When I served in the artillery, we had a saying (actually it was more of a tactic and technique) called “Silence is consent.” But I’m not in the artillery anymore, and I won’t allow my silence to signify consent. Seriously, folks, I’m not trying to turn this crime-fiction blog into a political one, but
when an issue touches me in a visceral way, I can’t and won’t remain silent or say “Well, no, that’s not appropriate here.” Because, well, fuck appropriate in these times.
Before I go any further, some disclosure: I’m a white Southern male. I’m a combat veteran. I’m a gun owner. Also, I don’t own a goddamn Confederate flag, dream of the South rising again, refer to The War Between the States, or walk around saying “heritage not hate.” Yes, I’ve written pieces about the Civil War in the past that discussed military tactics from a Confederate perspective. Yes, some of my Mississippi ancestors fought against the United States in the Civil War. No, they don’t deserve some special exalted place in history for doing something that today would be (and should be) considered outright treason. Think about that for a second. Remember all that ancient American history we used to study? There is no Camp Benedict Arnold, right? No, there’s not because he betrayed his country.
So, now that the issue of the names of military bases has come to the fore, I find myself asking how in the hell these bases got named for Confederate generals in the first place. After all, Reconstruction was particularly punitive toward the Southern states and Confederate Army veterans. At both the Shiloh and Fredericksburg battlefields, the national cemeteries there do not include Confederate deceased. At the former, those dead remain in mass graves—where they buried in 1862. In Fredericksburg, there is a Confederate Cemetery blocks away from the Fredericksburg battlefield and national cemetery. These cemeteries, and many like them, took shape during Reconstruction, when the South and its Confederate past were being punished.
But when it came time to name, for example, Fort Bragg (which I always thought odd, given that Braxton Bragg was an incompetent bumbler), how did this happen? In fact, three of the largest bases in the United States are named after Confederate leaders, including some who were famously inept. Fort Bragg was established in 1918 as an artillery training ground. Fort Benning, Ga., was named after Brig. Gen. Henry Benning, who led troops at Antietam and Gettysburg, according to the Washington Post. And Fort Hood in Texas is named after John Bell Hood, who led his troops to a disastrous loss at the Battle of Franklin in Tennessee.
These bases, and seven others named for Confederates, are all in Southern states and were built in the early 1900s when the Army was buying up large tracts of land for bases. Apparently to make this more palatable to the locals, the Army asked for input from those locals when it came to naming the bases. And allowed these bases—United States Army bases—to be named for men who fought against the United States. You can parse this any way you want but this fact is indisputable: Braxton Bragg, John Bell Hood, Henry Benning, Robert E. Lee, George Pickett, A.P. Hill, Leonidas Polk, P.T.G. Beauregard, Edmund Rucker, and John Brown Gordon all took up arms and fought against the United States.
So, why name a base after them? Can you imagine if, using the hundred-year-old logic and methodology of the Army, along with some of the arguments today, we named bases after, say, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, or Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap? I mean, sure they fought against the United States, but they weren’t bad people, they were just defending their homes against an invading army, right?
Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? But it’s the same argument used by defenders of the lost cause–and it sounds awfully close to “very fine people on both sides.” Confederates weren’t “traitors,” per se, they were simply defending their homes against an invading army, right?
Surely there are more worthy veterans for whom these bases could be named. In fact, I know there are:
- John P. Bobo, a Marine Corps lieutenant who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for heroism for his actions in Vietnam on March 30, 1967.
- Army Sgt. First Class Randall Shugart, a Delta Force soldier posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor in Mogadishu, Somalia, in October 1993.
- Petty Officer Third Class Doris Miller, an African-American sailor who manned anti-aircraft guns during the attack on Pearl Harbor and received the Navy Cross for his actions.
- Powhatan Beaty, an African-American Army 1st Sgt. In the 5th U.S. Colored Army, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Sept. 29, 1864 during the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, Va.
- Army Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter, Jr., who received (posthumously) the Medal of Honor for his actions against the German army on March 23, 1945.
- Army Pvt. First Class, William Henry Thompson, an African-American soldier who gave his life for his fellow soldiers at Pusan, North Korea, in 1950 when he fought off an enemy attack, despite being wounded, until his unit made it to safety. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
- PFC James Anderson, Jr., an African-American Marine who smothered a grenade with his body at Cam Lo, Vietnam, on Feb. 28, 1967. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
- Henry Johnson, an African-American Army sergeant who stood off against a 24-man German raiding party in the Argonne Forest during World War I. For his actions on May 14, 1918, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
- Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia single-handedly saved an entire squad of U.S. soldiers on Nov. 10, 2004, and received the Medal of Honor.
- Marine Corps Cpl. Kyle Carpenter risked his life in Afghanistan when he dove on a grenade to save a fellow Marine on Nov. 21, 2010. He received the Medal of Honor.