President Donald Trump broke with top Pentagon officials on Wednesday, vowing that the administration would oppose any effort to rename military bases bearing the names of Confederate generals who fought against the United States.
Trump "shocked" military leaders with a tweet after Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy expressed openness to renaming 10 bases, Politico reported.
"It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc," Trump tweeted, citing bases named after generals badly defeated in battles during their war against the U.S.
"These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom," the president wrote of bases named after generals who lost the Civil War, which began after they attempted to secede from the U.S. so they in an attempt to continue enslaving Black people.
"Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations. Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!" he said of the actual U.S. military who won the Civil War despite the Confederate Army killing more than 360,000 American soldiers.
Trump's opposition came as even NASCAR announced it would ban the Confederate flag at all of its events in response to an appeal from its lone full-time black driver. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also called for the removal of all 11 Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.
The Senate Armed Services Committee voted on Wednesday to require the Pentagon to rename bases named after Confederate generals as part of the annual policy bill, which would also provide pay raises for troops. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that Trump would veto any legislation that renaming the bases.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., an Iraq War veteran who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said Trump would sign the bill if he actually wanted to respect the military.
"It would be shameful enough for the current occupant of the Oval Office to refuse to even consider having the U.S. Military stop honoring traitors who took up arms against America to defend their ability to own, sell & kill Black Americans," she tweeted. "But for the Trump White House to threaten vetoing a pay raise for our troops over this is downright despicable.
Trump's comments came after Esper and McCarthy expressed openness to a "bipartisan discussion" about renaming the bases. Duckworth sent a letter to McCarthy calling on the Army to ban the Confederate flag and "eliminate any honors that could reasonably be interpreted as commemorating or celebrating any enemy force, foreign or domestic, that engaged in armed conflict against the U.S. armed forces and sought to destroy the United States of America."
"Honoring the 'lost cause' of those who waged war against the United States of America or defending the right of an individual state to allow its residents to own, sell and kill fellow Americans as property has no place in our nation, especially the U.S. armed forces which waged a deadly war to eliminate the barbaric practice of slavery," she wrote.
McEnany on Wednesday argued that it would be an insult to the military to drop the names of generals who fought against it.
"Fort Bragg is known for the heroes within it that train there, that deployed from there and it's an insult to say to the men and women who left there that the last thing they saw on American soil before going overseas, and in some cases losing their lives, to tell them that what they left was inherently a racist institution because of the name," she said.
Military officials also pushed back on that narrative.
"After the last week of protests and seeing the military come together and hearing leaders say, 'We're here to listen,' to have the president send something out like that is hurtful," one official told Politico. "It feels like we took two steps forward and six steps back. Just to have a conversation — that's all we wanted."
Retired Army Gen. General David Petraeus, the former CIA director and head of U.S. Central Command, calling for the military to "remove the names of traitors like Benning and Bragg from our country's most important military installations."
The names were selected to "ingratiate" the military with "the southern states in which the forts were located," he explained in an op-ed for The Atlantic. "The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention. Now, belatedly, is the moment for us to pay such attention."