Army Must Confront Its Past in Push for Equality

Army Must Confront Its Past in Push for Equality

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It’s time for the Army to confront its past and embrace a “new narrative” that focuses on American heroes, according to a retired Army general.

“I'm going to talk to you today about a subject that may make some of you uncomfortable, and that's OK,” retired Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, author and professor emeritus of history at West Point, said Feb. 4 during the Association of the U.S. Army’s Thought Leaders webinar.

In his book, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause, Seidule confronts the legacy and myths of the Confederacy and examines how they continue to impact the country today.

Robert E. Lee and Me combines history and reflection as it confronts the truth behind the Confederacy’s legacy and its ties to slavery and white supremacy, and challenges the idea of honoring those who tried to preserve the system.

“I wrote this book to try to help change the Army,” Seidule said. “We can't go forward in our Army and our nation to expunge the sin of slavery, the sin of segregation, without dealing with it and talking about it.”

The conversation comes as Army leaders ramp up efforts to address racism and extremism in the ranks, as well as in Army history.

Last year, the Army launched Project Inclusion, an initiative that aims to improve equality, diversity and inclusion among soldiers. The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act also calls on the military to change the names of at least 10 Army installations named for Confederate generals.

According to the author, if the Army engages with the past—starting in basic training—then it may not have some of the same problems it has today.

“In Black History Month ... we talk not only about those great Black soldiers who were the first, but we talk about why they had to be the first—because of the racism within the U.S. Army,” Seidule said.

The Army needs to “create a counter narrative for that extremism,” he said, by honoring American heroes who fought for this country and telling their stories.

“We honor people that represent our values, and if they don't represent our values, we can change it,” Seidule said. “There is nothing wrong with change, particularly that makes our society a more just society, that makes our Army a more equal society.”

Robert E. Lee and Me is available here.