On Sunday, in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, President Trump reiterated his refusal to rename military bases that bear the names of Confederate officers. He also said that he supports the use of other Confederate symbols, such as the Confederate flag being flown.
Singling out Ft. Bragg as his main talking point, the president again threatened to veto the Pentagon’s FY2021 defense budget, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), unless amendments passed by the House and Senate to change the names of the bases were eliminated. However, he did say that the three percent military pay raise, which is part of the next defense budget, would be protected.
Back in June, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Army, and many members of Congress, including several Republicans, stated that they were “open” to having the bases named after Confederate generals renamed. The president wasn’t having any of it and stated that the decision was his.
“Excuse me, I don’t care what the military says,” Trump said to Wallace during the interview on Sunday. “I’m supposed to make the decision.”
When pressed by Wallace on if he were still considering a decision to veto the NDAA over the renaming of the bases, President Trump responded with “I might. Yeah, I might.”
“When people proudly have their Confederate flags, they’re not talking about racism,” Trump said. “They love their flag, it represents the South. They like the South. People right now like the South. I say it’s freedom of many things, but it’s freedom of speech.”
Then using Ft. Bragg as his main talking point, the president claimed that the Fayetteville, North Carolina community would probably oppose any name change.
“What are you going to name it, Chris, tell me what you’re going to name it? The Rev. Al Sharpton? So there’s a whole thing here,” he said.
“Fort Bragg is a big deal,” Trump added. He pointed out to the huge contributions that soldiers coming out of Fr. Bragg made to our nation’s defense up to today. “We won two World Wars… nobody even knows Gen. Bragg.”
And that is probably true: While most soldiers and most citizens around North Carolina could tell you that Ft. Bragg was named after Braxton Bragg, beyond that, many couldn’t tell you much more. Likewise with Henry Benning after whom the huge infantry and airborne training base is named.
Bragg, was, like many Confederate generals, a character with conflicting sides to his personality. He served with distinction in the war with Mexico and was promoted three times there. After serving for nearly 20 years, he resigned his commission and bought a sugar plantation in Louisiana. Although he was very much opposed to the move to secede from the Union, he and his wife were tied to the south financially and owned slaves to run their plantation. So, when the governor offered him the control of the state’s militia board and tasked with raising a 5,000-man force, he accepted.
But where Bragg was a very effective and brave small unit commander, as a CSA general, he was considered a poor and unimaginative tactician, one of the worst general officers of either army. Quarrelsome to the point where he actually argued with himself, he was quick-tempered and was considered somewhat of a martinet with his overzealous discipline. Bragg was unpopular with both the men that served under him as well as the officers who served with him.
So, why do so many men who served at either Ft. Bragg or Ft. Benning have such a clear cut bias against renaming the bases? Because it is much more about their shared experiences and service than it is about a Civil War general that many can’t tell you much about other than his name.
Ft. Bragg was opened in 1918 as “Camp Bragg” and has been a steady source of manpower for our Army in every war or conflict since World War I. The same with Ft. Benning. The Army’s Infantry School has called Ft. Benning home since 1909. The 75th Ranger Regiment is headquartered there and after base realignments a decade ago, the U.S. Army Armor School is now also located there.
Many a soldier has earned the moniker, “Born at Benning, Raised at Bragg” as infantry troops and airborne soldiers are trained at Benning and then assigned to Ft. Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne Division, the 18th Airborne Corps and USAFJK Special Warfare Center and School (SWC) where all Special Forces troops are trained.
Troops poured through Benning and Bragg while en route to battlefields in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the first Gulf War, the Global War on Terror, and the invasion of Iraq.
A servicemember will tell you about the people they served with, the units that they hold up to such high regard, and the memories of those who sacrificed their lives in defense of the country “while at Bragg” before heading out to conflicts overseas. Yes, Ft. Bragg and Ft. Benning have rich histories. It is where some of America’s finest soldiers have served. That’s the history and past that they remember, not a Civil War general.
And that’s why so many soldiers are resistant to change because it interferes with their own history. Personally, if Ft. Bragg were renamed Ft. Ridgway, after WWII Airborne and Korea Commander Matthew Ridgway, I’d have little opposition to it: Ridgway has more history in common with the base than a Civil War general who was born about 130 miles away and fought one battle nearby late in the war (Battle of Bentonville). But like many other veterans, I’d still say, “it was Bragg back then,” and it’d have nothing (zero) to do with Braxton Bragg, the man who argued with himself.
You can make similar arguments for renaming bases after Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of WWII, Roy Benavidez, MOH in Vietnam, and others.
However, the president, as he so often does, tends to skewer his own arguments when he makes statements as he did about Rev. Sharpton, which was a typical unfiltered, eye-rolling cringe that no doubt turned some veterans into the camp of renaming the bases.
But with the economy in such a fragile state and the coronavirus still running rampant throughout the country, the name of a military base, for now, is not a top priority. But it will become one in short order.