Confederate Army symbols within the military, including prominent Army bases named for rebel generals, are divisive and can be offensive to Black people in uniform, the nation's top officer said Thursday.
“The American Civil War was fought and it was an act of rebellion, it was an act of treason at the time, against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution, and those officers turned their backs on their oaths,” Army Gen. Mark Milley told a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that some see it differently. “Some think it's heritage. Others think it's hate.”
He said he has recommended creating a commission to study the matter. The House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for the budget year starting Oct. 1 include provisions for changing the names of 10 Army bases named for Confederate generals.
Those bases, all in the South, are: The 10 bases named after Confederate generals are all in the South: Fort Bragg in North Carolina; Fort Hood in Texas; Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia; Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Pickett and Fort Lee in Virginia; Camp Beauregard and Fort Polk in Louisiana; and Fort Rucker in Alabama
President Donald Trump says he would veto the defense bill if the version that reaches his desk includes a requirement to change the names.
“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a. history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” Trump wrote on Twitter last month. “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.”
Milley did not explicitly say the base names should be changed, but he noted that the Army is now about 20% Black. Calls for renaming those bases and removing symbols of the slave-holding Confederacy have intensified since the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of white police in Minneapolis. Mass protests across the country and around the world have called for a rethinking of social injustices -- a message mixed, to some extent, with accompanying acts of violence and vandalism.
In calling for a "hard look" at changing the base names, as The New York Times reported him saying, Milley appears to be further exposing a divide between the president and some in the military.
“For those young soldiers that go onto a base — a Fort Hood, a Fort Bragg or a fort wherever named after a Confederate general — they can be reminded that that general fought for the institution of slavery that may have enslaved one of their ancestors,” Milley said.
He recalled an enlisted soldier told him, early in Milley's career while serving at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, that “he went to work every day on a base that represented a guy who had enslaved his grandparents.”
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