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What’s in the Name of an Army Base? How about Our American Values!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Richard T. Moore
June 23, 2020

What’s in a name? Shakespeare posed this question in Romeo and Juliet as Juliet bemoans the fact that Romeo’s last name is the family name of their sworn enemies.

“Very often the first piece of information we have about a person is their name. It’s often the first thing you learn about someone and we form judgments about people very rapidly. And those judgments accumulate, so the first piece of information is especially important. It can lean you in a positive direction or a negative direction. And those first impressions can set the stage for future interactions,” Adam Alter wrote in Big Think newsletter, May 15, 2011.

There are a number of references to the importance of a good name in The Bible. For example, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold,” is written in Proverbs 22. It is often said that, in the end, the only thing we have is our good name—our reputation, in other words.

Alex Lickerman, MD, writing in Psychology Today on April 22, 2010, said “Your reputation lives a very real existence apart from you, representing the collective mental construct everyone but you shares about you, a construct based partially on your own actions but also on the perceptions others have about others’ perceptions of your actions.”

Someone’s name carries with it a reputation that is attached by what we know about that person. It is much like the value of a brand in business. The widespread awareness of a brand, and the degree to which it is known and brings favorable reaction is often more valuable than the facilities where products carrying that brand name are manufactured.

“Just as a compass is a trusted guide for hikers, always pointing true north, values are a trusted guide for brands, always pointing toward the company’s true beliefs. Unlike a brand mission that describes what a company hopes to achieve and how they are going to achieve it, brand values represent the brand’s character and what the company stands for,” according to Jennifer Bourn, in How to Identify and Your Core Brand Values on April 12, 2018. In other words, the name of a brand reflects that brand’s character and what the company stands for.

Let’s apply this concept to the current issue of the names of U.S. military bases. There are eight U. S. Army bases, all located in Southern states, named after Confederate generals: Fort Bragg (N.C.), Fort Benning (Ga.), Fort Gordon (Ga.), Fort Polk (La.), Fort Hood (Texas), Fort A.P. Hill (Va.), Fort Lee (Va.), and Fort Rucker (Ala.). In addition, several National Guard facilities, such as Fort Pickett (Va.) and Camp Beauregard (La.), bear the names of Confederate generals, according to Mark Thompson, writing in Time Magazine on June 23, 2015. They were all considered traitors to the United States who defended the institution of slavery and state over national sovereignty, as General David Petraeus wrote in USA Today and other media outlets.

It seems clear that the values that the confederate generals espoused do not represent their character and do not represent what the government of the United States or the United States Army stand for!

There’s a high probability that most of the troops who are stationed at any of these bases don’t give a great deal of thought to the values held by Braxton Bragg or any of the other generals for whom bases have been names. It might also be argued that many of these soldiers don’t know much about the generals. It may be just a name, and soldiers don’t have much choice about being assigned to any particular base. For the soldiers, themselves, it’s not like they are choosing a product that they like because of the “brand name” of the place they are assigned.

However, by the Army having, at some point in history, accepted the names of these generals as a fitting name for a military base seems a way to at least passively honor their memories. It needs to be remembered that if these bases existed in 1861, the generals would be leading deadly attacks against such federal posts, just as they did with Ft. Sumpter.

Furthermore, allowing bases to be named after enemy leaders who fought against the United States Army and ordered the killing of soldiers of the U.S. Army should be no different than naming them military leaders of World War II Germany or Japan who became our allies after the end of that war.

While changing the names of the bases named for Confederate generals might remove symbols of racism that could help to address some of the anger being expressed in recent protests, the primary reasons for changing the names is that these names don’t now, and never did, represent the values of America. Let’s hope the Army will do more research in selecting new names that truly represent American values like liberty, courage, justice, honor, duty, and freedom.

Author: Richard T. Moore has served in both elective and appointed public office at local, state, and federal levels of government. He served for nearly two decades each in the Massachusetts House and Senate, as well as being chosen as President of the National Conference of State Legislatures. He also served in Washington, DC as Associate Director of FEMA in the Clinton Administration and as a Presidential Elector in 1992. A former college administrator and adjunct assistant professor of government at Bentley University and Bridgewater State University, Mr. Moore is a long-time member of ASPA serving terms as Massachusetts Chapter President and National Council member. [email protected]

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