US President Donald Trump “will not even consider” proposals to rename US military bases named for Confederate leaders from the 1860s Civil War, dismissing appeals made in the wake of the death of African American George Floyd.
Mr Trump’s sentiments expose a widening rift between the White House and the Pentagon.
In the past few days, officials have said that the Pentagon, including Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, was open to having a bipartisan conversation about renaming the Army bases named for Confederate leaders.
Ten bases carry the names of Confederate military leaders, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina, one of the largest in the United States, and Fort Hood in Texas. Discussions about renaming the bases have emerged as a way of achieving racial reconciliation.
In a series of tweets, Trump argued the bases have become part of a “Great American Heritage.”
“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…,” Mr Trump wrote in a tweet.
The issue of the enslavement of African Americans tore the US apart when Southern states broke away to form the Confederate States of America to protect slavery. Northern states defeated the South in the Civil War to restore the Union.
In recent history, controversies over symbols of the Confederacy, such as statues of its leaders and its battle flag, have erupted. Those arguing for their removal say they symbolise racism and oppression, while those opposing such action call them signifiers of Southern heritage and pride.
Bases named for Confederate military leaders are all located in former Confederate states from Virginia to Texas. Many of those states helped elect Mr Trump in 2016, and he is counting on them again for the November 3 election.
In an article published on Tuesday in The Atlantic, retired general and former CIA chief David Petraeus called for renaming the bases, pointing out that the men they are named for “committed treason, however much they may have agonised over it” by fighting for the Confederacy.
At a news briefing on Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany noted that the HBO Max streaming service had withdrawn the Civil War movie Gone with the Wind and asked “Where do you draw the line?”
“Should George Washington and Thomas Jefferson be erased from history?,” she said of the first and third American presidents, both of whom owned slaves.
She said renaming the bases was “an absolute non-starter for the President.”