In a 36-year army career, Ty Seidule served in the US, Germany, Italy, Kenya, Kosovo, Macedonia, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He retired a brigadier general.
An emeritus West Point history professor, he now teaches at Hamilton College. His online video, Was the Civil War About Slavery?, has been viewed millions of times, and in 2021 he published a well-received book, Robert E Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause.
Outside academia, Seidule is a member of the Naming Commission, a body set up in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd and the protests for racial justice it inspired, tasked with recommending changes to military memorials to Confederates who fought in the civil war.
Asked how the US military came to name bases, barracks, roads and other assets after soldiers who fought to secede from the union and keep Black people enslaved, Seidule said: “The first thing to know is that in the 19th century, most army officers saw the Confederates as traitors.
“That’s not a presentist argument. That’s what they thought. And particularly about Lee, who renounced his oath, fought against this country, killed US army soldiers and as [Union general and 18th president Ulysses S] Grant said, did so for the worst possible reason: to create a slave republic.
“So in the 19th century, they would not have done this … the first memorialisation of a Confederate at West Point is in the 1930s. So, why is that? [It’s about] segregation in America. The last West Point black graduate was 1889. The next one was in 1936. West Point reflects America. [The first memorials] were a reaction to integration.”
Seidule rejects the notion that memorials to Lee and other Confederates – PGT Beauregard, a West Point superintendent fired for sedition, William Hardee, a commandant who fought in the west – might be claimed as symbols of reconciliation.
“The problem with that is it was reconciliation among white people, at the expense of Black people.
“There had already been reconciliation. Magnanimously, the United States of America pardoned all former Confederates in 1868 … reconciliation is sort of an agreement among whites that Black people will be treated in a Jim Crow fashion. So no, it’s not a reconciliation based, I would say, on an America we want today.”
Last week, the Naming Commission made headlines when it highlighted a bronze at the United States Military Academy which depicts a member of the Ku Klux Klan.