Did you all see Jamie Malanowski's provocative op-ed in the Times over the weekend arguing that we should rename the 10 US military facilities currently named after Confederate generals? After all, he writes, they were traitors of the US of A and killers of United States soldiers:
Fort Lee, in Virginia, is of course named for Robert E. Lee, a man widely respected for his integrity and his military skills. Yet, as the documentarian Ken Burns has noted, he was responsible for the deaths of more Army soldiers than Hitler and Tojo. John Bell Hood, for whom Fort Hood, Tex., is named, led a hard-fighting brigade known for ferocious straight-on assaults. During these attacks, Hood lost the use of an arm at Gettysburg and a leg at Chickamauga, but he delivered victories, at least for a while. Later, when the gallant but tactically inflexible Hood launched such assaults at Nashville and Franklin, Tenn., his armies were smashed.
This base-naming is part of a much larger problem, of course, which is the North's (and Lincoln's) overly forgiving posture, the insistence on the idea that we must become brothers again. Now, it's certainly true that the North occupied the South. And you had the carpetbaggers and all that, but as occupations go, it wasn't so brutal. In important ways, Southerners were welcomed back into the union.
More than that, the North gave the South the post-war narrative, as historian David Blight has shown, so that throughout the 1880s and 1890s and into the 20th century, the rebs were able to propagate all that Lost Cause nonsense that still really continues down there today. I was reading Josh Marshall earlier today, and he got an email from a guy who, having been raised down South, didn't even realize he'd been on the wrong side of the Civil War until he got to college. Not entirely clear whether by "wrong" he meant losing or morally wrong, but of course it was both anyway.
Lee and Longstreet and the others were traitors pure and simple. And worse than that, they were traitors in defense of slavery. Just let that thought marinate for a second. Not only did Robt E. Lee accepting training from America's premier military academy and then turn around and use that training to kill loyal Americans. He did all that in defense of slavery.
I have some friends who think the whole lot of them, including the cabinet of the CSA, should have been hanged. I wouldn't go that far. That only would have given the aggrieved losers a few beloved martyrs. Always deny an aggrieved people their martyrs. History teaches this clearly, I think. A living, doddering Lee was far less useful to the pitchfork crowd than a hanged, virile Lee would have been. So no, no hangings. I guess that makes me a moderate on the question!
And for the record, I suppose it's probably too late to change these names. At Pentagon procurement prices, the cost of switching the stationery alone would be astronomical. So I guess we just have to, uh, soldier on.
It could perhaps be done, but the paradox is that it could be accomplished only by a president who would never propose it (a conservative Southerner). Could you imagine if Obama tried to float these renamings? We'd have another Civil War.