Thousands of visitors will travel to Gettysburg this summer to mark the 150th anniversary of the most famous battle of the Civil War. Many will visit the National Cemetery there, where 3500 Union soldiers are buried. Most will grasp, perhaps for the first time, the sacrifices made by our forebears, and understand what Lincoln meant when he dedicated this cemetery, and said "we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.'' Now think: How weird it would have seemed if he had added, "But what we can do, in about 50 years time, is build forts and name them after the rebel generals who put these fellows here in the ground.''
Weird? Hell, weird wouldn't begin to describe it; dishonorable or disgraceful would be more like it. And yet that is exactly what was done. In the build-ups during World Wars I and II, the army had to quickly construct dozens of new forts across the country. Most were named for military heroes, and most of the ones in the south were named for Confederate generals. Today, 10 of them remain -- Forts Lee, Pickett and A.P. Hill in Virginia, Forts Gordon and Benning in Georgia, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Rucker in Alabama, Fort Hood in Texas, and Fort Polk and Camp Beauregard in Louisiana. Five of them -- Lee, Gordon, Hill, Hood and Pickett -- commanded troops at Gettysburg.
The overarching reason for choosing these names was to help to continue to reknit the country by acknowledging sectional preferences. There were also political reasons reflecting the efforts of the Daughters of the Confederacy and others to reaffirm the righteousness of the Lost Cause by integrating Confederate heroes into the national pantheon. But whatever the reasons, they have long since been exhausted. Whatever virtues and strengths these men possessed, we can no longer overlook the cause they represented. Henry Benning was secessionist ringleader who wanted to split the country. Leonidas Polk owned between 200 and 400 slaves. John Gordon after the war headed up the Georgia KKK. All 10 of them led troops that fought and killed U.S. Army soldiers, and if that doesn't disqualify you from having a U.S. Army fort named after you, what on earth would?
Wouldn't it be better to have these forts named after someone who better reflects our values? Each of the states mentioned, for example, was home to soldiers who won the Medal of Honor in our 20th century wars against fascism and totalitarianism. Any of these men would be a better choice than these men who fought for a republic built of slavery.
If you agree, make you voice heard. Right now there is a petition in favor of renaming these forts on the `We, the People' page of whitehouse.gov. You can find it here. It takes about a minute to register, and then you can make yourself heard. If the petition gets 100,000 signatures by August 5th, the Obama administration will address the question. After 150 years, isn't it time we stopped honoring the cause so many sacrificed so much to defeat?