pretend the Civil War wasn’t about slavery really piss me off. So, part of me agrees with you and part of me wonders if this is a scab worth picking.

  18. chilidog99 says

    We can rename Fort Lee to Fort Marlboro Lights.

    After all, it’s a locally grown product, and members of the armed forces are their biggest customer block.

  19. slc1 says

    Re okstop @ #22

    Actually, I left out some words in my comment which was taken from the preface to a book entitled, Grant and Lee, a Study in Generalship and Personality, 1957 edition, by J. F. C. Fuller, who was a retired Major General in the British Army and is considered the foremost proponent of the proper use of tanks in the 1920s and later became a distinguished military historian after his retirement. The exact quotation is, “In some respects, Robert E. Lee was one of the most incapable Commanders-in-Chief in history”. Fuller’s main criticisms of Lee are his lack a strategic vision (he seemed to have no conception of what was going on in the other theaters of the war) and his apparent lack of understanding of the importance of supplying and equipping his army. For example, as Fuller puts it, Lee’s men went barefoot while warehouses in Richmond were bulging with shoes. Napoleon said it best, an Army moves on its stomach.

    A perfect example of his lack of strategic vision was the invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863. The Confederate Government was greatly worried about what was happening around Vicksburg and President Davis sought advice from Lee. Lee convinced him that, if he carried out an invasion of Pennsylvania, the Union President Lincoln would be so terrified about the threat to Washington that he would withdraw troops from Grants Army to fortify the defenses therein. As they say, nothing is more devastating to an opinion then a number. When Grant crossed the Mississippi below Vicksburg, he had 39,000 troops. When Vicksburg surrendered, Grant had 72,000 troops, even after losses during his campaign south and east of Vicksburg. Had Lee had any strategic vision, he would have advised Davis to respond to the threat to Vicksburg by detaching a corps from the Army of Virginia and using the South’s interior lines and the railroads, reinforce Johnston’s force at Jackson. This was what was done later in the year when Longstreet’s corps was moved west to reinforce Bragg in Tennessee which resulted in the Confederate victory at Chickamauga, a victory that was thrown away by the incompetence of Bragg, who was at least as incompetent as John Bell Hood.

    In addition to Fullers analysis, I would opine that Lee apparently learned nothing from events in the battlefield. For instance, the Confederate disaster at Malvern Hill in the 7 Days campaign where Lee’s forces launched a frontal assault on a strong Union position at that location, resulting in a butcher’s bill of his forces suffering 5 times the casualties inflicted on the the opposition. He also observed Burnside’s futile frontal attack on Marye’s Highths later in the same year. So what did Lee do at Gettysburg the following year? He launched a frontal attack on a strong Union position on Cemetery Ridge with 15,000 men, half of whom became casualties. The attack was completely futile as, because the Confederate artillery was unable to silence the Union artillery, which had the advantage of an elevated position, Confederate reinforcements were placed too far away to exploit any breakthrough that might occur. Longstreet had advised Lee to execute a flank march around the Union right and take up a defensive position south of Gettysburg, which would force the Union forces to attack. His sound advice was disregarded by Lee.

    In some defense of Hood, by the time that he superseded Johnston in command of the Confederate forces facing Sherman, he was in no condition to command anything more strenuous then a desk in Richmond. He had lost an arm and a leg in previous encounters, was in considerable pain, and required large doses of laudanum, to which he became addicted, to sleep nights. Davis should never appointed a commander to the second most important command in the Confederate who was in such a state. He would have been better served by leaving Johnston in command, who was at least physically fit for the job. But Davis and Johnston loathed each other so the latter had to go.

  20. slc1 says

    Re erichoug @ #24

    Doesn’t erichoug know that the Civil War was fought over the possession of coal mines in West Virginia? Obviously, he missed the conspiracy theories of drive by troll Don Williams in March.

  21. shay says

    I have no problem with bases named after Bragg and Hood. Braxton Bragg probably did more damage to the Confederate campaigns in the western theater than any Union General, and Hood was not a lot better.

    As for Lee, a sportscaster would probably say, “Good on defense, lousy on offense, can’t win on the road.”

  22. bad Jim says

    Benedict Arnold was at least a capable officer; he managed the retreat from the invasion of Canada and was probably more responsible than Horatio Gates for the victory at Saratoga.

    If we’re going to change the names of military installations, we ought to do something about the Pentagon parking lot named after Oliver North.

  23. lofgren says

    Like erichoug I initially reacted to this piece by thinking, “Ugh, do we really want to reopen these old wounds?” But then I realized that might just be my privilege showing. Maybe it’s not an “old wound” to the black soldiers who train in these camps to defend a country that makes heroes of men who devoted their lives to trying to retain the right to own people. I think the opinion that would matter most to me here is that of black soldiers. If they have a problem here, let’s change it. If they don’t care anymore, then fuck it. Let’s move on with our lives and devote our energies to more important things.

  24. dingojack says

    Perhaps they could name a carpark outside Fort Lee: the William Lewis Calley carkpark*. Now there was officer who showed all the hallmarks of the American military at it’s finest**.
    Dingo
    ——–
    * Why not? The Pentagon set the precedent.
    ** how about honouring Glenn Andreotta, Lawrence Colburn and Hugh Thompson, Jr. , helicopter pilots, whose intervention saved lives of at least 10 Vietnamese civilians.

  25. BobApril says

    What, there are no contrary opinions?

    In one of the military museums I visited during my time in the Army, I saw a list of U.S. and enemy casualty figures for various wars. For the Civil War, it listed only U.S. casualties – vividly making the point that both sides were our own. (The worst example of an extended “friendly fire” incident ever.) Wikipedia does the same thing – the list of wars ranked by U.S. combat deaths includes Union and Confederate casualties combined as U.S. deaths.

    Recognizing famous Confederate generals on an equal basis with Union generals seems to me a part of that idealistic notion. I’m certainly not opposed to honoring later officers, maybe even renaming existing posts to do so. I’m just not sure that doing that specifically to exclude Confederate generals is entirely necessary.

    On the other hand…Camp Hood (later Ft. Hood) was named in 1942. Anyone know a source for how the name was chosen, and why they selected a Civil War general from either side instead of a WWI officer or from some other conflict? The intent at the time might well matter in deciding whether it is now an insult.

  26. lofgren says

    I agree, BobApril. The CSA were Americans. That was the whole point of the goddamn war. They seceded as Americans and they were brought back into the Union at the end of it. Their beliefs and values were American beliefs and values, I am ashamed to say. I think that the attempts here to otherize them are disingenuous and unfair.

    But accepting that doesn’t mean we have to name military bases in their honor. It’s one thing to acknowledge their legacy. It’s quite another to actually be proud of it.

  27. wpjoe says

    @32 ” I’m certainly not opposed to honoring later officers, maybe even renaming existing posts to do so. ”
    If you really want to change the names of these bases, then choosing to rename them in honor of later officers sounds like a great way to do it, maybe even later officers from those particular states. And use that as the reason. Do it all over the country, not just in the south. Otherwise it will seem that you are just trying to shame southerners along with taking away their bibles and their guns.

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