What’s Taking So Long? Rename Those Confederate Bases
It shouldn’t be this hard or require this political theater to do what’s right, right now.
For this second Black History Month of Joe Biden’s presidency, the commander in chief should do something he promised his voters long ago: right a wrong by renaming U.S. military bases named for Confederate soldiers.
What’s the holdup? It’s been one year since Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin named his panelists to the Congressionally-mandated commission on base renaming. It’s been nearly six months since the commission asked the public for new base name ideas. After receiving thousands of base name suggestions last fall, a source close to the decision tells me this week that the commission is likely still months from making its recommendations.
Meanwhile, the moment is passing the Pentagon by. Across the country, statues built to honor white men who enslaved their fellow humans for profit have come down by force or decree, their names removed from buildings, streets, and schools built in a time when white Americans tried hard to create a fake history to serve their own purposes.
Angry Americans who want to show their children the famed statue of Robert E. Lee that guarded the heart of Richmond, Virginia, for decades will still be able to do so–in the city’s Black History Museum. They can then visit the horrible statue in Tennessee of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave trader, Confederate general, and Ku Klux Klan leader, now removed from the state’s capitol and sent to its museum.
What’s taking the Pentagon so long?
One reason is the ridiculously convoluted righteousness-by-committee process set up by the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats. The 2021 defense authorization bill gave Biden three years to make up his mind. But one hopes that Biden’s team is not foot-dragging or holding because of the blatantly partisan and racist political hype-machine about the fake controversy of “critical race theory,” or the right-wing’s complaints about teaching racism in the ranks.
This week, Senate Armed Service Committee’s top Republican, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, complained about all the hours being spent “promoting its leftist social agenda in the military.” Inhofe’s office blasted out a release saying that the Pentagon under Biden had spent 5,889,082 man-hours, or 672 years, on “woke training” in total, about things like extremism and climate change. That’s a nice job of spin—because in fact, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley’s office had replied in its letter to Inhofe that the 5,359,311 hours spent only on extremism “averages to just over 2 hours per Service member in a total force of 2.46 million members and is comparable to other Joint Force periodic training requirements.”
The Republicans' open attacks on the military for teaching about racism and extremism have been jarring, but they’ve proven toothless. Red-in-the-face Fox hosts and far-right tweeters have pulled out an old playbook in trying to blame leftists for forcing the military to evolve. But the fact is there is no real controversy over Confederate base names anymore. It’s just a matter of time.
The latest renaming request is a pretty straightforward example. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., has proposed to change the name of Fort Benning, in Georgia, to honor Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe. Biden posthumously awarded Cashe the Medal of Honor in December. Benning was a Confederate brigadier general who fought to kill U.S. soldiers in hopes of preserving slavery in the South. Cashe saved his teammates from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Iraq, his own uniform aflame, suffering burns that killed him three weeks later.
Murphy sent her appeal to the official commission on renaming, empaneled after Biden came to office. Former President Donald Trump was opposed to base renaming, of course. It was a sensitive issue that surged to the fore during the year of Black Lives Matter protests, and so Democrats waited and under Biden formed a commission, stacking the panel with like-minded scholars, including respected conservative policy names. It was a move akin to how the Obama administration first commissioned a Pentagon study revealing that hardly anybody in the military feared repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy against gay U.S. troops. That study, and the time it took, helped cool heads, build a consensus, and create a fait accompli.
On Confederate base names, the fait is already accompli’ed.
At this point, the administration is unnecessarily partaking in the performance art of political theater. If this commission was just a rubber stamp designed to create sheens of bipartisanship and scholarship, just get on with it. If it’s a serious panel, as we believe it is, then great, but get on with it. The country has had to live with these monuments and memorials to long-dead racists and traitors long enough.
One more consideration: defense secretaries eventually leave office, and this may be Lloyd Austin’s last year in the post. He likely won’t be the last Black American to hold that position, but he may be the last one for a long time. And on the Joint Chiefs side, there are few high-ranking Black officers in the pipeline available for the chairmanship.
The military’s independent newspaper Stars and Stripes reported this month what’s to be done. “The Army installations in question, all in former Confederate states, were named in the 1910s and 1940s during the South’s Jim Crow era. They are Fort Polk in Louisiana, Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia, Fort Rucker in Alabama, and Fort Hood in Texas.”
For Black History Month 2022, Biden should honor America’s actual history by erasing the revisionist, racist one put in place long ago. Change the names on U.S. military bases to honor men and women who represent what the military stands for: We the People.