Tradition holds that sometime around 1953, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was asked what was most likely to change history or knock governments off course. Macmillan famously responded, “Events, dear boy, events.”
Whether he really said those words is in question. The accuracy of them is not.
The events of the past two weeks have suddenly sent America down an uncharted, unplanned course at breakneck speed. The horrific killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day sparked an angry outcry and demand for change that had been simmering for decades.
In a matter of days, we have seen entrenched behaviors and attitudes challenged. It has been a time of harsh accusations and selfreflection as white Americans have suddenly had to come to terms with how deeply systemic racism exists in so many facets of American society.
In April, even before Floyd’s death, Gen. David H. Berger, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, was warned of a growing number of white supremacists in the military. The general decided to address that racism. In a letter to the entire Corps, he announced the display of Confederate battle flags and other symbols on all Marine Corps installations was banned. Berger explained that the Marine Corps is “a warfighting organization, an elite institution of warriors who depend on each other to win the tough battles. Anything that divides us, anything that threatens team cohesion must be addressed head-on.”
When Army officials were questioned at the time by media outlets as to whether it would follow the Marines’ lead, a spokesman for the service responded: “We have no plans to rename any street or installation, including those named for Confederate generals.”
How times have changed in just a matter of weeks. In a statement issued Monday, the Army said that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy are open to holding a bipartisan discussion with Congress on changing the names of those installations named for Rebel leaders.
There are 10 Army facilities scattered across the South that are named after Southern military leaders. Three of them — Forts Lee, A.P. Hill and Pickett — are in Virginia. Fort Lee, located in Petersburg, is one of the military’s largest training facilities. According to its website, more than 70,000 troops train there annually.
In fairness, many of those bases were opened more than a century ago when there still was much dissension between the North and the South. A statement from the Army’s public affairs office explains that “the naming of installations and streets was done in a spirit of reconciliation, not to demonstrate support for any particular cause or ideology. The Army has a tradition of naming installations and streets after historical figures of military significance, including former Union and Confederate general officers.”
Those bases, like Fort Lee, were opened when the military was segregated. But President Harry Truman ended that 72 years ago. Today, in that same spirit of reconciliation, it is just as important to rename those facilities so as “not to demonstrate support for any particular cause or ideology.” Today’s events dictate that the Army change the names.
There are plenty of heroic Virginians who have served honorably and more than 70 Medal of Honor recipients to name a military post after.
In a message to soldiers last week, McCarthy, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Army Sergeant Major Michael Grinston acknowledged the service’s struggle with racism and pledged to do better, writing: “Over the past week, the country has suffered an explosion of frustration over the racial divisions that still plague us as Americans. And because your Army is a reflection of American society, those divisions live in the Army as well. We feel the frustration and anger. We need to work harder to earn the trust of mothers and fathers who hesitate to hand their sons and daughters into our care.”
We urge the Army to go forward with the name changes. America’s military — the best in the world — is made up of young men and women of every race, color and creed. The bravery of African Americans is undisputed. Although black Americans make up only 13% of the U.S. population, they represent 22% of the Army.
It is time Army leadership do a little of its own self-reconnaissance and respond to the events of the past few weeks. Change the names. They’re anachronistic and divisive.
— Robin Beres
More than 70,000 troops train annually at one of the 200 service schools located at Fort Lee.