A dozen military installations named after Confederate generals are facing renewed scrutiny as the US endures a reckoning over its racist foundations.
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Mark Milley has recommended a commission consider renaming American military bases that bear the name of Confederates, which Donald Trump has said he won’t even consider.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president’s top military adviser told the House Armed Services Committee that “those generals fought for the institution of slavery” and condemned the Confederacy’s attempt to secede from the US as “an act of treason”.
“Those officers turned their back on their oath,” he said.
General Milley, addressing a mostly empty and virtual committee in a darkened room on Thursday, admitted that black service members would be uncomfortable stationed at a base named after a person who “fought for an institution of slavery” and “may have enslaved one of their ancestors”.
“I had a staff sergeant when I was a young officer who actually told me that at Fort Bragg,” he said. “He said he went to work every day on a base that represented a guy who enslaved his grandparents.”
Following widespread racial justice protests, officials have considering renaming 10 bases, all in the southern US.
Most bases were renamed at the onset of World War I through World War II, within roughly the same period in which monuments to the Lost Cause of the Civil War – attempting to preserve the legacies of the men on their pedestals without addressing the racist violence they perpetuated – were erected through the US, decades after the war’s end.
In a series of messages on Twitter last month, the president rejected potential attempts to rename the bases, which he has echoed in similar speeches attacking leftist “mobs” for vandalism and attempts to remove Confederate statues and monuments to prominent slaveholders, including former US presidents.
“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” he wrote. “The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. 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!”
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General Milley, alongside Defence Secretary Mark Esper, appeared before the committee on Thursday to discuss the military involvement with Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the US, including a 1 June protest in which police fired tear gas at protesters in Washington DC to clear the way for the president’s controversial walk through Lafayette Park to pose for photographs while holding a Bible outside a church.
The president was reportedly furious with General Milley after he apologised for participating in the event.
“I should not have been there,” he said in a commencement address to National Defence University last month. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
Though neither men could answer who gave the order to attack protesters, their relatively frank remarks about the state of racial injustice before the committee posed a stark contrast to the president’s increasingly hostile statements about Americans demonstrating in the wake of police killings of black Americans, underscoring the growing divide between Mr Trump and his military assets.
Secretary Esper said the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is a “tragedy we are seeing too often in our nation”.
General Milley said he was “personally outraged by George Floyd‘s brutal and senseless” killing and the “centuries of injustice to black Americans” dominating American discourse following his death.
“We as a nation and a military are still struggling with racism,” he said, adding that institutional issues within the branches threaten the military’s cohesion.
“Divisiveness leads to defeat,” he said. “Equality and opportunity are matters of military readiness, not just political correctness.”
Last month, the US Marines ordered the removal of Confederate symbols from its bases, offices, naval vessels and other vehicles.
The president, meanwhile, has raged at Nascar for the organisation’s decision to prohibit the flag from its events.