Trump, in remarks he tweeted and directed press secretary Kayleigh McEnany to read at a White House press briefing, did not acknowledge that the bases are named for men who fought during the Civil War to preserve the enslavement of Black people ― America’s “original sin” that still affects the life of Black Americans today.
“These monumental and very powerful bases have become part of a great American heritage, and a history of winning, victory and freedom,” Trump tweeted and McEnany echoed at the briefing after White House officials took the unusual move of passing out copies of the remarks.
Trump’s insistence on keeping the names comes even as Army officials signaled a willingness to consider the matter. In a statement Monday, Army spokesperson Cynthia Smith said Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy were “open to a bi-partisan discussion” about renaming the bases in question.
There are 10 bases named for Confederate leaders, something activists have long fought to change. The recent nationwide protests over racism, police brutality and systemic problems in law enforcement have amplified those demands. In some cases, protesters have toppled monuments to those leaders in various communities.
McEnany insisted changing the names would be insulting to the soldiers who deployed from those bases.
“Fort Bragg is known for the heroes within it, that train there, that deployed from there, and it’s an insult to say to the men and women who left there that the last thing they saw on American soil before going overseas, and in some cases losing their lives, to tell them that what they left was inherently a racist institution because of the name.”
Fort Bragg is named for the confederate commander Braxton Bragg who, along with being a proponent of slavery, is characterized by many historians as one of the Civil War’s worst generals, notable for his poor military tactics.
Trump’s reference to “winning, victory, and freedom” also struck an apparently unintended note of irony, given that Bragg and the other Confederate generals fighting for states that seceded from the U.S. ultimately lost the war in which they sought to keep Blacks from being free.
In an op-ed for The Atlantic on Tuesday, retired U.S. Army general and former CIA director David Petraeus argued that the Confederate names should come off the bases. He noted that the names stemmed from an effort to “ingratiate” the military with “the southern states in which the forts were located” and increase morale in the region in the build-up to World War II.
“The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention,” Petraeus wrote. “Now, belatedly, is the moment for us to pay such attention.”