House bill wants DoD to stop using Confederate symbols and names
Rose L. Thayer
Stars and Stripes
The Defense Department might be prohibited from naming assets after Confederate symbols should an amendment added to the House defense budget make its way into the final version of the law.
The amendment, added Thursday to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020, was submitted by Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y. The annual legislation cleared the House on Friday by a vote of 220-197.
The Army and Navy are now the only branches of the military with any assets named after symbols of the Confederacy, according to a September 2017 Congressional Research Service report on Confederate symbols on federal land.
There are 10 Army bases, all named in honor of Confederate army officers during the ramp up to train soldiers for World War I and World War II. They are all located in southern states, and include Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Gordon, Ga., Fort Polk, La., Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Hood, Texas.
The Navy operates one ship, a guided-missile cruiser named the USS Chancellorsville, commissioned in 1989 in honor of the Civil War battle that occurred in Virginia. Some historians consider the battle a major Confederate victory, according to an August 2017 Congressional Research Service report on military installations with Confederate names.
Four now-decommissioned Navy ships were named for Confederate officers, according to the report. All were named between 1960 and 1971.
“These odes to the Confederacy are symbols for a time of racial subjugation and state-sanctioned segregation, used to legitimize racism and the institutional segregation of African Americans,” Meeks said in a statement following the amendment’s passage. “To those who would say that the Confederacy was a part of our history and that this amendment seeks to erase that checkered history, I say this: The naming of Navy vessels and Army bases is not how we record history; they are how we revere it. And revering the Confederacy is precisely what bleaches the historical context of the Civil War, of why arms were raised, and why blood was shed.”
While the amendment doesn’t require existing bases be renamed, it would prohibit the defense secretary from naming future assets after someone who served or held a leadership position in the Confederacy, or after a city or battlefield made significant because of a Confederate victory.
Congressional research reports on the subject were published in response to a series of efforts by Democrats in recent years to halt or remove memorials to the Confederacy — primarily in response to hate-filled violent actions such as the 2015 mass shooting in a Charleston, S.C., church and the protests in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
The most recent asset named by the Defense Department was the Navy’s guided-missile destroyer, USS Daniel Inouye, on June 22. The ship is named in honor of a man who served as a U.S. senator for Hawaii for nearly 50 years. Inouye was a veteran of World War II and recipient of the Medal of Honor.
The Senate passed its version of the defense budget in June. Congress still must consolidate the two bills into one and pass it before the end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
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