June 30, 2020

Warren Delivers Floor Speech on Her Amendment to Rename All Bases and Other Military Assets Honoring the Confederacy

Republican-Led Senate Armed Services Committee Adopted Amendment in Annual Defense Bill


Washington, DC - Today, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) spoke on the Senate floor about her bipartisan amendment in the annual defense bill to rename all bases and other military assets honoring the Confederacy.

On June 9th, Senator Warren announced she will be introducing an amendment to the annual defense bill to rename all bases and other military assets named after the Confederacy. The Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) passed a bipartisan version of Senator Warren's amendment to remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederacy and anyone who voluntarily served it from bases and other property of the U.S. military within three years. The proposal creates a process for identifying all military assets where the Confederacy is honored and implementing the new removal requirement.

After the bipartisan proposal was adopted, Senator Warren, SASC Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) along with other SASC Democrats urged President Donald Trump to support it.

The full text of her remarks is available below.

Remarks by Senator Elizabeth Warren
June 29, 2020

SENATOR WARREN: Mr. President, I rise to speak about the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. For the 60th consecutive year, the Senate stands poised to pass legislation that authorizes funding for national defense and sets the course for the Department of Defense's policies.

This year, we consider legislation during a moment of deep reflection and anguish as Americans reckon with our ugly history of systemic racism and the original sin of chattel slavery.

For weeks, all across this nation, Americans have taken to the streets to call for justice and call for an end to the racist violence that has stolen far too many Black lives. We say the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and Atatiana Jefferson and so many other Black men and women to reaffirm the simple but powerful truth that they mattered. Their lives mattered. Black lives matter.

This moment is about ending police brutality once and for all. It is also about ending systemic racism and dismantling white supremacy in every aspect of our economy and society. It is about building an America that lives up to its  highest ideals.

The defense bill we are debating today takes an important step in this direction by addressing the honors that our nation continues to bestow on Confederate officers who took up arms against the United States in the defense of chattel slavery. This bill denies those honors to military leaders who killed U.S. soldiers in defense of the idea that Black people are not people, but instead are property to be bought and sold.

It has been more than 150 years since the end of the Civil War. But ten U.S. Army posts around this country currently bear the names of officers of the Confederate States of America. Think about that: these bases were named to honor individuals who took up arms against our nation, in a war that killed more than half a million Americans. They took up arms to defend an institution that reduced Black people to property.

The defense bill now before us includes language I wrote that would require the Secretary of Defense to remove Confederate names from all military assets.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, which has a long history of bipartisan leadership within this body, adopted this language with the support of Senators from both parties, recognizing that this is an opportunity to correct longstanding, historic injustice.

This bill covers more than military bases. It also requires name changes for federal buildings and streets on those military bases and at other installations that celebrate the traitors who took up arms against the United States to defend slavery. The USS Chancellorsville, for example, is named for a Confederate battle victory - a defeat for the United States of America. The ship's crest pays homage to Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

Defenders of these symbols of oppression speak often in generalities, glossing over the details of the Confederacy, the Civil War, and the specifics about the individuals whose names are attached to American military installations. So how about we begin with the truth. The truth about the men for whom some of these bases are named.

Fort Benning, Georgia, "Home of the Infantry," is named for Brigadier General Henry L. Benning. Benning led Georgia's secession from the union and commanded the Confederate soldiers at Gettysburg. He was a leader of the secessionist movement. Why? Because, according to Benning's own words, he had a "deep conviction that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of Georgia's slavery". He was fearful that the end of slavery would lead to "black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?"

Fort Gordon, Georgia is named for Major General John Brown Gordon. Historians believe he led the Georgia chapter of the Ku Klux Klan's murderous terrorists in years after the Civil War.

Fort Pickett, in Virginia, is named for Major General George Pickett. During the war, Pickett ordered the execution of twenty-two former Confederate soldiers, men whose crime was declaring their allegiance to the union - the United States of America. For this despicable act, he was later investigated for war crimes and forced to flee to Canada after the war.

Fort Bragg, North Carolina is named for Major General Braxton Bragg. Bragg was a slaveowner, and like the others, Bragg chose to take up arms against the United States and kill U.S. soldiers, but with an infamously poor record as a military commander, he wasn't very good at it. Widely regarded as the most disliked man in the Confederate army, Bragg commanded forces that were so badly defeated at the Battle of Chattanooga in 1863 that he ultimately resigned.

Those are just a few examples. Fort Hood, Fort Lee, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Polk, Camp Beauregard, Fort Rucker. American military bases that carry the names of Confederate generals are not named for heroes. They are not named for men who risked their lives defending the United States and its soldiers. They are named for men who took up arms against the United States of America and killed American soldiers in the defense of slavery. They are names for men who were directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of slavery.

Those who complain that removing the names of traitors from these bases ignores history ought to learn some history themselves. These bases were not named in the years following the Civil War. No. They were named decades and decades later, during the Jim Crow era, to strengthen a movement that tried to glorify the Confederacy and reinforce white supremacy.

As the nation prepared to fight World War One, the Army needed more bases to train new draftees. The military decided to establish half of the new bases across southern states. Only 40 years had passed since the end of Reconstruction, and putting federal troops back into the south was a sensitive matter. Choosing Confederate commander names for these bases curried favor with the same local politicians who were devoted to maintaining a brutal regime of white supremacy.
Yeah, the strategy was successful. In August 1917, the magazine Confederate Veteran noted that "for the first time since the War between the States, the United States government officially paid a tribute to the ‘military genius' of noted Confederate war chieftains in naming four of the training camps."

Naming these bases after Confederate rebels was wrong. After years of resistance and denial, the Department of Defense is finally recognizing that it is time for our military to stop paying homage to individuals who betrayed the United States and took up arms against it to defend slavery. Secretaries Esper and McCarthy have both said that they are "open to a bipartisan discussion on the topic." Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley also "fully supports the discussion and Secretary McCarthy's effort to explore this issue."

General Robert Abrams, Commander of U.S. Forces Korea, announced on June 15th that he is prohibiting the Confederate flag in all U.S. installations in that country. The Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Berger has banned the Confederate battle flag from Marine bases worldwide because "this symbol has shown it has the power to inflame feelings of division."

The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael Gilday, also issued an order last month prohibiting the Confederate flag from all public spaces and work areas aboard Navy installations, ships, aircraft, and submarines, saying the step was necessary "to ensure unit cohesion, preserve good order and discipline, and uphold the Navy's core values of honor, courage, and commitment."

It is time to follow the example of these military leaders and to take steps to remove all forms of commemoration of the Confederate States of America from all of our military assets.

Senate Republicans have suggested that Congress should simply study the issue. They suggest that forming a commission that prioritizes the wishes of state and local officials, but that doesn't make any decisions. Let me be completely clear. The current bill already includes a commission charged with thoughtfully executing the requirement to remove these names from U.S. military installations and it requires consultation with local officials. The intent of the Republican amendment is simply to erase the requirement currently in the bill that requires the Confederate names be eliminated. Not studied, eliminated.

It's been a 150 years since Lee surrendered at Appomattox [Appo-mattox] and the rebellion against the United States in defense of owning human beings was finally put down. We know who these bases were named for. We know why they were named. There is nothing left to study. We are long past the time for action.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has declared that the time for honoring the legacy of men who championed the cause of slavery and white supremacy on military installations is now over. The Committee voted to rename the installations where millions of servicemembers of color have lived, trained, and deployed abroad in defense of our country. Now the entire Senate has an opportunity to add its voice to the chorus, and I'm certain that the House will join us soon.

President Trump has already declared his opposition to this provision. He has instead chosen a well-worn path of hatred and division. So despite the fact that the Department of Defense already has the statutory authority it needs to change these names, it has hesitated to take actions in defiance of the commander-in-chief.

Congress has the power and the responsibility to end decades of injustice. Servicemembers of color have been pledging to support and defend the Constitution of the United States for a long time. They have done so knowing they might be called upon to give what Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion. And they have done so despite being surrounded by these visceral reminders that the military in which they serve honors men who fought to kill fellow Americans and to keep their ancestors enslaved. We can tear those visceral reminders down. And we will.

The Confederate soldiers who betrayed the United States to fight for the Confederacy were fighting for the institution of slavery. Plain. Simple. Ugly. It is time to put the names of those leaders who fought and killed U.S. soldiers in defense of a perverted version of America where they belong, as footnotes in our history books, not plastered on our nation's most significant military installations.

The tens of thousands of Americans protesting the appalling killings of Black men and women are calling upon us, on all of us, not just to say the words "Black lives matter" but to take a tangible step toward making it true by breaking apart the systems that have stolen countless Black lives and denied Black Americans opportunity and equal treatment.  Being race-conscious is not enough. It never was. We must be anti-racists.

Removing the names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederacy and anyone who voluntarily served it from military property is, in the broader scheme, only one step toward addressing systemic racism in our society. But it is an important step. It will bring us closer to acknowledging the truth of that ugly past, and it will give us a firmer foundation on which to build a better future for everyone.