As the US Army moves to rename bases that honour Confederate leaders from the American Civil War, Alan Warnes asks whether the rise of 'woke' trends should force militaries around the globe to try to rewrite their histories?
I don’t admit to understanding the American people’s feeling towards the Confederate states which warred against the Union during the 1861-1865 American Civil War. Obviously, there is discomfort towards states which, back then, supported slavery – an evil trade that certainly has no room in any civilized society.
Now, under a Congressional Naming Commission – created under the FY 2021 National Defense Authorisation Act to reconsider the names of Confederacy-affiliated military facilities – the US Army is moving to change base names, we are going to see several US Army facilities re-christened. I’ve visited most of the bases that are set to be affected and I had no clue that Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Polk in Louisiana and Fort Rucker in Alabama were named after Confederates. As a foreigner, they were fairly well-known bases with great traditions, particularly Fort Hood and Fort Rucker. I never realized that they would affront some people.
So the US Department of Defense (DoD) is set to spend $62m on renaming them as Fort Moore, Fort Cavasos, Fort Johnson and Fort Novosel respectively. However, some might suggest that this money might have been better spent on the deprived that live in those states or another good cause. As a regular visitor to the US in the past, I have no particular axe to grind over this, but how would I feel if it happened in the UK or Europe?
In both the England and America, the adjective ‘woke’ – meaning to be "alert to racial or sexual prejudice and discrimination" – causes many sections of society a lot of angst. The Luftwaffe, for example, had several units that honoured the traditions of famous wartime aces. The World War One ace Boelke was a big part of TaktLwG 31 tradition at Norvenich until his name was deemed insensitive, while Neuberg-based TaktLwG 74, which was named after the World War Two ace Molders, lost the title in 2005, mainly because he was part of the Condor Legion that bombed a Spanish village in 1937. I have spoken to aircrews of the units and privately they don’t agree with these decisions, especially since Richthofen (also known as the Red Baron) from TaktLwG 71 at Wittmund remains in use.
In the UK, the RAF’s Bomber Command and Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris were tainted by their strategic bombing campaign of Germany in World War Two, and it wasn’t until 2012 that a memorial was built to commemorate those brave aircrews that lost their lives. Fortunately, an effigy stands outside St Clement Danes, the RAF church on the Strand in London.
So is there a need to be ‘woke’ in the military? Or should we not try to rewrite history? Let me know your thoughts.