Thursday, June 11, 2020

Literary Corner: Winning, Victory, and Freedom

At the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, Bucks, Matilda confronts President Trump. Photo credit PA via BBC.

Monumental and Very Powerful
by Donald J. Trump with Stephen Miller

It has been suggested that we should rename 
as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases. 

These Monumental 
and very Powerful 
Bases have become 
part of a Great American Heritage, 
and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom. 

The United States of America trained 
and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed 
Grounds, and won two World Wars. 

Therefore, my Administration 
will not even consider the renaming 
of these Magnificent and Fabled 
Military Installations. 

Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World 
will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!

Unless Trump's slyly parodying Miller here ("Winning, Victory, and Freedom" would be Mark Twain–level satire). But the covert purpose of this piece is clearly to mention "Hallowed Grounds" and wipe out the memory of "hollowed grounds" in the president's Memorial Day address.

General Braxton Bragg (1817-76), rated among the worst generals of the Civil War for his tactical and strategic inability,  in spite of physical courage and fits of brilliance, was the son of a slaveholder, and after the Mexican War a slaveholder himself, owning 105 human beings who worked his sugar plantation near Thibodeaux, Lousisiana. It's said his mother was jailed for murdering a black freeman while she was pregnant with him, and released to give birth. He played a distinguished part in supporting Colonel Jefferson Davis in the Mexican conflict, which is how a California town got named after him, when Lieutenant Horatio Gibson, who had served under him in Mexico, established an army base on the stolen land of the Mendocino Indian Reservation.

Davis's patronage elevated Bragg to what we call his level of incompetence in the summer of 1862, when he was named commander of the Western Department, and began to fail in engagement after engagement in what began as an attempt to capture Kentucky and ended as a desperate effort to hold on to Tennessee, from Perrysville to Stone's River and Murfreesboro and from Chickamauga to Chattanooga, enraged subordinates kept asking Davis to dump Bragg 
His reluctance to praise or flatter was exceeded, we are told, only by the tenacity with which, once formed, he clung to an adverse impression of a subordinate. For such officers—and they were many in the Army of Mississippi—Bragg's removal or their transfer were the only alternatives to an unbearable existence.
and Davis kept declining, but after the loss of Chattanooga Bragg himself offered to resign and Davis, to his surprise and chagrin, agreed, in November 1863. Which didn't stop him. Davis took him on as a kind of military chief of staff in Richmond, organizing supply chains and disciplining prisons, and he quarreled with everybody except Robert E. Lee, and intrigued for the next year to acquire another command, with the assistance of a younger general, the Texan John Bell Hood (1831-79), who had lost a leg at Chickamauga.

Hood was a kindred spirit, whose promising career suffered, like Bragg's, from a tendency to make battle-losing bad decisions. Bragg got him posted to taking over the Army of Tennessee, while he himself went to North Carolina, and lost Wilmington to the Union after a fatal underestimation of the strength of the Union forces; while Hood, having retreated from an attempt to hold Atlanta and left that city burning in September 1864, made it back to Tennessee in time to lay siege uselessly to Nashville and suffer overwhelming defeat there.

Another Chickamauga veteran, Henry Benning, was an especially loud voice in favor of slavery at the time of secession, and preservation of slavery as the reason for secession:
If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished. By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that? It is not a supposable case. ...war will break out everywhere like hidden fire from the earth, and it is probable that the white race, being superior in every respect, may push the other back.
But not superior enough to win: 
...we will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth; and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination. That is the fate which abolition will bring upon the white race. ...We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will go back to a wilderness and become another Africa. ...Suppose they elevated Charles Sumner to the presidency? Suppose they elevated Fred Douglass, your escaped slave, to the presidency? What would be your position in such an event? I say give me pestilence and famine sooner than that.
Much of his Civil War seems to have been spent in Virginia fighting bureaucratic battles over the naming of officers, and Chickamauga, where Benning's Brigade had wound up temporarily in Hood's division, provided the most memorable military moment, which was not entirely to his credit:
Benning apparently temporarily lost his composure under fire during one of these firefights. On the third day of the battle and the second day of heavy combat, having had his horse shot from beneath him, Benning mounted an unsaddled artillery horse and continued on. However, the fighting was so intense that Benning lost sight of his own men. As reported later by General Longstreet in his postwar memoirs, Benning rode up on his artillery mount and excitedly reported, “Hood killed, my horse killed, my brigade torn to pieces, and I haven’t a man left.” Longstreet allegedly replied, calmly telling Benning: “General, look about you. You are not so badly hurt. I know you will find at least one man, and with him on his feet report your brigade to me, and you shall have a place in the fighting line.” 
I can't repress a sense of Trumpiness in the history of the Confederacy, under its neurotic and unmanageable president playing favorites instead of policy, and the favorites themselves weak and given to intrigue against each other, and the drumming of an unsustainable ideology keeping them all harrowed and sleepless and incapable of doing things right.

Anyway, each of the three men, however ineffectively, committed treason in waging war against their native country, the United States of America:

And yet each of them is memorialized in a US Army base in his home state:  Fort Bragg, North Carolina, originally Camp Bragg, set up in 1918 as an artillery training ground; Fort Benning on the Georgia-Alabama border near Columbus, installed in 1918 for infantry training and developed in the 1920s into the Home of the Infantry; and Fort Hood as Camp Hood in Killeen, Texas, 1942. Why?

We know all those cheap and ugly statue monuments to Lee, Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest and Stonewall Jackson and so on were erected in the Jim Crow era, between the 1890s and 1950s, often through the work of the Daughters of the Confederacy, as a kind of territorial assertion that the Confederacy still existed, a warning to the African American population that they were still subjugated. I think the bases are about something a little different: established by the US military for the convenience and cost-effectiveness of the locations, they must have been named after the location was decided, and took the names of these mediocre and problematic figures simply because they were the best local names they could come up with.

They were a sop thrown to the local white population to assure them that the Union Army wasn't an army of occupation, and not especially well done; they're offensive to the African American population in the sense that it was treated as not even existing at all. Imagine being a black person in Fayetteville and expected to rejoice in the proximity of General Braxton Bragg. But the positive reasons for having them are so faint, historically, as to be almost invisible, and the spectacle of Trump churning himself into a frenzy over it, as if he has even a minor clue as to who Braxton Bragg was, is comically pathetic.

Pleased to note that the Republican majority on the Senate Armed Services Committee has agreed to Senator Elizabeth Warren's amendment to that effect in the annual defense bill, against Trump's threat to veto the whole thing, which may turn out to have been today's best news, alongside General Mark Milley's apology for following Trump's illegal order to participate in uniform in the march on St. John's Episcopal last week. The end looks nearer and nearer.

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