WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday that his administration “would not even consider” renaming various military bases like North Carolina's Fort Bragg that honor Confederate officers who led the fight against the Union and directly or implicitly defended slavery.
Trump’s announcement came as Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, both former Army officers, put out word through their spokesmen that they are “open to a bipartisan discussion” of renaming the bases.
Ten major Army installations are named for Confederate Army officers, mostly senior generals, including Robert E. Lee. Among the 10 is Fort Benning, the namesake of Confederate Army Gen. Henry L. Benning, who was a leader of Georgia's secessionist movement and an advocate of preserving slavery. Others are in Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas and Louisiana. The naming was done mostly after World War I and in the 1940s, in some cases as gestures of conciliation to the South.
Trump referred to the bases as “monumental and very powerful,” calling them a “part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom.”
Separately, the Navy's top admiral announced Tuesday that he will follow the example of Gen. David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, who last week directed Marine commanders to remove public displays of the Confederate battle flag carried during the Civil War. The flag, which some embrace as a symbol of heritage, “carries the power to inflame feelings of division" and can weaken the unit cohesion that combat requires, Berger has said.
“The Confederate battle flag has all too often been co-opted by violent extremist and racist groups whose divisive beliefs have no place in our Corps,” the Corps said in a separate statement last Friday. “Our history as a nation, and events like the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, highlight the divisiveness the use of the Confederate battle flag has had on our society.”
Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, directed his staff to begin writing a similar order. A Navy spokesman, Cmdr. Nate Christensen, said the ban would apply aboard Navy ships, aircraft and submarines and at installations.
Berger shared a statement regarding the order to remove the Confederate flag in which he stated “there is no place in our corps for racists.”
The Army and Air Force have not yet followed Berger's lead, but a defense official said Tuesday that the issue of banning Confederate Army symbols is now under discussion at the highest levels of the Pentagon. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing internal deliberations.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.