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As military seeks to eliminate extremism, it must also remove symbols of discrimination | COMMENTARY

The Naval Academy Superintendents quarters is named after Franklin Buchanan, who was the first Superintendent of the Naval School and served 45 years in the U.S. Navy before resigning his commission to join the Confederate Navy.
The Naval Academy Superintendents quarters is named after Franklin Buchanan, who was the first Superintendent of the Naval School and served 45 years in the U.S. Navy before resigning his commission to join the Confederate Navy. (Paul W. Gillespie / Capital Gazette)

On Feb. 5, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum directing a military-wide stand down to address extremism within the ranks. Days later, the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, followed suit, condemning two recent incidents of symbols of hate and violence found aboard Navy ships.

The directives come after it was determined that nearly 20% of the 190 people charged in the attack on the U.S. Capitol have served or currently serve in the military. They also follow on the heels of the June revelation that retired Navy Capt. Scott Bethmann, while a trustee of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association Board, mistakenly posted on Facebook Live a video of himself making negative comments and racial slurs about the academy’s admission of women, Asian Americans and African Americans. Although the alumni board condemned the comments, and Captain Bethmann subsequently resigned, the continued extremist behavior of veterans and military members suggests more concrete action is necessary.

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These incidents should be disturbing and infuriating to all Americans, and they show that swift action — beyond condemnation — should be taken to truly address extremism in the military.

The Naval Academy, charged with training future Navy and Marine Corps leaders, should immediately remove Confederate namesakes from its campus to send a strong message that it rejects discrimination. I do not propose erasing these men from history, as much can be learned from their successes and failures, but, ultimately, studying these men is significantly different from idolizing them on the grounds of a military institution.

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Several notable leaders in our nation’s history lived in ways once considered acceptable that are now deeply concerning, though Confederate leaders, particularly those memorialized on military installations, hold additional cause for concern. These men ultimately chose to commit treason by exchanging their honorable U.S. Navy uniform for the uniform of an enemy dedicated to the cause of slavery in the name of states’ rights.

The landmarks named for Confederates at the Naval Academy include Maury Hall, an academic building named for Matthew Fontaine Maury and built in 1907; and Buchanan Road and Buchanan House, the official residence of the Naval Academy superintendent. Both were named for Franklin Buchanan and built in 1906. Maury was a leader in navigation, oceanography and meteorology in the U.S. Navy, and Buchanan proposed the plans establishing the Naval Academy and served as its first superintendent. Their accomplishments however, do not exclude these men from their voluntary act of resigning their commissions and committing treason.

Buchanan was the only Confederate naval officer to be promoted to full admiral, becoming the highest-ranking Confederate naval officer. As Captain of the CSS Virginia during the Battle of Hampton Roads, he handed the U.S. Navy its worst defeat until Pearl Harbor. Maury’s development of the first electrically controlled naval mine for the Confederate Navy was said to have “cost the Union more vessels than all other causes combined.” Over 2,000 U.S. Navy sailors were killed during the American Civil War, many of them graduates of the very institution memorializing ­these Confederate Navy leaders.

In addition to hosting thousands of guests annually, including U.S. and foreign dignitaries and military leaders, the superintendent’s residence hosts all Naval Academy seniors and families during Commissioning Week, and is a focal point on the campus. Holding such notable events in a building named for the highest-ranking Confederate Navy admiral seems tactless and misguided, especially as the military investigates extremist and supremacist behavior in the ranks.

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Wesley Brown Field House is named after the first African American graduate of the Naval Academy, who graduated in 1949 after five other African American Midshipmen were “unmercifully hazed, assaulted and driven out during their first year,” according to the U.S. Naval Academy Minority Association. Wesley Brown, a Baltimore native endured excessive punishments and hardships as a midshipman. For an institution to celebrate the legacy of Midshipman Brown by naming its field house after this retired U.S. Navy officer who served honorably for 20 years, it is troubling to also name buildings after Confederate Navy leaders.

This summer, the Department of Defense issued directive orders to remove the display of Confederate flags and insignia including bumper stickers and personal items from military installations. Now, amid a stand down to eliminate extremism, it is time for all military installations, including the Naval Academy to rename landmarks with Confederate namesakes after more inspirational and representative Navy and Marine Corps leaders.

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Lauren Hickey (lauren.m.hickey1@gmail.com) is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. She writes on her own behalf and does not speak for the Department of Defense or its components.

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