Troy Middleton Was An Infinitely Better Man Than John Bel Edwards

We keep having to do these, which is irritating. The last one was a comparison, to the extent one is even possible, between Robert E. Lee and Mitch Landrieu. Once again we’re forced to defend a figure from Southern history against a lower light from Southern present – in this case a military giant who played a major role in the development of Louisiana State University in comparison to the state’s nearly-invisible current governor, who has virtually no effect on its citizens when he isn’t haranguing them to wear a mask in public while he himself won’t wear one. John Bel Edwards is a null set compared to Troy Middleton, who he is now airbrushing out of LSU and Louisiana history with the help of the bureaucrats and cowards currently in charge of that fast-declining university.

Governor John Bel Edwards issued a statement Thursday, June 11 in support of renaming Middleton Library on LSU’s campus.

The library is currently named for Troy H. Middleton, who is a former LSU president who supported racial segregation. A group of students announced Wednesday night that the library will be renamed, pending board approval.

Gov. Edwards released the following statement:

“I support changing the name of Middleton Library at Louisiana State University, in acknowledgement that segregation is and was wrong.

Throughout history, students have always led and been integral to transforming our state and country for the better. I applaud the African American student leaders, and the many who came before them, for their bravery and tireless efforts to bring about this change. As an LSU alumnus, I applaud the leadership of LSU for being open to their concerns, taking action, and working to bring greater diversity to the university.

We cannot change what has happened in the past and this does not erase a history of racial injustice. But we can choose to no longer glorify a time of racial segregation or those who sought to discriminate against our African American brothers and sisters.

The past several weeks have been a painful reckoning in our country and our state. The conversations we are having – on campuses, in board rooms and at our own kitchen tables – since the senseless death of George Floyd are long overdue. I am confident that we can come together as the diverse people that we are to confront inequality and become a more inclusive and just community. And I am heartened to see our tenacious young people leading the charge. I am praying for all of us as we take on this challenge.”

Why is this happening? Because of a letter Middleton, who at the time was the president of LSU, wrote to a colleague at the University of Texas discussing the proper managerial response to the integration of their respective universities. That 1961 letter, in a modern context, reads very poorly; it makes Middleton out as a very tawdry segregationist and paternalistic bigot.

But the letter wasn’t written in a modern context. It was written in a 1961 context, which is quite different than that of 2020 with all of our “wokeness” and current concentration on a post-colorblind society. In 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr., hadn’t even become a thing yet, and in 1961, there was very little public push for LSU to accept black students in any large numbers; if you were black and you were going to a public college in Louisiana, you were generally expected to attend Southern or Grambling, so nobody was all that focused on whether LSU would be accommodating to the few black students on its campus.

That isn’t to say that the mentality prevalent in 1961 was correct. Of course it wasn’t. LSU in 1961 was gripped by the same dumbass segregationism all of Louisiana had been gripped by since the end of Reconstruction in the 1870’s. And partially as a result, Louisiana was an economic shithole and backwater as it had been since the Civil War; unfortunately, the state is still an economic shithole and backwater.

The state’s current condition, not entirely unlike the previous condition, is attributable to some extent to the backward and stupid economic policies of a Democrat governor, John Bel Edwards, who was elected and re-elected to some degree owing to his claims of a military background having attended West Point. Though Edwards’ military career in comparison to Middleton’s was paltry and ridiculous.

Nevertheless, as Edwards’ Army background is is one of the few, if only, redeeming qualities of a hack politician in complete thrall to trial lawyers and other revanchist special interests, you would expect that Edwards would be somewhat protective of the state’s military history.

And that military history has to include a heavy dose of Troy Middleton.

Middleton was, after all, a World War II general of significant note. In fact, practically the entire war in the European theater can barely be recounted without attention paid to Middleton’s experience; he had a heavier hand in the prosecution of that war and America’s victory in it than practically anyone.

See if you think it’s possible for someone to have spent the 52 years between 1910 and 1962 in more impactful service to one’s country. From Wikipedia

Enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1910, Middleton was first assigned to the 29th Infantry Regiment, where he worked as a clerk. Here he did not become an infantryman as he had hoped, but he was pressed into service playing football, a sport strongly endorsed by the army. Following two years of enlisted service, Middleton was transferred to Fort LeavenworthKansas, where he was given the opportunity to compete for an officer’s commission. Of the 300 individuals who were vying for a commission, 56 were selected, and four of them, including Middleton, would become general officers. As a new second lieutenant, Middleton was assigned to the 7th Infantry Regiment in Galveston, Texas, which was soon pressed into service, responding to events created by the Mexican Revolution. Middleton spent seven months doing occupation duty in the Mexican port city of Veracruz, and later was assigned to Douglas, Arizona, where his unit skirmished with some of Pancho Villa‘s fighters.

Upon the entry of the United States into World War I, in April 1917, Middleton was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, and soon saw action as a battalion commander during the Second Battle of the Marne. Three months later, following some minor support roles, his unit led the attack during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and Middleton became a regimental commander. Because of his exceptional battlefield performance, on 14 October 1918 he was promoted to the rank of colonel, becoming, at the age of 29, the youngest officer of that rank in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). He also received the Army Distinguished Service Medal for his exemplary service. Following World War I, Middleton served at the U.S. Army School of Infantry, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff School, the U.S. Army War College, and as commandant of cadets at LSU. He retired from the army in 1937 to become dean of administration and later comptroller and acting vice president at LSU. His tenure at LSU was fraught with difficulty, as Middleton became one of the key players in helping the university recover from a major scandal where nearly a million dollars had been embezzled.

Recalled to service in early 1942, upon American entry into World War II, Middleton became CG of the 45th Infantry Division during the Sicily and Salerno battles in Italy, and then in March 1944 moved up to command the VIII Corps. His leadership in Operation Cobra during the Battle of Normandy led to the capture of the important port city of Brest, France, and for his success he was awarded a second Distinguished Service Medal by General George Patton. His greatest World War II achievement, however, was in his decision to hold the important city of Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge. Following this battle, and his corps’ relentless push across Germany until reaching Czechoslovakia, he was recognized by both General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, and Patton as being a corps commander of extraordinary abilities. Middleton logged 480 days in combat during World War II, more than any other American general officer. Retiring from the army again in 1945, Middleton returned to LSU and in 1951 was appointed to the university presidency, a position he held for 11 years, while continuing to serve the army in numerous consultative capacities. He resided in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, until his death in 1976 and was buried in Baton Rouge National Cemetery. Both the Air Force/Army ROTC building at Mississippi State University, Middleton’s alma mater, and the library at Louisiana State University are named for him.

From Veracruz to Pancho Villa to the Marne to the Argonne, to Sicily and Salerno with Patton, to Brest, to making the call to hold Bastogne to the push across Germany, it’s virtually impossible to find a more consequential figure in the victory over Nazi Germany.

Yes, when Troy Middleton was running LSU, a place he had rescued from the depredations of Huey Long’s crooked goons after they had rifled through its coffers before he went off to kill Nazis for the cause of freedom, he wrote a letter that looks bad in a modern context. From a biography of Middleton by Frank James Price in 1974…

“A serious issue facing most southern schools in 1956 was that of desegregation. While Middleton, like most white Louisianans, was in favor of segregation, as the university president his responsibility was to uphold the laws of the state and nation. In a letter to University of Texas Chancellor Harry Ransom, Middleton detailed his efforts to keep black and white students separate and to prevent black students from participating in athletics, in spite of accepting black students into the university. He wrote, ‘Our Negro students have made no attempt to attend social functions, participate in athletic contests, go in the swimming pool, etc. If they did, we would, for example, discontinue the operation of the swimming pool.’ In April he wrote a sobering report to the Board of Supervisors entitled ‘LSU and Segregation.’ Here he outlined the history of the enrollment of blacks at LSU, which showed how resistant the university had been to such an undertaking. While there were avid segregationists who declared the federal desegregation laws would not be fulfilled, more practical minds could see the futility and extreme expense of having to create duplicate facilities in every area of advanced education, and the process of integration, which had already begun at a slow pace, now became accelerated.”

Sure, that sucks. It especially sucks when you consider all the NFL Hall of Famers who came through Grambling at the time when LSU was stupidly denying blacks the chance to play on the football team; a national championship was undoubtedly lost in that time frame. On the other hand, nobody in the SEC was allowing black athletes at that time. What Troy Middleton was espousing was the conventional wisdom of the day, which doesn’t make him better or worse than anybody else of his time.

The dirty little secret, which isn’t secret at all, is virtually nobody in a position of authority in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, or more or less any time before that, could survive much scrutiny under today’s standards. Even the people known for making major improvements in the treatment of racial minorities on whose shoulders we currently stand, Abe Lincoln being a perfect example, wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny.

So Troy Middleton, who did more for his country and for this state than almost anybody else in helping to drag LSU out from under the catastrophe that Huey Long and his flunkies had made of it and in playing a large part in banishing Nazism from the planet, is now going to be airbrushed from our history.

It sounds as though the small people, the low-rent functionaries currently in charge of LSU whose names won’t need to be unpersoned because no one will ever remember them in the first place, are going to rename the library. We’re not sure that’s going to happen, as for some time it’s been understood the building, which is an eyesore and an example of the ridiculous mismanagement of its physical plant LSU’s administration has been guilty of for a long time, was to be torn down. This is a good thing, as the quadrangle Middleton Library currently anchors used to be a cruciform, and if the building were to be razed and the former landscape restored LSU’s central campus would reassume something far more architecturally homogenous, aesthetically pleasing and traditionally respectful.

Except it sounds like we won’t get that at all. Instead, what we’re likely to see is a renaming of the library along racial lines, in order to honor some person of color who played a far smaller role in LSU’s development than Troy Middleton did. And because the library is now going to carry such a distinguished name, it can’t be a pillar of neglect and decay, so Louisiana’s taxpayers will have to cough up tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a grand renovation of the building despite its awful architecture. The old cross pattern won’t be restored, a rotten architectural turd will remain and we’ll all be poorer for it.

And a group of people who have given lots of money to LSU through the years will be alienated in favor of a group of people who will never give the school a dime.

Middleton’s descendants minced no words at their disgust for what LSU’s current brass, acting with the full blessing of its stunning mediocrity of a governor, have done…

“General Troy Middleton was an American hero and Louisiana icon. We expressly and unequivocally denounce the university’s dishonorable plan to remove his name and memorials from the very library the funds for which he led the university’s effort to obtain from the state legislature,” the statement reads.

“We encourage the public to reach out personally to each member of the Board of Supervisors, and to the Governor’s office, to express their outrage at this proposed defenestration. We further encourage the Board of Supervisors to take this opportunity to make a principled stand against erasure of this great state’s history.”

Quite right. Even though the building bearing his name needed to go, Middleton should be honored in some other way for his contribution to the school, the state and the nation. Instead he’s going to be dishonored, thanks to the actions of tiny, petty people caught up in a pathetic attempt at relevance and fashion amid a time of media-driven insanity.

For all his faults we’ll go with Troy Middleton. He actually achieved something lasting. Those trying to airbrush him out of our history, with Edwards as the primary culprit, simply can’t measure up.

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