Don’t tear them down unofficially. Take them down…officially!
Yes, let’s finally stop acquiescing to the idea that there was something noble or worth embracing about treason. After all, seven of the eleven states of the Confederacy had thumbed their collective noses and seceded from the United States of America months and weeks before Abraham Lincoln became President. When public, tax-supported, buildings fly the confederate flag, they fly the flag of the Confederate States of America that, after 1860, had nothing whatever to do with the United States of America, other than fight to leave it.
Statues of Civil War generals and Confederate political leaders pay homage to those who led the battles in the effort to secede. US military bases named for Confederate generals are a long, lingering insult to the United States, the nation against which they fought and lost, and to the more than 600,000 men who died because of that war.
The carefully planned, but ugly, rhetorical question posed by President Trump during a Fox interview with Chris Wallace last week, “what would we rename Fort Bragg…Fort Reverend Al Sharpton?” was nothing more than the crudest of racist dog whistles meant to inflame and encourage indignation from the worst of his base. It would take great naivete to believe that Trump’s rhetorical question was spontaneous and unplanned.
Here are some suggested answers, however, to the President’s dark-side rhetorical question; how about changing the name of Fort Bragg to Fort Dwight Eisenhower, or maybe Fort John Pershing, or, perhaps, Fort Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., or Fort Matthew Ridgeway, or, for Pete’s sake, maybe Fort George Marshall as the Washington Post recently suggested. Hey, how about Fort Harry S. Truman or Fort Keith Ware, a former Civil War private and Medal of Honor winner who stayed in the Army after the war and went on to work his way up to Major General, or, maybe, any number of Medal of Honor winners who didn’t shirk military service and went on to courageously distinguish themselves on the battlefield. One wonders who in the south or anywhere else would object to renaming Fort Bragg (or any military base) for any of these authentic American leaders.
The decision to rename Fort Bragg and other military installations named for Generals who led a war against the United States of America is long overdue. Listen to retired General and former CIA Director David H. Petraeus: “not only was Brag, an undistinguished military commander, but he and other Confederates also committed treason, and the Army should not brook any celebration of those who betrayed their country.”
There is no more justification for naming bases after confederate generals then there would be to name a base after General Benedict Arnold who, incidentally, was a distinguished General in George Washington’s revolutionary army until he betrayed his country and sailed off to England with his new, young British bride.
President Trump is, today, tragically out of step with the national ethic and southern sensibility. He could learn a lesson about real leadership from southerners like former Republican UN Ambassador (and former Governor of South Carolina), Nikki Haley, who knew that the capital of her state was no longer a place over which the confederate flag should fly. Her state legislature overwhelmingly agreed with her. South Carolina’s lawmakers voted 93 to 27 to advance the bill to remove the flag from state buildings and, minutes later, the legislature quickly passed the final resolution for removal of these tired and sad symbols, with over two-thirds of the legislators voting in favor of removal. The vote was greeted not with scorn, but with cheers by the legislature.
Even the Mississippi House and Senate voted overwhelmingly, and to cheers from the legislators, to remove the confederate battle flag symbol from its state flag. So has every other southern state that once blessed the Confederate symbols. The President’s sarcastic and mean-spirited reference to Rev. Al Sharpton, who never served in the armed forces, as the man for whom the military bases might be renamed, had to be an insult to the intelligence of the vast majority of southern Americans.
Last Wednesday in the US House of Representatives, seventy-two Republicans voted with their Democratic colleagues to banish from the nation’s capitol statues of Confederate figures and others who pushed white supremacist agendas. The betting is, of course, that Trump’s Senate will not take up the legislation at all.
Listen to former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who, over five years ago, courageously removed Confederate statues from places of reverence such as city parks.
“New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold, and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.
“…America was the place where nearly 4000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana, where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’ and where Freedom Riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp…
Have no wistful illusions that the Civil War was fought to preserve a Confederate summertime where the livin’ was easy and the fish were jumpin’ and the cotton was high. No one spoke more clearly about the true goals of the Confederacy than the Confederacy’s Vice President, Alexander Stephens, in his famous Cornerstone Speech. Listen to him…
“…the Confederacy’s corner-stone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth…”
That was the cause of the men President Trump wants to continue to honor. The President dismisses, out of hand, the wishes of our military leaders to readdress the names of these army bases, literally declaring that “I don’t care what they think..it is my decision.” Indeed, it is, and history will never forget it.
The flags and statues and names of military installations to which President Trump pays homage are, in today’s enlightened world, of no redeeming value. His politically motivated position on this issue is also beyond redemption.
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You enlightened me, Thank you for your research.
Yes, you are both right and you are wrong. If we eliminate and destroy all of our historic symbols we will live to forget the bad and the ugly. Sadly, we may relive our errors and mistakes, SadlyTV interviews on the street with the so-called average American when asked the most basic common things about our history, they have idiotic answers of what came before them.
This note is long overdue. Your weekly columns are amongst the most thoughtful and enlightening and never fail to provide a valuable perspective. It was what journalism was suppose to be about but long ago detoured from this important public service. Thank you for your time and talent to keep us informed on the wide variety of important issues of the day.
Hal is not wrong – and taking them down is the right thing to do. What we do with them is another story. I agree that there could and should be a museum of the Civil War where some of these statues could reside – but I bet you didn’t realize that there are close to 2000 of them across the US. We don’t need to keep 2000 statues of Civil War heroes. And we don’t need to keep our military bases named after these treasonous generals just to prevent history from repeating. Why are we so close to another civil war over race relations – now – with 2000 “historic symbols” in place to remind us of our ugly past? The only purpose these “historic symbols” serve is to enable our racist compatriots to feel justified in their beliefs and to allow their children to be raised without questioning the beliefs of their parents – and so the cycle continues. We need to dramatically change our educational processes and our history books to ensure that young people learn that the Civil War was simply about slavery and not “states rights” as is done today. We need to make a lot of changes and removing all of these statues and flags is a great first step. I recommend that you watch John Oliver’s show from 2017 about the Confederacy. You can easily search for it on YouTube.
Bravo Hal! Who could disagree with this powerful argument other than, Nikki Haley said of dissenters in her state, “the uneducated”?
Well done & timely Hal. Sadly, more who should read this will not.
History is what it is. We cannot change it but we can learn from it and not to repeat the same mistakes. The sad thing is that we still don’t learn. What I don’t understand is why this has taken so long take an action. My only answer is education, education, education. People need to read about the history of their own country and know better what their country has gone through. This is the way to find an objective way to analyze what is going on today. Thanks again, Hal.
Thanks Hal. A well documented history lesson. I look forward to discussing this lesson With our children and grandchildren.
And it was Robert E Lee himself who stated in 1869 “there should be no statues of me” or something to that effect.
I agree with Leonard Sherman. We have to learn about our history, good and bad. Delete the Civil War and then next WWI and WWII, Korean War, Viet Nam War, etc. Where does it end?
Response to Stuart Goldstein: Really? You suggest we should teach history with monuments in our parks
to Generals and political leaders who went to war against America? To this day I haven’t seen a monument to Himmler or a JosephGoebelsStrasse in Berlin. Perhaps, they know something we don’t know.
I fully agree with you and with the views you’ve expressed about the statues. However, not with this: “…treason ” as enunciated by you and Patreus. Was it treason when the New England states tried to secede? What happened to your dedication to “remain true to our founding principles”? Do you consider John Adams a traitor as well?
From American History, The New England Secession Movement:
“As time went on, more and more Americans began equating secession with treason, even though they were not necessarily one and the same as the founders had interpreted the Constitution.”
Response to Jerry Kaufman: Mr. Kaufman has a point… to a point. I”ll go with General Petraeus though. When they go to war to secede it’s treason.
“When they go to war to secede”? I’ve been taught again and again that it was Lincoln who went to war to free the slaves.
Also, compare with Israel Defense Forces launching preemptive air strikes against Egypt. Would you sat that Israel started the war?
Response to Jerry Kaufman: Actually, the South went to war (fired the first shot) at Fort Sumpter, but that’s just a detail. Lincoln did not go to war to free the slaves, he went to war to preserve the union. Even the Emancipation Proclamation’s prime purpose was not to free the slaves but to create a bit of chaos in the states that were in rebellion. If the primary purpose had been to free the slaves he certainly would have freed the slaves in the states that allowed slavery but were NOT in rebellion, i.e., Kentucky, Missouri, Deleware, Maryland and West Virginia. The Emancipation Proclamation freed none of the slaves in those states.