Vance takes sledgehammer to effort to rename Wayne forest

Posted on Aug 28, 2023

We’re a couple days late to the party on this one, but Sen. J.D. Vance is taking a sledgehammer to efforts to rename Wayne forest in Ohio:

From Vance’s letter posted here:

This federal effort denigrates Ohio history and represents a lack of fidelity to our nation’s founding generation.

I also take exception to the USDA’s designation of Wayne’s legacy as ‘complicated.’ Labeling the life and times of Wayne in such a way is an all-too-common dismissive, academic handwave that is beneath the dignity of the United States government.

This sterile summarization is part of a wider federal trend that is replacing real people with abstract things and real histories with vapid anecdotes. Wayne heroically served our nation in a time when its continued existence was not a foregone conclusion. He fought wars and won peace for our government, the government you now serve, and hewed Ohio out of rugged wilderness and occupied enemy territory. Just as the United States would not exist without George Washington, Ohio would not exist without Anthony Wayne.

I ask that you reverse this misguided decision to rename Wayne National Forest. It would greatly benefit Ohioans, and all Americans, if our government could be counted on to defend our Founding Fathers instead of capitulating to politically motivated renaming efforts. Until such courage can be found, I humbly recommend that the federal government disband all renaming committees.

As a reminder, the push to rename Wayne forest is coming from Native American tribes who have dubbed Wayne’s history as “complicated.”

Wayne certainly did engage in violence targeted at Native Americans; Wayne defenders including Vance would argue that was unavoidable because of Native Americans’ alliance with British forces at the time to push back on the United States and Americans, and that Wayne’s history shouldn’t be read as one of anti-Native American violence per se but rather fighting against an enemy in war, or even an ally of an enemy. In other words, Wayne is not Andrew Jackson.

But Wayne did help remove tribes from Ohio. Vance thinks Ohioans and Americans more broadly can handle parsing the “complicated” history to take a view on Wayne. Tribes who lost land and were cleared out of Ohio to make way for white, American settlers view commemoration of Wayne, and therefore to at least some extent that legacy, as offensive. They would prefer to rename the forest the “Buckeye” Forest, potentially (other names have also been suggested)– which apart from the fact that changes to signage would cost $400,000, seems like it would be a totally inoffensive change.

Buckeye Briefing greets all of this with a shrug. On the one hand, the naming of the forest after Wayne seems far less inappropriate than the naming of military bases after Confederate military leaders who in fact were terrible at their jobs (see: Fort Bragg). On the other, Native Americans do get seriously overlooked where the history of really heinous behavior towards minorities in America is concerned. And “Buckeye” doesn’t seem like some massive exercise in political correctness; it’s the word most Americans would probably most commonly associate with the state.

One thing that we can say seems weird here is Vance retweeting (or is it “re-Xing”?) this tweet from Bernie Moreno:

While there’s still a lot of investigation to be done into what happened in Maui, we don’t think we’ve heard much discussion at all about a failure to manage forests having led to the devastation there. That *does* occur in, say, Mountain West and Pacific Coast wildfire situations. But here, first, it’s not entirely clear the Maui fires weren’t started by a downed power line that kicked off a fire when the area was unusually dry and second, as anyone who has visited the affected part of Maui can tell you, it’s not like the fires swept through an area as lush and wild as, say, the Kauai rainforest.

Your mileage may vary with regard to Vance’s point about renaming, but it seems a little foolish and outlandish to be linking all this to the Maui devastation.