Yes, Fort Bragg is a Big Deal. Just Not in the Way Trump Thinks

By Michael Newcity

In a recent interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, President Trump repeated his opposition to changing the names of the ten existing Army bases named after Confederate generals and threatened to veto the defense authorization act if it requires renaming these bases. If he were to do so, it would represent one of a handful of instances in modern American history when the president has vetoed the annual defense authorization legislation.

Trump dismissed the notion of changing the names of Fort Bragg, Fort Benning, Fort Hood, and seven other Army and National Guard bases that were created during World Wars I and II and named after Confederate generals. The fact that Army leadership is now advocating for the change — in a major departure from their earlier position — did not deter the president. “I don’t care what the military says,” Trump said. “I’m supposed to make the decision. Fort Bragg is a big deal.”

Fort Bragg is a big deal, just not in the way Trump thinks. According to him, the names of this base and others symbolize U.S. victories in two “beautiful World Wars.” But it is not the stateside army bases that embody American resolve and bravery in the world wars; the soldiers — of all ranks — who fought to defend the United States best represent those qualities.

In the half century between 1900 and 1950 the U.S. government created 23 Army and National Guard camps named after 20 Confederate generals. Ten of these camps were established during World War I; the other 13 were created during World War II. Ten of these bases remain in service today, including three of the largest army bases in the world: Fort Hood, Fort Benning and Fort Bragg, the world’s largest army base by population.

Confederate General Braxton Bragg

The 20 Confederate generals after whom these camps were named were a mixed lot with little in common other than their service to the Confederacy. A few, like Robert E. Lee and J. E. B. Stuart, were resourceful and successful military leaders. Others, like Braxton Bragg, John Bell Hood, George Pickett, and Leonidas Polk, were at best mediocre commanders. Twelve were West Point graduates; nine resigned their commissions in the U.S. Army in 1861 to join the Confederate army. Six died in combat during the Civil War fighting against the U.S. Army.

Most of these officers had owned slaves. One who survived the Civil War, Nathan Bedford Forrest — who had two separate camps named after him — in the years following the Civil War became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

By the time the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, it was official U.S. Army policy “to select names of Federal commanders for camps of divisions from northern States and of Confederate commanders for camps of divisions from southern States.” Army records of the period indicate a nonchalant attitude toward Confederate namesakes, as if Union generals and Confederate generals were considered all the same. The records suggest no reflection on the fact that the Confederates were traitors who conducted war against the United States in defense of a barbaric system. When these installations were named the U.S. Army was segregated, Jim Crow and the Lost Cause were triumphant, and little, if any, thought was given to the racist, pro-slavery implications of their names.

President Trump suggests it would be difficult to find replacement names for these bases, asking Chris Wallace “…what are we going to name [Fort Bragg]? We’re going to name it after the Reverend Al Sharpton?” Apart from the vile racism implicit in this question, there is no shortage of American military heroes to memorialize through renaming these Army bases. We do not need to continue to honor the memories of Braxton Bragg, John Bell Hood, and other men who betrayed their country and conducted bloody war against the United States in defense of slavery.

U.S. Army bases named after Confederate generals are a big deal because they are vestiges from the era of Jim Crow, the Lost Cause, and a segregated Army and society. It is long past due that these bases be renamed.

Michael Newcity is a visiting professor of linguistics at Duke University

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