On 19 December 2022, the West Point Association of Graduates forwarded a letter from West Point Superintendent LTG Steven Gilland to graduates of the well-known military institution. The letter began with:
Long Gray Line Teammates and the West Point Community:
During the holiday break, we will begin a multi-phased process, in accordance with Department of Defense (DoD) directives, to remove, rename or modify assets and real property at the United States Military Academy (USMA) and West Point installation that commemorate or memorialize the Confederacy or those who voluntarily served with the Confederacy.
In addition to renaming barracks and gates, the Superintendent spoke of dismantling and completely revising the West Point Class of 1961’s Reconciliation Plaza. This action item is the most concerning to many. The purpose of this monument was to show actions during and after the Civil War by West Point graduates on both sides of the war that helped the nation to heal after its most emotional and violent test of solvency. Purportedly references to Lee and other Confederate generals are to be erased and the message altered. After returning from Christmas break, cadets discovered the Supe’s directives were well underway.
The Civil War is an essential part of American history. It is impossible to connect our foundation in the late 1700s to the triumphs of the 20th century and beyond without discussing the Civil War. Superficially, it resulted in the end of slavery. However, its significance and legacy goes far deeper to the educated American. Among other things, it redefined the federal government’s relationship to states. Further, actions taken by key member of both sides helped the nation to heal and become once again One Nation Under God. Reconciliation was not easy, as recognized by perhaps one of the most important protagonists in the war – Ulysses S Grant.
In The Personal Memoirs of US Grant (1982 edition), US Grant ends his book with the following commentary and hope for the future:
“I was not egoist enough to suppose all this significance should be given because I was the object of it. But the war between the States was a very bloody and a very costly war. One side or the other had to yield principles they deemed dearer than life before it could be brought to an end. I commanded the whole of the mighty host engaged on the victorious side. I was, no matter whether deservedly so or not, a representative of that side of the controversy. It is a significant and gratifying fact that Confederates should have joined heartily in this spontaneous move. I hope the good feeling inaugurated may continue to the end.”
Of note, the principles were not about just slavery as the woke politicians that Gilland seems to mindlessly follow without much thoughtful introspection want America to believe. Further, Grant doesn’t mention Lee by name, but Lee and many other Confederate leaders devoted the rest of their lives towards guiding the South to tie its future and soul to the reunified United States. It is this spirit that the Reconciliation Plaza aimed to capture and inspire cadets and the lay public. It is impossible to comprehend and debate this outcome without including USMA graduates and other leaders that served both sides in the Civil War. Without Lee, there can be no meaningful conversation of Grant. Further, Gilland’s actions undermine Grant’s dying wishes to unify the nation and to keep forever more looking forward as one country. The Supe’s actions, whether realized or not, are contributing to the increasing divide amongst USMA grads and the rest of the nation. Many grads cut their ties with West Point and its alumni association over this specific controversial move.
Following on the heels of great censors of the past including Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and the People’s Republic of China, LTG Gilland seems to dutifully do his part to revise history to meet the needs of the modern progressive Democratic Party. A good ‘book burning’ is not commensurate with West Point’s two century legacy of training future officers to study history from all sides and to draw their own educated conclusions. A service academy Superintendent should be mindful of their influence (good/bad) on cadets and encourage thoughtfulness, not dogmatic indoctrination of one point of view.
John Hughes, MD
West Point Class of 1996
Veteran of Iraq/Afghanistan
Co-chair of www.americanism24.org a registered SUPERPAC