Victor Davis Hanson: Petraeus Is Virtue Signaling to the Mob on Renaming Military Bases

A bronze bust of Confederate general Robert E. Lee is seen in the median on Monroe street in the midst of a national controversy over whether Confederate symbols should be removed from public display on August 18, 2017 in Fort Myers, Florida. The issue is at the heart of a …
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Military historian Victor Davis Hanson responded to retired U.S. Army General and former CIA Director David Petraeus’s call for removing the names of Confederate figures from U.S. military bases, offering his remarks on Wednesday’s edition of SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight with host Rebecca Mansour and special guest host Dylan Gwinn.

On Tuesday, Petraeus joined left-wing and partisan Democrat calls for renaming U.S. military bases in a column titled “Take the Confederate Names Off Our Army Bases.”

Not all Confederate leaders are alike, noted Hanson. “There’s Confederate statues, and there’s Confederate statues. There’s a statue of James Longstreet, who worked to heal the wounds after the war, and there’s a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was the founder to Ku Klux Klan.”

Unclear criteria to determine which names and statues should be removed leads to an endless purge, warned Hanson.

“If you want to distinguish, you can see where it’s going to be an endless path because then you’d have to have some board of adjudication, and they’d have to get a scale: ‘These were the sins as we see them today on the left, and here are the pluses on the right, and we’ll weight the scale, and we do this with everything.’ It’s an endless task, rather than just saying, ‘These were monuments to a different age, and we’ve evolved. We’re not going to go back and fight these battles.'”


Hanson asked why Petraeus had not called for renaming military bases during the former general’s decades of military service.

Hanson said, “I have the utmost admiration for general David Petraeus. He wrote an article. It was very well reasoned. He said, ‘I spent most of my life around places like Fort Hood and Fort Bragg and Fort Benning, and I realized that they’re not very good generals, and they were racist. So let’s just change the name.’ And I said to myself, ‘Yeah, I can see that, but you just said you spent most of your life around those places. Why didn’t you say anything, and then why are you saying something now?'”

“The answer is that we’re in a mob frenzy,” remarked Hanson. “So everybody wants to pile on and virtue signal, that they have an idea that will contribute and win them some type of accolade from the mob.”

Hanson stated, “It would be very difficult for a general in, say, 1975, 1985, 1995 to say, ‘I don’t like the idea of Fort Bragg. Braxton Bragg was a very awful guy’ because he would have had to fight, fight, fight, and now, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do.”

Hanson warned, “You never want to get into a revolutionary fervor where you join the mob. We need one person to say, ‘Wait a minute, if you want to change things, let’s have a distinguished body of scholars and politicians. Let’s not just do it in the dead of night, and then let’s apply it across the political spectrum.”

Hanson explained, “Most of these bases — like Fort Hood or Fort Bragg or the statues — came within a period of 1875 to 1900. They were efforts on the part of the federal government to get the South and the North together again. There were reunions [after] the Civil War. They were probably naive, but that’s what people did in those days.”

“We forgot the terrible hatred that existed after Sherman went through the Carolinas and Georgia,” Hanson added. “There was such hatred that there were people who were worried it would never end, so they tried to reach out and allow some of these generals — most of them were not very good generals, Hood wasn’t, Bragg wasn’t — but nonetheless once you go down that road, you’re going to get into problems.”

Hanson noted the inconsistent application of standards from those calling for removal of statues and renaming of buildings.

“Now they’re very selective,” Hanson remarked. “By that, I mean, Woodrow Wilson was probably the most racist president of the 20th century. John J. Pershing asked him to integrate the troops, and he wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t integrate the civil service. He said the N-word countless times, but do you really believe that Princeton University is going to change the name of the [Woodrow] Wilson School? I don’t.”

Hanson went on, “I’m a member of the Stanford University community. I’m a tenured senior fellow at the Hoover [Institution]. Leland Stanford said some things about Asians and imported labor when he built the railroad. They were beyond the pale. Do you really believe that the Stanford faculty that can’t finish a sentence without saying they’re a Stanford faculty — or all of these students of all different colors [and] all different races who cannot finish a sentence without bragging they’re Stanford students — want to change that name? My point is that they adjudicate, and they pick and choose things that are convenient.”

Hanson recalled, “When I see Al Sharpton giving a eulogy and then telling us who’s racist and who’s not, and I know that he said, ‘Them Jews,’ and he helped kill people in the Freddy’s [Fashion Mart] market fire and he cooked up the entire Tawana Brawley racist incident and he said, ‘Them homos’ about Greeks, he was the most misogynistic, racist, homophobic figure of the of the 1980s, and we don’t go back and say, ‘Well, gosh, Al Sharpton said this.'”

“We give exemptions is what I’m saying,” added Hanson. “We say certain people are human, or we don’t want to apply the standards of today to the past, or we don’t want to cancel out a person’s contribution because of the dark side of their personality.”

Hanson concluded, “We don’t apply that standard of tolerance across the board, so it’s largely a progressive project. The idea of Trotskyization, where you blot out people from history or iconoclasm, where you topple statues, it doesn’t have a very good history.”

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