Why Does the U.S. Military Celebrate White Supremacy?

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tags: racism, Civil War, military history, Confederacy

This same toxic legacy clings to the 10 United States military installations across the South that were named for Confederate Army officers during the first half of the 20th century. Apologists often describe the names as a necessary gesture of reconciliation in the wake of the Civil War. In truth, the namings reflect a federal embrace of white supremacy that found its most poisonous expression in military installations where black servicemen were deliberately placed under the command of white Southerners — who were said to better “understand” Negroes — and confined to substandard housing, segregated transportation systems and even “colored only” seating in movie houses.

As the official Defense Department history of this period now acknowledges, the federal embrace of the Jim Crow system undermined the country’s readiness for war and destroyed morale, introducing black recruits to a brand of hard-core racism many had not experienced in civilian life. As the military opened more and more such bases across the country, the history notes, it “actually spread federally sponsored segregation into areas where it had never before existed with the force of law.” In other words, the base names were part of a broad federal sellout to white supremacy that poisoned the whole of the United States.

Celebrating a War Criminal The officials who named a military base in Virginia for a profoundly dishonorable Confederate general, George Pickett, must have been willfully blind to a voluminous record demonstrating his unworthiness. In addition to being accused of cowardice at the pivotal battle at Gettysburg, the incompetent, self-regarding Pickett faced a war crimes investigation for the executions of 22 Union soldiers at Kinston, N.C., near the end of the war. When a Union general reminded Pickett that federal policy mandated retaliation for extralegal killings of Union soldiers, the Confederate general responded by crowing about the killings and threatening to hang 10 U.S. Army prisoners for every Confederate prisoner who might be marched to the gallows.

A military panel investigating the Kinston killings wrote unsparingly of Pickett’s command: “It is the opinion of board,” the panel wrote, “these men have violated the rules of war and every principle of humanity, and are guilty of crimes too heinous to be excused by the Government of the United States.” Pickett fled to Canada to avoid possible prosecution. He might well have been hauled back in manacles had the U.S. Army commander, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, not short-circuited the investigation. As the journalist and Civil War historian Gerard A. Patterson writes, Grant’s decision to save Pickett, with whom he had served in the Mexican-American war, was a classic act of old-boy cronyism. Even if Pickett’s crimes were set aside, his ineptitude in combat should have ruled him out of consideration when federal authorities were naming military installations.


Read entire article at New York Times

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