Dear Mr. Secretary, You Can Rename Army Bases Right Now

Ryan McCarthy, the nominee to the Secretary of the Army, speaks during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, in Washington.

AP / Andrew Harnik

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Ryan McCarthy, the nominee to the Secretary of the Army, speaks during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, in Washington.

If the Army’s civilian leader is serious about starting to address institutional racism, here’s a helping hand.

The U.S. Army recently signaled a willingness to have a “conversation” on its century-old practice of honoring Confederate generals. No such conversation is necessary. Below is a draft memo, prepared for the signature of Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, to end this unambiguous practice of institutional racism. It is entirely within his power to correct this injustice; he needs no Congressional authorization or permission from the President to do so. 

Your move, Mr. Secretary. Signed:

Colonel Michael Jason, U.S. Army (Retired)

Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, U.S. Army (Retired)

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, U.S. Army (Retired)

MEMORANDUM FOR The United States Army

SUBJECT: Eliminating Racism in the U.S. Army

1. The United States Army exists solely to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. America’s Soldiers are rightly proud of the sacrifices they have made to achieve this noble goal. 

2. The Army betrays and belittles those sacrifices by honoring domestic enemies of the United States. To correct this wrong, the Army will immediately remove from any place of honor the names of Confederate officers who took up arms against the United States. Specifically, the Army will rename Forts Benning, Bragg, Hood, Lee, Polk, Gordon, Pickett, A.P. Hill, and Rucker, as well as Camp Beauregard (see Enclosure 1).

3. Those who fought for the Confederacy committed treason in defense of slavery. Let us be clear-eyed about the crimes of the Confederacy. Our Constitution states, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Let us be equally clear-eyed about the Confederacy’s motives, described in this passage from Confederate Vice President Alexander M. Stephens’ speech in Savannah in 1861, “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its 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.”

4. The practice of naming U.S. Army facilities after those who waged war against the United States was wrong, and correcting this wrong is long overdue. The Army named the bases above in the early 20th century, as part of a national effort to whitewash the Confederacy’s defense of slavery. The Army is the only armed service to lend support to this disgraceful and dishonest “Lost Cause” revisionist history. No American Soldier would be required to serve at Fort Hitler or Camp Benedict Arnold; requiring our soldiers to serve at Fort Lee or Fort Hood is no different.

5. We dismiss any claim that this effort “erases history.” We derive our history from studying archives and scholarly works, and not signs and statues. The Army will continue to develop leaders by teaching the best available historical scholarship. We will teach Lee’s brilliance at Chancellorsville, his blunders at Gettysburg, and his brutality in enslaving, torturing and murdering African-Americans.

6. We also dismiss any claim that purging racist iconography from the Army dishonors Soldiers past or present. Millions of American Soldiers served honorably at Forts Benning, Bragg, etc. However, these Soldiers pledged their loyalty to our Constitution, and not to the name of a base, camp or barracks. We take special pride in the service of African-American soldiers who served honorably and stoically in bases named after men who would have treated them as property and kept them in chains.

7. In addition to changing the base names cited in Enclosure 1, Army commanders will remove ALL names of Confederate leaders from any place of honor not later than December 31, 2020. Such places of honor include but are not limited to barracks, streets, libraries, and other facilities under Army jurisdiction.

8. Redesignating the names of Army facilities lies clearly within my authority as Secretary of the Army. While I welcome Congressional affirmation of these changes, no such action is required. I am not debating this change; I am directing it. These Army bases currently honor traitors to our nation who killed American soldiers to preserve chattel slavery; beginning today, and for all time, they will honor genuine heroes to our great nation, Soldiers who have sacrificed their last breath in service of our nation or who have earned our nation’s highest awards for valor.

Ryan D. McCarthy 

Secretary of the Army

Enclosure 1

America’s soldiers have left us a rich legacy of honorable service. We will name our bases after those who have risked and sacrificed so much to support and defend the Constitution:

  • Fort Benning, Georgia, is redesignated Fort Cashe, in honor of Silver Star recipient Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe, of Thompson, Georgia.
  • Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is redesignated Fort Johnson, in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Henry Johnson, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
  • Fort Hood, Texas, is redesignated Fort Benavidez, in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez, of Lindinau, Texas.
  • Fort Lee, Virginia, is redesignated Fort Carney, in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant William Henry Carney, of Norfolk, Virginia.
  • Fort Polk, Louisiana, is redesignated Fort Fornet, in honor of Medal of Honor recipient First Lieutenant Douglas B. Fournet, of Lake Charles, Louisiana. 
  • Fort Gordon, Georgia, is redesignated Fort Johnston, in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Specialist Four Donald R. Johnston, of Columbus, Georgia.
  • Fort Pickett, Virginia, is redesignated Fort Garner, in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Private James Daniel Garner of Gouchester, Virginia.
  • Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, is redesignated Fort Sargent, in honor of Medal of Honor recipient First Lieutenant Ruppert Leon Sargent, of Hampton, Virginia.
  • Fort Rucker, Alabama, is redesignated Fort Thomas, in honor of Medal of Honor recipient First Lieutenant Charles L. Thomas, of Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, is redesignated Fort Johnson, in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Leroy Johnson, of Allen Parish, Louisiana. 
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