Rename the bases

Tuesday, July 28, 2020 - 5:39pm

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Our nation’s military bases should serve as a reminder of the courage and bravery of our country’s armed forces, not as monuments to men who fought to tear the United States apart. It is time the U.S. government remove the names of Confederate generals from our military bases. 

Some of the nation’s largest and most well known military bases, such as Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Benning in Georgia are named after Confederate generals. In total, there are ten major army bases named after Confederate generals. The recent Black Lives Matter protests and growing national conversation about racial justice have put this issue back in the spotlight and reignited calls for the bases to be renamed. 

Support for the name change has been channeled into action with lawmakers adding a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act requiring that all Confederate names be removed from U.S. military bases. A version of each bill passed the House and the Senate, however, the removal of names is not yet set in stone. 

President Donald Trump has vowed to veto the bill if it includes a stipulation to rename bases. The House and Senate passed the bills by a veto-proof majority of over two-thirds in each house. However, if the president decides to veto the bill, Republicans in the Senate could switch their votes to prove their loyalty to Trump. Additionally, since the versions of the NDAA passed by the House and Senate were different, the two chambers must negotiate a final version to vote on, which might not include a requirement to rename the bases. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., a conservative Trump supporter who has a great deal of negotiating power as Senate Armed Services Chair, has vowed to fight to remove this provision from the final bill.  

It is simply unacceptable that in 2020 we are still having this debate. We should not have our military bases serving as monuments to men who actively fought against the U.S. Army and were willing to tear our country apart in order to hold onto their slaves. Instead, we should rename our bases after true American heroes who better represent our values. 

Currently, there are no U.S. military bases named after women, despite the important role that countless women have played in various wars. There are so many people to choose from, both male and female, who deserve the honor of having a base named after them, whether it be Harriet Tubman, John McCain, Ulysses S. Grant or other deserving individuals for whom the bases can be named. Trump and some of his supporters have opposed renaming the bases, saying it is giving in to cancel culture and promoting a revision of history. They also argue changing the names takes away the honor of these bases, which have been critical to past U.S. military success. President Trump reiterated this claim in a Fox News interview, saying "We won two world wars, two world wars, beautiful world wars that were vicious and horrible, and we won them out of Fort Bragg, we won out of all of these forts that now they want to throw those names away.” 

Arguments such as these cheapen the hard work and dedication of those who served in the World Wars and other military conflicts. The successes that have come out of these bases have nothing to do with their names — it has to do with the courageous men and women who serve there. By making this argument, the president is demeaning their commitment and sacrifice. Our president should be focused on commemorating the legacy of true American heroes and patriots, not Confederate generals.

The whole argument of keeping up Confederate memorials to remember our history is ludicrous statues and namesakes do not serve as a reminder of history — they serve as symbols of white supremacy. We should not honor Confederate generals who fought to protect their right to own other people and tried to tear our nation apart. 

Countries such as Germany have shown us that you do not need statues or monuments to remember history. In Germany, there are no Nazi flags, no statues to Hitler or elementary schools named after Mengele. They recognize their sinful history and work to atone; they do not commemorate the monsters of the past. 

Removing the names of Confederate generals from our military bases will not fix everything. It is a small step in the marathon of changes that we need to make in this country. However, it is an important step that must be taken to ensure that we commemorate the values and individuals who represent our highest American ideals.  

Isabelle Schindler can be reached at ischind@umich.edu.