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Trump says he ‘will not even consider’ stripping Army posts of Confederate names

There are 10 U.S. Army posts named after men who were Confederate generals during the Civil War. Top row, from left: Braxton Bragg, George Edward Pickett, Henry Benning, A.P. Hill and Leonidas Polk. Bottom row, from left: John Brown Gordon, John Bell Hood, Robert E. Lee, Edmund Rucker and Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard.

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 10, 2020

Learn more about the Confederate generals after whom 10 U.S. military bases are named with this Stars and Stripes interactive project from 2015..

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump in a trio of tweets Wednesday afternoon appeared to quash any chance that the Army could change the names of 10 southern Army installations named for Confederate generals while he remains in the White House.

“[M]y Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations,” Trump wrote in his tweets, which did not mention the Confederacy. “Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy signaled this week that they were open to a “bipartisan conversation” on the potential renaming of posts, as demonstrations spread across the United States aimed at addressing systemic racism in the country. It marked a dramatic change in stance for the Army, which has for decades defended the naming of those posts during the Jim Crow era. In late February, Army officials foot-stomped their unwillingness to consider the issue, saying the names were rooted in the “spirit of reconciliation” and not meant to honor any particular cause.

Army officials said McCarthy hoped to get congressional support before he committed to any changes, though the service has the power to change the names of its installations without the input of lawmakers or other federal officials.

But the conversation appeared to end Wednesday. A defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday afternoon that it was unlikely McCarthy or Esper would challenge Trump on the issue.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday called the issue an “absolute nonstarter” for Trump, adding the president would veto any legislation passed that included direction to rename one or all of the installations in question. She said that would include the National Defense Authorization Act, which is required to set annual Pentagon policy and funding.

In his tweets, Trump singled out Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Benning, Ga., as “legendary” and “very powerful bases” that “have become a great part of the great American heritage and a history of winning, victory, and freedom.”

Fort Bragg was named in 1918 for Gen. Braxton Bragg. Fort Hood was named in 1943 for Gen. John Bell Hood. Fort Benning was named in 1918 for Brig. Gen. Henry Benning. All three were slave owners who saw mixed results as military leaders, according to historians. Bragg, for example, was stripped of his command after losing the Battle of Chattanooga in Tennessee in 1863. Hood, too, would lose his command after a loss in the Battle of Nashville in late 1864.

The other posts named for Confederate generals are: Camp Beauregard and Fort Polk in Louisiana; Fort Gordon in Georgia; Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia, and Fort Rucker in Alabama.

Trump’s tweets Wednesday came as a growing chorus of Army veterans called for the renaming of the bases. A petition on change.org calling for the renaming of the bases had more than 14,000 signatures on Wednesday afternoon.

Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus was the latest prominent veteran of the service to call for the change, saying it was an “easy, even obvious decision.”

“These bases are, after all, federal installations, home to soldiers who swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Petraeus wrote in an editorial published Tuesday in The Atlantic. “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. Now, belatedly, is the moment for us to pay such attention.”

During the White House press briefing, McEnany claimed renaming the Army posts would dishonor soldiers who died in battle after deploying from those installations.

“To suggest that somehow these forts are inherently racist and their names need to be changed is a complete disrespect to the men and women who the last bit of American land they saw before they went overseas and lost their lives was these forts,” she said.

Trump’s tweet also comes as an Army official said Wednesday that the service would consider banning Confederate memorabilia on its installations, such as displays of the Confederate battle flag. No decision has been made on that prospect, according to the official who was not authorized to discuss private deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Marine Corps earlier this year was the first military service to issue such a ban. The Navy said Tuesday that it would begin the process to bar the open display of the Confederate battle flag from its bases, ships, submarines and aircraft. 

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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