WASHINGTON (Dispatches) -- Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley on Thursday condemned Confederate leaders as traitors and said he supports a review of Army bases named after those who fought against the Union, a viewpoint that puts him at odds with the commander in chief.
Pressed by Rep. Anthony Brown about the 10 Army installations named for Confederate leaders, Milley told the House Armed Services Committee that the military needs "to take a hard look at the symbology” of the Civil War — such as base names, display of the Confederate battle flag and statues — as well as improve in other areas such as "the substance of promotions.”
"The American Civil War … was an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution — and those officers turned their backs on their oath,” Milley said. "Now, some have a different view of that. Some think it’s heritage. Others think it’s hate.”
"The way we should do it matters as much as that we should do it. So we need to have, I’ve recommended, a commission of folks to take a hard look at the bases, the statues, the names, all of this stuff, to see if we can have a rational, mature discussion.”
President Donald Trump has threatened to veto any defense policy legislation that changes the names of the bases, and earlier tweeted that the discussion is off the table for his administration.
"The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars,” he tweeted. "Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.”
Still, members of both parties in both houses of Congress have backed legislation in the authorization bill to rename the bases. A pair of military appropriations bills in the House also attempt to tie funding to renaming the bases.
Brown also pushed Defense Secretary Mark Esper about plans for a military-wide ban on the Confederate flag. The Marine Corps has already banned the flag’s display and the Navy has announced it’s formulating a similar order.
A draft plan for a department-wide ban has been circulating among Pentagon brass, according to multiple reports this week. Esper told Brown that he has "a process underway” to examine "substantive and symbolic” issues.
The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision, authored by Brown, to ban the display of the Confederate flag on Defense Department property.
Milley made the comments at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, which had been called to discuss the Pentagon’s response to nationwide protests over racial injustice following the killing of Floyd while in U.S. police custody and the growing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
The death of Floyd on May 25 was captured on video while a white police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes in Minneapolis.
Moreover, monuments honoring certain historical figures, most of them racism and slavery era icons, have been removed in the United States and around the world following Floyd’s death.
The U.S. National Guard has been deployed to protect Confederate monuments in some states across the country as anti-racism demonstrators have gone as far as taking up arms to make their voices heard.
A group of heavily armed protesters marched through Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta last Saturday, calling for removal of the giant Confederate rock carving at the site that civil rights activists consider a monument to racism.
The protesters all carried rifles, including military-type assault rifles, and some wore ammunition belts slung over their shoulders. African Americans appeared to account for the bulk of the marchers, but protesters of various races, men and women alike, were also among the group.