How I Feel About Changing the Names of Army Bases
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
A growing number of voices are calling to change the names of Army bases named after Confederate soldiers. Should we listen?
Important note: this post contains images of me in uniform on DoD property, which does not in any way imply DoD endorsement of my candidacy.
As you probably know, I served for 20 years in the United States Army Reserve. I'm very proud of my military service, and I learned a great deal about life and the universe from those years. Serving as a soldier did a lot to inform my life and broaden my view. So I read with some interest about the recent support of changing the names of some military bases because of their namesakes' affiliation with the Confederation.
In my service in the Army I have trained at many military bases, including Fort Jackson, South Carolina for basic training; Fort Benjamin Harrison (which has closed) for advanced individual training as a legal specialist; Fort Ord, California (also closed--am I really that old?); Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Fort Carson, Colorado; and Fort Lewis, Washington, to name just a few. I also got to train at Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Bavaria, in Germany. I have had adventures at all of these bases, and great memories at each. But the base I served at the longest and remember the most is Fort Hood, where I was stationed for active duty during a mobilization.
Fort Hood is a fine, and very large, Army base near Killeen, Texas. Serving there was an adventure for me, just like with other bases, and I didn't ever wonder or read up on whom Fort Hood was named after or why. I just worked hard at my job and every once in a while took advantange of the 48-lane bowling alley with my family when I wasn't on duty. After my active duty mobilization was over, I returned home and didn't think twice about John Bell Hood. Or even too much about Fort Hood, for that matter, except for the great people I met and served with there.
As far as my opinion about renaming the base, I really don't care as far as my need to affiliate my experience with Fort Hood's tradition or history. The name doesn't affect the memories of my service there or how I feel about the installation. What I do care a great deal about is the story of John Bell Hood. I had no idea until recently that Hood was a general in the Confederate Army. From my cursory internet research, I learned that he was an officer from Kentucky in the U.S. Army until the Civil War, and when he disagreed with Kentucky's neutrality on slavery he joined the Confederacy in Texas. His aggressiveness and early success in military strategy earned him quick battlefield promotions up to the command of an army, where he ultimately led some spectacular strategic failures.
Even if we conveniently set aside Hood's high rank in an institution that championed slavery and viewed the United States as the enemy, his battlefield failures alone disqualify him for such an honor. It begs the question as to why it was even suggested that his name adorn a United States military facility. But we should remember that Fort Hood was not even built until 1942, when, unfortunately, concessions to and sympathies with the Lost Cause ideology were strong.
But let's get back to the fact that he was a Confederate general. I side with Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus, as he wrote recently in The Atlantic, "For an organization designed to win wars, to train for them at installations named for those who led a losing force is sufficiently peculiar, but when we consider the cause for which these officers fought, we begin to penetrate the confusion of Civil War memory. These bases are, after all, federal installations, home to soldiers who swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention. Now, belatedly, is the moment for us to pay such attention."
I can tell you that I am finally paying attention. We owe it to all United States soldiers, past and present, to finally admit that naming these military institutions for seditionists who were on the losing side of the Civil War was a mistake that needs fixing. I can't even imagine how my fellow soldiers who are black feel about the U.S. Army venerating such men, and how they feel about those who fight to continue such unearned veneration in the name of "remembering history." We don't need ten Army bases reminding us that the Confederate army fought against the United States and lost. Or that their cause was the right to treat human beings as chattel. This soldier says let's honor those who were actual United States military heroes, and leave the history lesson to more appropriate venues such as museums.
Those names need changing.