President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that he “will not even consider” renaming U.S. military bases currently honoring Confederate leaders, calling them “part of a great American heritage.”
The White House announcement came just one day after Pentagon officials said that Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Defense Secretary Mark Esper were open to the possibility of changing the names, noting they would want bi-partisan consensus before any changes.
In a social media post, Trump said that the bases with controversial names — including Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia — have a history of “winning, victory and freedom” that should be left unaltered.
“The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these hallowed grounds, and won two World Wars,” he stated. “Therefore, my administration will not even consider the renaming of these magnificent and fabled military installations.
“Our history as the greatest nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our military!”
Army officials said they had no comment on the president’s announcement.
In a news conference following Trump’s message, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president “fervently” stands against the idea.
“Men and women who lost their lives as they went out to Europe in Afghanistan and Iraq … a lot of times the very last place they saw was one of these forts,” she said. “And to suggest that these forts were somehow inherently racist and their names need to be changed is a complete disrespect to those men and women.”
The debate over the installation names comes amid a national conversation about racism and institutional discrimination prompted by the death of George Floyd, a black man who prosecutors say was murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer during an arrest.
Last week, Marine Corps officials announced it would ban the display of the Confederate flag by service members, and Navy officials followed suit on Tuesday.
But advocates for years have criticized the Army for not taking action to update 10 military installations named after Confederate military commanders, calling them a lingering racial stain on the service.
As recently as February, Army officials had brushed aside the idea of new names for the sites. This week, military officials told Politico that the recent nationwide protests re-opened the issue and “made us start looking more at ourselves and the things that we do, and how that is communicated to the force as well as the American public.”
Trump’s announcement appeared to push back on those Pentagon leaders’ comments. The president and top military leaders have sparred in recent days over a number of issues, including Trump’s suggestion that active-duty military forces would be used to help quell the demonstrations.
Asked if there was room for compromise on the naming issue, McEnany said “the president will not be signing legislation that renames America's forts.”
She specifically cited Fort Bragg — named for Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg, a well-known slave-owner with a largely unsuccessful battle record in the Civil War — as a site known for a long history of “brave soldiers” and military triumphs.
“We've got to honor what has happened there, not rename it,” she said. “To tell (fallen troops) that what they left was inherently a racist institution, because of the name, is unacceptable to the president, and rightfully so.”
On Tuesday, in an essay for the Atlantic, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus — who served at Fort Bragg — called the continued use of the name a mistake.
“These bases are, after all, federal installations, home to soldiers who swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” he wrote. “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.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer