ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The U.S. Army will not be changing any of the names of army bases named for Confederate officers. In a tweet this afternoon, President Trump said, quote, "my administration will not even consider the renaming of these magnificent and fabled military installations." The tweets come after some former military officers, notably retired Gen. David Petraeus, said it's time to rename these posts.
Pentagon leaders say they are open to what they call a bipartisan discussion over the issue. NPR's Tom Bowman has been looking into the history of these bases and the controversy over the names, and he joins us now.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So, Tom, 10 bases are named after Confederate leaders. How did this come about?
BOWMAN: Well, Ari, this all started during the outbreak of World War I. When the U.S. entered the war, tens of thousands of recruits were headed to bases. They needed more training areas and so forth. And it was decided by the war department that the bases in the north would be named after federal commanders and those in the South after Confederate commanders. And the names had to be short. They had to be Americans. They had - again, the names had to be short to avoid what they called clerical labor.
And the backdrop of this, Ari, was this is during a time of what was known as a lost cause theme. The Civil War soldiers at the time were very old, and some lawmakers and historians wanted to memorialize them and their leaders by focusing on states' rights, northern aggression, Southern way of life, military ability of the commanders and downplaying slavery as a key component of the war. Of course, these generals fought to preserve slavery and were traitors as well. And here's another thing that's interesting, Ari, is that it wasn't just during World War I. But other bases named for Confederate generals occurred during World War II, including Fort Hood, Texas, which is named after Gen. John Bell Hood.
SHAPIRO: And has the idea to rename them come up before?
BOWMAN: You know, it has several times. Back in 2015, after white supremacist Dylann Roof slaughtered black churchgoers in South Carolina, it came up. At the time, state officials, remember; decided to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse. But nothing really happened. The Army was against changing the names. And here's the thing. The spokesman for the Army at the time said naming the bases was about individuals and not ideology. And again, three years ago, it came up after a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va. At that time, the Army had no comment. But this week, both the Army secretary and the defense secretary said they were open to a, quote, "bipartisan discussion" of changing the names of these bases. But here's the thing, Ari. It's never been bipartisan. The bill in the House three years ago had only 29 Democratic sponsors, no Republicans. And it never made it out of the subcommittee.
SHAPIRO: What do military leaders you're talking to say about it?
BOWMAN: Well, active duty officials - not much about the bases. A number of retired officers like retired Gen. Dave Petraeus are speaking out, calling for - it's a time to rename these bases. But it's a very sensitive issue. More conservative voices say it's an attempt to erase history. Ari, in my own town of Alexandria, Va., it took a number of years of discussion and debate in the city council and also at the statehouse in Richmond to remove a statue of a Confederate soldier that's been on Washington Street since 1889. It was just lifted off its pedestal a few days ago.
SHAPIRO: That is NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.
Thank you very much.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.