The New York Times editorial board published a column this weekend that asked readers to consider, “Why Does the U.S. Military Celebrate White Supremacy?” At the crux of their argument, the board, self-described as “a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values,” says that military bases in the southern states bearing the names of Confederate leaders should be renamed.
“It is time to rename bases for American heroes — not racist traitors,” the article promises readers as its thesis. To support the argument, the writers compare the history of the Confederacy to modern day white supremacy and draw on the 2015 massacre in South Carolina as proof to support that claim. Dylann Roof, who killed nine people attending church in Charleston in the name of wanting to begin a race war, was convicted of multiple hate crimes and murder. He is currently awaiting execution for his heinous acts.
The Times specifically calls out 10 military bases in the south that bear the names of Confederate leaders as being problematic totems of white supremacy. Among them is Fort Bragg in North Carolina, which was named for General Braxton Bragg, long considered by historians of the south to have been a disastrous leader during the Civil War.
“Apologists often describe the names as a necessary gesture of reconciliation in the wake of the Civil War,” the board writes. “In truth, the namings reflect a federal embrace of white supremacy that found its most poisonous expression in military installations.”
Fort Bragg, however, even with a name that the Times considers to be a “federal embrace of white supremacy” is currently the largest military instillation in the world with over 50,000 active duty personnel. It is the home to a diverse population of military families and is home to the United States Army Special Operations Command. There is no record available that shows a correlation to Braxton Bragg’s name and race-driven crimes in the United States.
The editorial board of the Grey Lady then revises history entirely by characterizing the whole cause of the south in the Civil War as being driven by white supremacy and a desire to “keep black people in chains.” Referring to leaders of the Confederacy as “traitors” on multiple occasions, the board dismisses any defense which claims the base designations are historic marks that represent only the individuals, not ideologies.
“The first problem with this argument is that, as individuals, these men were traitors,” the board wrote. “These rebel officers, who were willing to destroy the United States to keep black people in chains, are synonymous with the racist ideology that drove them to treason.”
The base naming, the column concludes, was an effort to placate the south after the war and embrace the era of Jim Crow laws. What the editorial board did not discover through “expertise, research, and debate,” however, was that not long after the Civil War, the United States was at war with Spain. Bitterness from the bloody fighting between the north and the south during the Civil War caused national concern that conflict with Spain and subsequent foreign affairs would not be successful without a united front.
Allowing the U.S. military bases to bear names of southern leaders was seen as an olive branch to the south, still reeling from the loss of the war and the blood-soaked battlefields in their backyards. It was never meant to condone racial prejudice, which was still very prominent in northern and southern states at that time.
Though all historians not blinded by modern-day political ideology agree that the causes of the Civil War included many more factors than a desire to keep slaves, the revisionist history presented in this editorial also dismisses the deaths of nearly 300,000 Confederate husbands, fathers, and sons still buried in national cemeteries and in American family plots across the country. Whether or not their descendants agree with why they chose to fight more than 150 years ago, those soldiers and are still regarded as patriots who fought bravely by many Americans today. The great majority of the Confederate Army were not, in fact, slave owners.