The most elite U.S. Army soldiers, Special Operations Command and XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, have little to look up to in their base’s namesake. Militarily, Braxton Bragg was a mediocre to poor general. Worse, he committed his unexceptional talents and unstable temperament to preserving slavery as a general in the Confederate Army. Presently, at the direction of President Biden, a commission is determining whether and how to rename Fort Bragg and nine other southern forts named for Confederate generals. Those of us not on congressional committees can skip to the almost certain conclusion: removing the Confederate names is essential. But whom to properly memorialize in their place? How to strike the appropriate balance between connecting to regional military heritage and honoring those who embody democratic principles? For guidance, the commission should look to the way in which Germany’s Bundeswehr has incorporated the examples of resistance against the Nazi regime into its concept of military tradition.
In 1955, West Germany needed to establish traditions around which the newly formed Bundeswehr could develop unity and common ideals. This need had to be balanced against public fear of a regression to the martial traditions of the previous Reichswehr and Wehrmacht. To combat the Prussian-German tradition of strict subservience while resisting any identification as a new Wehrmacht, a new soldierly ideal was found—Innereführung or “inner leadership.” Innereführung is the mettle a soldier finds to resist the social and military pressures that push him toward the unlawful and immoral. Leadership comes ultimately not from above but from the values of “human dignity, the rule of the law…and the obligation to support freedom and peace,” held within.