One of the outside experts charged with helping rename military sites currently honoring Confederate leaders on Sunday blasted the Confederate flag as a symbol of “treason” and said America should stop venerating individuals who “fought against this country to support and create a slave society.”
Ty Seidule, former head of the history department at the U.S. Military Academy and an appointee to the Defense Department’s Confederate Base Naming Commission, said in an interview with ABC’s This Week on Sunday that the panel’s work is important so that all Americans can better understand the myths of nobility and romanticism around the Confederacy and its leaders’ goals.
“We’re changing commemoration,” he said. “History is what historians do to look at the past to try to understand what happened, but commemoration is who, as a society, we honor. And we should honor those who lived the value that we cherish today, not those who fought for slavery and treason 160 years ago.”
Under the rules laid out by Congress in the fiscal 2021 defense authorization act, the commission was charged with developing plans to replace the names of prominent military locations that currently bear the names of Confederate generals and leaders.
That list covers 10 Army installations, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Polk in Louisiana.
Panel members are scheduled to release a report by October 2022 on the scope of the problem and recommendations for changes that “incorporate local sensitivities associated with the naming or renaming of assets.” Under the law, the defense secretary must implement the commission’s plan no later than Jan. 1, 2024.
In Sunday’s interview, Seidule — who is white — said he grew up with a deep admiration for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and was commissioned into the Army at Lee’s tomb.
“I was so wrong because I didn’t realize what they fought for was slavery,” he said.
He said years of research and education changed his mind. Seidule authored the book “Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause.”
“What I found was that in the 19th century, West Point banished Confederates as traitors. They named nothing after them,” he said. “In fact, they only come back in the 20th century when African-Americans come back to West Point. That made me so angry, that Confederate memorialization is a reaction against integration.”
Numerous conservative southern lawmakers have condemned the commission as an attempt to rewrite history, and argued that the names of the sites have little current connection to the goals of the Confederacy.
But other advocates have argued the changes are necessary to make the military a more welcoming place for minorities, and to help the services better reflect the values of the armed forces.
Last summer, Defense Department officials banned the display of the Confederate flag in public areas of all military bases,
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.