Retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West sees a problem in the removal of Confederate statues because it is a lost opportunity for Americans to learn from our nation’s history.
The former congressman is also concerned about the push by politicians to change the name of military posts named for Confederate generals, arguing those names have entirely different meanings for those Americans who served on the installations.
When asked for his views on the pulling down of statues and the renaming of military posts during an interview on “Fox & Friends” last month, West responded, “The right thing is for everyone to understand — and George Santayana once said — those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Santayana was a philosopher and essayist, who taught at Harvard University at the turn of the 20th century.
“History is not there for you to like or dislike,” West continued. “It is there for you to learn from.”
“I don’t want to see us become like the Taliban or ISIS. Those are the people who destroy history,” he added.
Regarding military installations, West noted that he had served at some of the ones in question, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Hood in Texas.
“I did not think about them as Confederate generals. I thought about the honor of being able to serve on those military installations.”
Having spent time at Hood and Fort Benning in Georgia, also named for a Confederate general, myself as an Army officer and West Point cadet, I did not give the slightest thought to the origin of the posts’ names.
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Nor did I give much thought to Fort McClellan in Alabama (which has since closed) being named for a Union general.
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas offered a similar assessment to West regarding the renaming of military posts on Fox News on Thursday, adding if the names are to be changed, it should come after consulting with those who have served there.
“We ought to take the time in a deliberate and thorough fashion to study the question,” said Cotton, who is a member of the Armed Services Committee and an Army combat veteran.
“I think we ought to get the input of the soldiers who have served at those bases, the veterans. These bases go back 80 to 100 years,” he explained.
“Generations of soldiers have served there, many of them not even knowing the origin of the names, but if Fort Bragg and Fort Benning are going to be changed, then we need to look at changing the names of Yale University, as well, named after a notorious slave-trader.”
Task & Purpose reported in 2017 that these posts came into being during the military buildups of World War I and II.
“And the Army — with input from local communities, depending upon location — named each post,” according to the news outlet. “Installations in the South tended to be named after local rebel heroes.”
President Donald Trump weighed in on the issue, threatening to veto the annual National Defense Authorization Act, if Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s amendment is to mandate the changing of military posts’ names.
I will Veto the Defense Authorization Bill if the Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren (of all people!) Amendment, which will lead to the renaming (plus other bad things!) of Fort Bragg, Fort Robert E. Lee, and many other Military Bases from which we won Two World Wars, is in the Bill!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020
The president noted that the soldiers trained at those posts helped win two world wars.
In other words, whatever meaning the names like Benning, Bragg and Hood may have had to the people who picked them has now been eclipsed by more recent history.
Robert E. Lee was such a towering figure from the Civil War (as head of the Confederate forces in the field), he would be an exception, at least in my book.
Trump also mentioned that Warren’s amendment included “other bad things,” likely referencing to the legislation calling for the removal of “all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederacy and anyone who voluntarily served it from bases and other property of the U.S. military within three years,” according to a new release from the Massachusetts senator.
Cotton characterized the amendment as “radical” and “sweeping.”
“It would require the ripping down of war memorials to dead soldiers from the Confederacy in Arlington National Cemetery or Fort Bragg, potentially other cemeteries as well, desecrating our cemeteries,” he said.
“It would require removing artifacts and exhibits from military museums. It would require the removal of paintings of battle scenes of the Civil War from West Point and other military installations,” he said.
“That is a sweeping, sweeping proposal that is little more than historical vandalism.”
A couple things seem clear in this current rush by some to destroy or cleanse parts of United States history from the public square.
First, if it is time for Confederate statues and other monuments to come down or be moved to museums, it should be done by the people through their elected officials and not by the mob.
Second, we have to be aware, as West argued, that we will face danger by forgetting our history.
Being a native Pennsylvanian, I have frequently walked the battlefield at Gettysburg.
It is filled with monuments to soldiers from both North and South. Many were placed and dedicated there by the veterans of that pivotal battle.
In other words, they are a direct contact to those soldiers, which makes the history come alive.
The National Park Service reported that a group, apparently backed by the left-wing coalition of so-called “anti-fascist” protesters commonly known as antifa, plans to have a flag-burning protest at the Gettysburg National Cemetery on July 4.
It is not a stretch to think that grave stones and other monuments could be desecrated, given other recent lawless conduct.
That would certainly be a sad scenario.
We must strike the balance between retaining our history and not giving inappropriate honor to Confederates, or we may doom ourselves to lose the hard-won lessons of the past.
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