WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy signaled their willingness to discuss scrapping Confederate names on forts across the country, Army Col. Sunset Belinsky said Monday evening.
They are open to having a bi-partisan dialogue on the renaming bases, according to Belinsky. The Army has 10 posts named after Confederate generals across the south, including major installations at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Benning in Georgia and Fort Hood in Texas.
McCarthy, a former Army Ranger, indicated his willingness to discuss the change after weeks of protests that have spread across the country following the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who pleaded for his life as a white police officer knelt on his neck.
The Army has resisted calls in the past to change names on the installations named after officers who rebelled and fought against the United States in the Civil War.
But times and attitudes are swiftly evolving as the nation heads into its second week of protests following Floyd’s death, calls for police reforms grow and locations across the country announce plans to take down or remove Confederate memorials.
McCarthy himself and the military as a whole became embroiled in controversy surrounding police and National Guard response to protesters last week in Washington, DC. McCarthy oversees National Guard units in Washington because it does not have a governor.
McCarthy acknowledged Sunday that National Guard soldiers were involved in the eviction of mostly peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square prior to President Trump’s appearance at a nearby church. Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accompanied Trump.
No Guardsmen used force on the protesters, McCarthy said. Another incident involving National Guard helicopters buzzing protesters in another part of Washington is under investigation, he said. The Pentagon came close to ordering federal troops to confront protesters, according to McCarthy.
The incident prompted several former high-ranking Pentagon officials to warn that the military was being drawn into a politics, risking a constitutional crisis. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis blasted Trump, saying he sought to divide not unite Americans.
Within days, senior military officials acknowledged racial inequities in the military. Before the Lafayette Square incident, USA Today reported that young black airmen were twice as likely to face punishment their white counterparts.
McCarthy acknowledged the racial division in a letter to soldiers and civilians on June 3.
“Our ability to defend this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic, is founded
upon a sacred trust with the American people,” McCarthy said. “Racial division erodes that trust.”
The Navy operates a guided-missile cruiser, the USS Chancellorsville, named after a battle the Confederates won over the United States.