Here is a simple, long-standing principle of war. If you want statues of your heroes displayed in public squares and you wish to see the flag of your country snapping brightly in the breeze, you have to win the war.
We don’t have statues of King George III or Saddam Hussein. We don’t train our future heroes at Fort Hirohito. You lose the war, you lose the statues and the flags and nobody names a military base after you. Except if you’re the South and you lost the Civil War.
There are hundreds of Confederate monuments throughout the South, and there are 10 United States military installations named for Confederate officers. The statues are a disgrace, for the obvious reason that they honor our enemy in the war, but the 10 military bases named after Confederates are especially reprehensible. Imagine how our black soldiers feel training in bases named for people whose principal goal in prosecuting the war was to keep them enslaved?
There is no moral defense for the names of these bases, not any, but might one argue that these men were great military strategists, however wrong their cause? Yeah, no. Braxton Bragg, for whom Fort Bragg is named, is widely considered one of the worst generals of the war. His volatile temperament and poor military judgment is thought to be a pillar of the South’s defeat—he did so much damage that eventually, humiliated by his losses, Bragg asked to be relieved of his command. On what theory would one hold him up for the inspection of soldiers-in-training except as a guide for what not to do? In which case the base should be renamed Fort Whatever-You-Do-Don’t-Do-It-Like-Bragg.
We don’t train our future heroes at Fort Hirohito.
Even Lee, who was thought to be a skilled general, is an alarming model for our soldiers. When asked by the president of the United States to lead our army, he declined, he resigned, and he led the war against us. There is a word for what he was, and it isn’t “patriot.”
The heart-wrenching tragedy of George Floyd’s murder has shocked much of the nation into finally seeing what it did not want to see—and to seeing it from the eyes of our black friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans. We have to look at those statues, and the names of those bases, through their eyes. And we have to ask if someone like Derek Michael Chauvin felt encouraged in his attitude toward Mr. Floyd by the example his country sets in honoring the traitors who sought to keep a race enslaved.
We’ve been talking about this for 155 years. It’s enough. At no point has a compelling counter-argument been made. The favorite is that tearing down the statues is “erasing history.” It’s not. History books will record what the South did, and what they tried to do, and that they lost.
And as we consider new names, why not honor the actual heroes of the war?
It costs so little and says so much.
Douglas McGrath is a screenwriter and director based in New York