With respect to Dr. John P. Cordle’s commentary regarding the carrier John C. Stennis, I respectfully disagree the Stennis should be renamed.
As a former naval officer, one who grew up on the bases the Department of Defense plans to rename, I believe we should be asking ourselves what legacy do we wish to leave and what values do we wish to instill in the next generation of leaders?
I could not be more proud of the people I served with, who represented every walk of life, and the values I learned growing up in an environment that welcomed everyone with dignity and respect. And while John Stennis may have valued segregation (which to be clear was in line with many of his contemporaries), how do we reconcile this with his support for an institution that served as a model for racial integration and equality, one that helped us transform the nation?
The military he supported demonstrated that a person of any color, creed and gender can aspire to any office or station based on their character. As such, we have had a Black president, an Asian vice president, two women secretaries of state, a Black secretary of state, a Black Air Force chief of staff, etc. So I ask myself, is renaming a base or warship instilling strong values in our leaders? No, it is not.
By renaming bases and warships, we as a nation are teaching society to push obstacles to the side, to become victims.
Given similar situations in education, Yale’s president initially asserted that keeping the name of John C. Calhoun for one of its residential colleges served as a “vital educational imperative” and provided a more thorough engagement with the past. Unfortunately, following widespread student protests, the university reversed course the following year and changed the name. Washington & Lee considered removing Lee from the name of the school, but instead chose to retain the name and weave Lee into the school’s history. By comparison, West Point is cleansing references to Robert E. Lee and Princeton removed Woodrow Wilson’s name from campus as they fell into the trap of presentism.
Rather than falling into that trap, we should elevate the conversation and acknowledge that the same rebel spirit which enabled us to declare our independence from England, that drove the South to secede, lives on in us all. And focusing on a narrative of the South and the Confederacy as “evil” is not serving to unify us. We as a nation were a slave-owning country, one with Northerners and Southerners alike who viewed Blacks as inferior, so this is our burden as a nation to address. Placing that stigma on the South does not help us heal and grow together.
If we wish to move forward as a nation, we should be looking to the future, not the past, and we should carefully examine how we develop leaders through the example we set. This suggestion to rename the Stennis — as well as our bases in the South is not in line with the values and traditions woven into the DNA of our nation.
“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Strength to Love” (1963)
Edward J. Ryan joined the Navy after 9/11 and served nine years as an intelligence officer in the spec ops community. He grew up in the South on bases including Fort Bragg, Fort Gordon and Fort Rucker with a father who served as an officer in the Army in special forces and then aviation.
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