Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday said the “time has come” to rename U.S. military bases named after Confederate officers amid a nationwide reckoning on systemic racism and police brutality.
Gates, who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told NBC’s “Meet The Press” that some of the 10 U.S. Army installations named for Confederates should be renamed for Black Medal of Honor recipients.
Asked if he agreed with the push to remove the Confederate names from the bases — as well as banning Confederate paraphernalia in the Marines — Gates said “opportunities” to do so have been presented.
“I think we now have the opportunity, particularly to change the names of our military facilities,” Gates said. “I’ve always puzzled over the fact that we don’t have a Fort George Washington or a Fort Ulysses S. Grant.”
Gates added: “So I think the time has come. I think that there is the opportunity not only to name some of these places for some of our great generals of the 20th century but also individuals such as African American and other minority Medal of Honor recipients and so on.”
The 10 Army bases named for Confederates are scattered across the American South and include Fort Bragg in North Carolina, named for Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg, and Fort Lee in Virginia, named for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The removal of Confederate statues and monuments is one of the demands from many anti-racism protesters who began demonstrating following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said through a spokesperson last week that they are “open to a bipartisan discussion” about potentially stripping the military installations of their Confederate names.
But President Donald Trump has stood firmly against it, tweeting Wednesday that his administration would “not even consider” it.
“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage,” the president tweeted. The bases’ namesakes fought during the Civil War to preserve the enslavement of Black people.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, the president’s only Black Cabinet member, echoed Trump’s opposition to renaming the military installations during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”
“To try to hide that history is probably a bad move,” Carson said.
In a Trump-defying move, the Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday voted to require the Pentagon to remove Confederate names, monuments and symbols from military bases and equipment within three years.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) on Sunday said he supports considering whether certain bases should be renamed.
“I see it like schools,” Lankford told ABC’s “This Week.” “Every school has a name, and you want those children in that school to be able to learn about ... the person that school is named after and to be able to have them as a role model. You would have that on a military base as well.”
Lankford added: “So if you have a military base that is named after someone that actually rebelled against the United States government, then you’d want to be able to go back and look at that name. It should be a pretty basic principle.”