Brief # 1
New Defense Authorization Act Calls for the Taking Down of Confederate Monuments at Military Bases
By Erika Shannon
With 2020 finally coming to a close, many of us are beginning to look ahead to 2021. It is a new year with a new president and new possibilities for our country. Our government is certainly looking ahead, and recently, the House and Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021. The spending bill sets aside $740 billion dollars for the United States military, and there are several new provisions within it. Perhaps the most interesting provision is also one of the reasons why Donald Trump wanted to veto the bill; this provision created a commission to help in removing names, symbols, displays, monuments and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America on buildings and at military bases. This change must happen within three years, and Trump has certainly been vocal about his disdain for this specific provision. There is speculation on what Trump will do with the bill once it comes time to sign it.
Now that the bill has officially passed both the House and the Senate, it will be landing on Trump’s desk any day now. He feels that the provision about renaming military bases and buildings is one of the deal breakers that this bill contains; however, any efforts to stop the passage of the bill are likely to be unsuccessful. With it passing 335-78 in the House and 84-13 in the Senate, the National Defense Authorization Act is more or less veto-proof at this point. Even if Trump wishes to veto it, it is probable that Congress will override his veto when they vote on it again. Essentially, by not signing the bill, Trump is simply prolonging the inevitable, because someway, somehow, our military does need their budget to be approved. This is something our divided Congress understands, but Trump still has apparently not figured it out. Trump’s time as our president is ticking away, and he is superficially trying to make the most of his remaining days in office. If he wishes to foster change before his anti-climactic exit, there are other ways to do it than to veto a military spending bill.
The National Defense Authorization Act for the year 2021 has been controversial since June; this is mostly due to the fact that military bases and buildings must change their names if they are named after anybody who helped to lead the Confederate States of America. Some, including Trump, are upset because they feel it is erasing a part of American history. The fact of the matter is that that is a dark spot on our history. The United States was divided during the Civil War, partially because the South did not wish to lose the free labor that came with slavery. The states that seceded did so because they did not want their economy ruined by the abolishment of slavery and they did not wish to accept Abraham Lincoln as their president. The Confederate States of America coming to exist is nothing for our country to be proud of, as some seem to think. The monuments, names, and homages to Confederate leaders in the South should be rightfully renamed. American history does honor our heroes – the heroes that fought for every American to be free, regardless of skin color. The Confederacy is a symbol of hate, bigotry, and lack of empathy.
Think of what it must be like to be a black US soldier working at one of the bases named after a confederate general. Many might feel a disconnect between their commitment to defending their country and working or training at a government base named after a person who was committed to defending slavery.
Public opinion on the matter is largely divided. While the general public is primarily against displaying the confederate flag in public places, feelings on renaming military bases and removing monuments is not as clear-cut. According to YouGov polls from earlier this year, only 20% of people strongly favor changing names of bases or buildings, while 30% of people strongly oppose. It is a hard choice for some who are holding on to our country’s historic past, no matter how wrong it was. Those who want them removed see the removal as a way to show that our values as a country are changing in a positive direction. There is no way to dismantle oppression unless change begins somewhere. These military bases and buildings names are not being changed to erase that part of our history. They are being changed so that every American can feel included, and they are being changed so that nobody has to be reminded of a time when slavery was widespread and acceptable. The America we live in now should not be a place that is built upon the backs of others; rather, it should be a place where everybody has a voice and nobody feels alienated.
- To see a list of the military bases that are still named after the confederacy, see this article.
- Click here to see in-depth polling data on confederate symbols.
- Human Rights First is an organization that helps to influence policy in the U.S. to be more inclusive and equal for all.