President Donald Trump has lately made it one of his apparent life goals to defend monuments to the Confederacy. He’s gone so far that he’s threatened to veto the entire defense spending authorization bill for the upcoming fiscal year if it includes a provision for the removal of Confederate names from Army bases. At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee this week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley broke with the president and admitted that the U.S. military needs to take a “hard look” at the presence of vestiges of the Confederacy among its bases.
As Milley noted:
‘The Confederacy — the American Civil War was fought, and it was an act of rebellion. t was an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the stars and stripes, against the U.S. Constitution, and those officers turn their back on their oath. Now, some have a different view of that. Some think it’s heritage. Others think it’s hate.’
Milley was testifying alongside Defense Secretary Mark Esper, both of whom faced criticism in recent weeks when they accompanied Trump to a photo op at a D.C. church in an area from which peaceful protesters had just been violently cleared. Both Milley and Esper have since distanced themselves from the incident, which Trump and his allies have outlandishly tried to depict as some kind of show of strength, or whatever.
Nevertheless, Milley was clear in his assessment that Confederate names on U.S. military bases are not a closed issue. As he explained, based on personal experience in the military, some Americans may serve at bases named after slaveholding generals who helped oppress their very own ancestors.
‘The military equity here is divisiveness and, as you mentioned, cohesion. And for those young soldiers that go on to a base, a Fort Hood or a Fort Bragg or a fort wherever, named after a Confederate general, they can be reminded that that general fought for an institution of slavery that may have enslaved one of their ancestors. I had a staff sergeant when I was a young officer who actually told me that at Fort Bragg, and he said he went to work every day on a base that represented a guy who enslaved his grandparents.’
Trump and some of his allies who’ve opposed renaming the bases have suggested that doing so would erase history, or something. It won’t. They can just go read a book.