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Petraeus: Army bases named for ‘traitor’ Confederate leaders should be renamed

U.S. Army Gen. David H. Patraeus, commander, International Security Assistance Force, U.S. Forces Afghanistan, arrives to speak to service members during an Independence Day ceremony on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, July 4, 2011. ( Sgt. Richard Andrade, U.S. Army photo/Released)
June 10, 2020

Retired U.S. Army general and former CIA director David Petraeus called for the U.S. Army to rename 10 of its bases named after Confederate military leaders.

“It is time to remove the names of traitors like Benning and Bragg from our country’s most important military installations,” Petraeus said in the subheading of an opinion article published in The Atlantic on Tuesday.

“As I have watched Confederate monuments being removed by state and local governments, and sometimes by the forceful will of the American people, the fact that 10 U.S. Army installations are named for Confederate officers has weighed on me,” Petraeus began his article.

“That number includes the Army’s largest base, one very special to many in uniform: Fort Bragg, in North Carolina. The highway sign for Bragg proclaims it home of the airborne and special operations forces,” he wrote. “I had three assignments there during my career. Soldiers stationed at Bragg are rightly proud to serve in its elite units. Some call it ‘the Center of the Military Universe,’ ‘the Mother Ship,’ or even ‘Hallowed Ground.'”

Petraeus acknowledged the Fort Bragg’s reputation as a proving ground for some of the U.S. military’s most elite units.

“But Braxton Bragg—the general for whom the base was named—served in the Confederate States Army,” Petraeus continued.

Petraeus noted Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy had recently indicated openness to the idea of renaming the military bases.

“That’s the right call,” Petraeus wrote. “Once the names of these bases are stripped of the obscuring power of tradition and folklore, renaming the installations becomes an easy, even obvious, decision.”

Petraeus noted he underwent airborne training, Ranger School, and the Infantry Officer Basic course at many of the same bases he now wants to be renamed.

“My life in uniform essentially unfolded at a series of what might be termed ‘rebel forts.’ I made many parachute jumps with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, and I also jumped with 82nd Airborne paratroopers at Fort Pickett, in Virginia (a National Guard post), and Fort Polk, in Louisiana. I made official visits to Virginia’s Forts Pickett and Lee, to Texas’s Fort Hood, and to Alabama’s Fort Rucker.”

Petraeus added, “I attended Airborne School, Ranger School, and the Infantry Officer Basic Course—rites of passage for countless infantry soldiers—at Fort Benning. At the time, I was oblivious to the fact that what was then called the “Home of the Infantry” was named for Henry L. Benning, a Confederate general who was such an enthusiast for slavery that as early as 1849 he argued for the dissolution of the Union and the formation of a Southern slavocracy.”

Petraeus went on to question why many of the bases were named for Confederate leaders in the first place and said some lacked the military prowess one might expect from the namesake for a base meant to turn out the nation’s top soldiers.

“Most of the Confederate generals for whom our bases are named were undistinguished, if not incompetent, battlefield commanders,” Petraeus wrote. “Braxton Bragg, for example, left a great deal to be desired as a military leader. After graduating from West Point in 1837, he served in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican War. His reputation for physical bravery was matched by one for epic irascibility. Bragg’s temper was so bad, Ulysses S. Grant recounted in his memoirs, that an old Army story had a superior once rebuking him, ‘My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarrelling with yourself!'”

“Bragg’s inability to cooperate diluted his effectiveness until his resounding defeat at the Battle of Chattanooga, in November 1863, precipitated his resignation from the Confederate army,” he added.

In the concluding paragraphs of his article, Petraeus noted the Confederate bases were named before the Army implemented specific criteria on naming conventions.

“We could probably disqualify the rebel generals on a technicality: After all, none of them were actually in the U.S. Army when they performed the actions for which they were honored,” Petraeus wrote. “Nonetheless, I would prefer to disqualify them on the grounds that they do not meet the letter or spirit of the regulation’s second criterion: ‘Memorializations will honor deceased heroes and other deceased distinguished individuals of all races in our society, and will present them as inspirations to their fellow Soldiers, employees, and other citizens.'”

“The magic of the republic to which many of us dedicated our professional lives is that its definition of equality has repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to broaden. And America’s military has often led social change, especially in the area of racial integration. We do not live in a country to which Braxton Bragg, Henry L. Benning, or Robert E. Lee can serve as an inspiration. Acknowledging this fact is imperative,” Petraeus concluded. “Should it fail to do so, the Army, which prides itself on leading the way in perilous times, will be left to fight a rearguard action against a more inclusive American future, one that fulfills the nation’s founding promise.”

Petraeus’ article comes as both the U.S. Marine Corps implemented its ban of Confederate flags and items bearing the symbol in public areas and workspaces on all of the services bases and offices. On Tuesday, the U.S. Navy indicated it was also preparing orders to ban the Confederate flag.