Long ago, I was drafted into the Army: basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, advanced training at Fort Gordon and permanent duty at Fort Huachuca. Only Fort Gordon was named for a Confederate general, otherwise known as a slaveholder and a staunch defender of “state rights.” The primary state right was the right to own people. In short, John Brown Gordon was a white supremacist and a traitor.

Fort Leonard Wood was named after a general in the Army, and he was not even alive at the time of the Civil War. Fort Huachuca is named for a mountain range, and, as far as is known, the Huachuca Mountains were not involved in the Civil War.

However, there are apparently a number of Army bases named after traitors of the United States, and our president has stated that he is absolutely opposed to renaming any of them. His reason is that the forts are “great,” but that greatness is not because of the names.

Likewise, there are a number of statues honoring Confederate soldiers. These statues are mostly in Southern cities and towns, but there are several in our nation’s capital.

Why do we not follow Germany’s example? In that country, it is strictly forbidden to honor anyone who was a follower of Hitler. Honoring Nazis is a crime — no statues, no memorials, nothing. But, not honoring an evil past does not erase its history.

The defense of those who defend Confederate statues or the naming of Army bases for traitors is that we must not wipe out our history. As one who holds a master’s degree in history, I concur. Our somewhat sordid history cannot and should not be erased, but we do not need to honor it.

The history that led to the near extermination of native peoples is not memorialized in statues or memorials, but it is still our history. Owning human beings is not something we should be proud of, but we do not need to erect statues to traitors.

The history of the Civil War cannot be wiped out, but we do not need to honor those who led the charge nor do we need to honor those who fought for the “right” to own and keep human beings.

But there are those who still believe that white people are superior to any other race, particularly African Americans. Not for nothing is the Civil War known as the “War of Northern Aggression” in several Southern cities and even the state of South Carolina. That is a rather blatant attempt to change history. Without going very deep in the weeds, the Union was simply trying to keep Southern states as part of the U.S. The issue of slavery (state rights) was not in the mind of the typical Union soldier, but it was in the mind of President Abraham Lincoln. Freeing the slaves, however, was not a matter of liberalism but was mostly a matter of military strategy.

But, I digress. All Confederate monuments should be destroyed or hidden. Confederate generals’ names should be removed from all U.S. Army bases.

We cannot change history, but we should not continue to honor traitors.

About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

Ken Midkiff, formerly the director of the Sierra Club Clean Water Campaign, is now chair of the city’s Environment and Energy Commission and serves on the board of directors of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

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