Democrats in the Alaska House are busy trying to rectify history. While Rep. Geran Tarr has offered a bill to rectify “outdoor equity,” Rep. Zack Fields of Anchorage has offered to rectify the name of the Glenn Highway, because, according to him, it’s named after a war criminal.
HB 352 would have the Alaska Department of Transportation set up a consultation process with tribes to rename the Glenn, likely into an indigenous name offered by the tribes of the area.
The bill itself is simple. It “amends the uncodified law of the State of Alaska to establish a process for consulting Alaska tribes, Alaska Native organizations, and communities along the Glenn Highway to provide input for renaming the Glenn Highway.”
But the reasoning is where it gets complicated. Fields provides documentation from the Anchorage Daily News, The New Yorker Magazine, and his own reasoning that Edwin Glenn tortured Filipino suspects during interrogations while serving in the Philippine-American War.
Fields reports that the Glenn Highway was along a trail used by Dena’ina, Knik and Eklutna tribes for trade and commerce between Cook Inlet and the Copper River Valley. The road itself was built and completed in 1942 to help defend Alaska against invasion by Imperial Japanese forces. Glenn was a judge advocate and captain in the Army who commanded the initial expeditions to chart the route.
Later, Glenn was sent to the Philippines, where he was a warrior in the style of his generation. He was said to have waterboarded the mayor of one town, and ordered another town burned to the ground — both actions not unheard of in wartime.
President Theodore Roosevelt had Glenn returned to San Francisco to face court martial. He was found guilty and relieved of his command for an entire month, and fined all of $50.
“Further, Glen’s conviction as a war criminal should disqualify him on being the namesake for one of Alaska’s longest highways,” Fields said in his explanation for wanting to change the name.
“Alaska has more Native American language speakers than any other state, and over 200 existing languages today. In combination with precedent in state and federal law for tribal consultation, the State should consider consulting with local communities and tribes along the highway to consider a more appropriate name for the Alaskans who live there,” Fields said.
So far, the bill has only Fields as a sponsor and has been referred to the House Transportation Committee, where it was heard on March 1, with invited public testimony from groups and individuals supportive of the change, including Anchorage Daily News columnist David Reamer, who has written about what he sees as a problematic name.