From Fort Bragg in North Carolina to Fort Hood in Texas, there are currently 10 U.S. military bases named after former Confederate officers. In the wake of the George Floyd protests, there has been a recent legislative push to rename these bases.
The Jewish War Veterans of the USA “strongly supports” this effort, according to a news release from the organization. National Commander Harvey Weiner, a Boston attorney and Vietnam veteran, notes that the JWV has its roots in veterans who fought for the Union during the Civil War coming together to form, in 1896, what has become the oldest active veterans group in the U.S.
Weiner noted that the namesakes of all 10 bases fought against the Union in the Civil War. He called them “traitors.”
“To have forts of the U.S. military to be named after [them], we feel, is wrong,” he said. “It’s wrong for that reason alone.”
However, he took the case deeper: Eight of the ten were slaveholders, including Robert E. Lee, the namesake of Fort Lee in Virginia who was the Confederate commander-in-chief when he surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.
The movement has been gaining traction. Sen. Elizabeth Warren sought an amendment to rename the 10 bases as well as all other U.S. military property named after former Confederates. A version of the amendment was passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee. According to a release from Warren, President Donald Trump has been asked to support the amendment despite his previous social media statements of support for the bases’ current names.
Before the Senate took up the issue, it had been considered by the House of Representatives. Weiner and the JWV were following the debate in the House.
“Once it became public, it seemed clear that it was wrong for these 10 military bases to be named after traitors to the Union,” Weiner said.
According to the JWV news release, the JWV supports the renaming amendment, the standalone bill it was incorporated into, and the House attempts toward establishing a commission to examine recommendations for new names.
The JWV has a historical precedent for denying recognition to former Confederates. In 1899, three years after its formation as the Hebrew Veterans Organization, a deserter from the Confederate army applied to join. Weiner said that there is no documentary evidence that he was ever admitted.
Jeff Blonder of Swampscott, the JWV Regional Commander for Massachusetts, shared his personal view on the renaming issue, shaped in part from his service in the War on Terror in Afghanistan.
Blonder – who said he was speaking on his own behalf and not the JWV – discussed the “huge base” of Fort Bragg in North Carolina, named after ex-Confederate General Braxton Bragg. He sees a contemporary counterpart for Bragg in the “American Taliban,” John Walker Lindh.
During Blonder’s service in Afghanistan, he served at Camp Mike Spann in Afghanistan. The namesake of the camp, Johnny Micheal Spann, was a former Marine and CIA officer, killed in a prison uprising.
“One of the prisoners at the prison was John Walker Lindh,” Blonder said. “[Lindh] was an American citizen, just like Braxton Bragg was. He took up arms against America, just like Braxton Bragg did. His sole purpose was to defeat the American way of life, just like Braxton Bragg did. We would not name a base after John Walker Lindh.”
On the issue of who the bases should be named after, organizations and individuals alike have some ideas.
The JWV recommends naming bases after Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. Weiner suggested that new names come from such recipients “who were of different races, veterans who either trained in or were stationed at the particular bases.”
“There are a lot of fine soldiers and sailors who were real heroes for America,” said Blonder. “How about Tibor Rubin, a Jewish war hero who won the Medal of Honor during the Korean War?”
Blonder noted that the armed services of today are far different than they were in decades past, with a key step being the integration of the military by President Harry S Truman.
“When I was in the military, I found the military to be a true representation of America,” Blonder said. “It’s one of the most integrated organizations I ever belonged to. I worked and lived with men of all faiths, all races, all creeds. It’s like what it should be in real life.”
For Weiner, the fact that Confederate officers’ names remain on U.S. military bases reflect a troubling discrepancy between past and present.
“To me, it somewhat says that the Civil War is not quite over,” he said. “In the late 19th, early 20th centuries, the Lost Cause movement still existed. We should be over that. It’s particularly offensive not only to African-Americans, but all Americans.”