By Kevin Shannahan/Opinion
“May you live in interesting times.” Our times today, while not as interesting as those in, say 1914, 1939, or 1861, nonetheless well bear out this illustrative, if apocryphal, Chinese curse. One longstanding issue, regretfully overshadowed by subsequent riots and the continuing pandemic, is that there are several military bases throughout the country named after Confederate leaders. That the U.S. Army has a fort named after Robert E. Lee and not Ulysses S. Grant, William Sherman or any of the other generals on the winning side at Appomattox has always amazed me. Even odder, none of the Army posts, save Fort Lee, were named after particularly competent Confederate leaders.
It is unfortunate that proposals to rename the bases are getting caught up with the heavy handed, and occasionally asinine, tearing down of statues and memorials. Attacking a statue of Abraham Lincoln freeing a slave, a statue paid for by freed slaves themselves and dedicated by Frederick Douglass in a ceremony attended by President Grant, would be amusingly paradoxical were it not for the accompanying atmosphere of violence.
It is equally unfortunate that the calls to rename the forts have also been overshadowed by the rioting in various cities across the nation. It is a depressing sign of our nation’s descent into historical illiteracy that one may see more Soviet flags being carried by Antifa in Portland and Seattle than in Moscow’s Red Square on Mayday. Where do they get them from now that the Soviet Union is no longer a going concern? Did some zampolit in the Red Army see a market opportunity some 30 years ago and snap up a supply? Did Antifa ring up the Russian embassy and offer to help clear out the attic? Some of the images of burned out cars, fire and destruction are more reminiscent of Beirut than of an American city.
The proposal to rename the Army installations has slipped from the news cycle. By comparison to riots, fires and what would be quite an impromptu laser show, were the people wielding them not attempting to blind police officers, footage of the front gate of Ft. Benning is dull by contrast and likely to remain so, an Army post being an unwise target for staging a riot. The news moves on in a relentless search for ratings.
Rename the installations. The decision was wrong to name them after Confederate officers and leaders when they were built. It is only become more improper over the intervening years.
Lee, Polk, Bragg, Rucker, Benning, Beauregard and the others all have a commonality that make them unworthy of having an installation of the United States’ Army named after them. They not only took up arms against their nation, they were leaders in the Confederacy. In the case of those that were serving military officers before the Civil War, they not only took up arms against their nation, they betrayed their oaths as military officers to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…” Revisionist historians of the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy have remade Robert E. Lee into a saintly, larger than life figure, the very embodiment of nobility and honor. I am somewhat surprised there are no stained-glass renditions of him sporting a butternut colored halo. Nonsense! The moment these men donned a Confederate uniform, fought against the nation they had sworn allegiance to and led other men into battle against the United States, they lost the moral authority to a place of honor, of having a fort named after them.
Politicians have argued that the names should not change as generations of American heroes came from them in our nation’s time of need. That line of reasoning is not entirely correct. The Infantrymen who have served the United States in Battle since WWI may have come from Fort Benning, but they were not of Fort Benning. They served in the Big Red One, the 82nd & 101st Airborne, the Ranger Battalions and other units. The jody call whose refrain is “…patch on my shoulder…” does not mention Fort Benning, the patch on my shoulder is of the Infantry units.
“I carry America’s faith and honor against her enemies.” None of the men of the Confederacy the forts are named after could say that line from the Infantryman’s Creed. Rename the Forts!