Rep. Bob Good Calls for Hearing on Naming Commission

Rep. Bob Good

by Donald Smith

The Virginia congressman who represents Appomattox, where the Civil War started to end,* wants the House of Representatives to examine the impacts of Congress’ attempt to grapple with the legacy of that war — an attempt that could lay the groundwork for the legacies of Confederate generals and soldiers to be deemed unworthy of public respect in American heritage and in modern-day American society.

Bob Good, representative from Virginia’s 5th Congressional District and chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, issued this press release on Friday, February 2.  It calls for the House Oversight Committee to convene a hearing to review the operations and decisions of the Naming Commission. 

Congress should conduct a thorough review to determine the true nature of the efforts to remove historic statues and memorials. Historical sites are meant to preserve moments that are critical to the growth and healing of our nation and should not be subject to the destructive ruse of political wokeness. I am calling for a full accounting of the actions taken by the Naming Commission so the American people can see for themselves how the Biden Administration used their tax dollars, and if they did so to arbitrarily erase our history.

Good said that the “need for proper accountability and oversight regarding the rationale behind the Commission’s deliberations” warranted a hearing.

The Virginia Council endorsed Good’s call for a hearing with this press release the following day. It said that the commission “has served as an agent of historical desecration, not cultural progress.”  

The Naming Commission has extended its influence well beyond proposing new base and ship names, causing a ripple effect that has resulted in the removal of statues, paintings from library walls, and museum exhibits. Battle streamers were expelled from regimental colors of honor, memorial walks saw bricks pried up, and construction cranes yanked memorials of the deceased out of cemeteries. The shocking breadth of the commission’s actions caught many Americans off guard, fostering a perception that cancel culture and the DEI agenda have run rampant through Defense Department assets. Congressman Good’s brave leadership, alongside the bipartisan efforts of others, is crucial in upholding Virginia’s rich historical significance and cultural traditions.

“Concerns about overreach call for a reassessment and correction,” said the Council.

The Naming Commission claimed that it wasn’t trying to erase history.  This statement is from the Preface to its final report:

In its work following the provisions of the FY21 NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), the Naming Commission has often heard through its engagements that removing Confederates from Department of Defense commemoration constitutes ‘erasing history.’ The Naming Commission shares this sensitivity to protecting the past. Americans need to acknowledge all of our past, letting the entirety of our nation’s historic actions inform the purpose of our present initiatives. Changing what is commemorated, however, is not the equivalent of erasing history … the American Civil War remains one of our most prominently told national stories and occupies an incredibly ‘safe’ spot in our national historical memory. As such, the Naming Commission is confident that their decisions to identify these nine bases for renaming and recommend new names for them are emphatically steps that neither exclude history nor expunge our past.

If the commission had confined its efforts and recommendations to base and ship names, it might have a point. But it didn’t. (Arlington National Cemetery is a military base named for a Confederate general? Hey…who knew?) Instead, it made sweeping determinations that, if adopted by American society, might make it virtually impossible to show any respect for the heritage and heroism of any Confederate in the public square.  

Think that’s an exaggeration? Here is an excerpt from a December 19 opinion by U.S. District Court Judge Rossie Alston. In his opinion, Judge Alston canceled his Temporary Restraining Order and allowed the dismantling of the Reconciliation Memorial to proceed. This is from page 1 of his order (emphasis added):

This case essentially attempts to place this Court at the center of a great debate between individuals extolling the virtues, romanticism and history of the Old South and equally passionate individuals, with government endorsement, who believe that art accentuating what they believe is a harsh depiction of a time when a certain race of people were enslaved and treated like property is not deserving of a memorial at a place of refuge, honor and national recognition.

“With government endorsement.” It appears possible, even probable, that a federal official has interpreted the Naming Commission’s recommendations –and Congress’ approval of them –as an official U.S. government endorsement of the idea that the Reconciliation Memorial should be viewed first and foremost as a Lost Cause totem. Those people who cheered as Lee’s statue was fed into that Tennessee furnace will undoubtedly claim that Congress has spoken, and agrees with them. Look for them to try to extrapolate Judge Alston’s assessment to all Confederate memorials — most of which were built and paid for by the relatives and neighbors of Confederate soldiers — and cast them all as Lost Cause symbols, first and foremost. Look also for them to deem any commemorations of Confederates in public as no longer acceptable, because Congress says so. Was this really Congress’ intent? We should all hope that it wasn’t. 

Civil wars are different than wars between nations. Civil wars literally do pit brother against brother. When they end, the divided nation needs to find ways to heal. Unless the winning side intends to scourge the losing side and banish or subjugate its population, the postwar nation needs to find ways to honor the valor and good intentions of combatants on both sides. It needs to leverage the strengths of all the people who were once foes, and channel those strengths into building the postwar nation. E pluribus unum: Out of many, one. The veterans’ organization of the Union Army, the Grand Army of the Republic, was not overjoyed when it first saw Moses Ezekiel’s Reconciliation Memorial. It had many of the qualms about it that many people have today. But it accepted it — or, at least agreed to tolerate it — as a price of reconciliation.  

The Naming Commission’s judgments and recommendations show a spirit of scourging, not acceptance. As we approach our nation’s 250th anniversary, is that the spirit we want to use as we review and reconsider ALL aspects of our nation’s past, and what our enduring national legacy should be? The Naming Commission affair has opened a Pandora’s Box. Congressman Good’s hearing, if Congress holds it, can help us identify some of the negative side-effects of this affair, remedy them and close this box.

(*The major fighting portion of the Civil War didn’t end at Appomattox. It ended a few weeks later in North Carolina, when Confederate General Joseph Johnston surrendered his army to Union General William T. Sherman.)

Donald Smith was raised in Richmond.