Marine commandant explains why he banned Confederate symbols at Corps installations

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A protester waves a Confederate battle flag in front of the South Carolina statehouse, Thursday, July 9, 2015, in Columbia, S.C

A protester waves a Confederate battle flag in front of the South Carolina statehouse, Thursday, July 9, 2015, in Columbia, S.C

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger has explained that he banned the Confederate flag on service installations because it is a symbol of division.

“In doing so, I am mindful that many people believe the flag to be a symbol of heritage or regional pride,” Berger wrote in an April 20 message to Marines that he tweeted on Thursday. “But I am also mindful of the feelings of pain and rejection of those who inherited the cultural memory and present effects of the scourge of slavery in our country.”

Berger explained that all Marines need to be united in order for the Corps to be able to fight and win if called upon, writing that "anything that divides us, anything that threatens team cohesion must be addressed head-on."

The commandant initially announced in February that all Confederate symbols needed to be removed from Marine Corps installations.

The Confederacy was an alliance of Southern states that seceded from the United States after the election of President Abraham Lincoln, who had campaigned on a platform of restricting the spread of slavery. 

Confederate apologists have misleadingly framed the war as a conflict between states and the federal government over states' rights, a falsehood that lawmakers have continued to use to oppose civil rights legislation.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, for example, is a noted Confederate apologist who portrayed opponents to slavery leading up to the Civil War as dangerous anarchists.

“They were as mendacious as the Jacobins of Revolutionary France which placed power and rule of the chosen above local autonomy and individual rights,” Wilkie said in a 1995 speech that praised Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s president. “Davis saw in their ascendancy an invitation to the tyranny of the mob and the street justice of the guillotine. Like all conservatives, he fought them with everything in his power.”

The Confederate flag has become a symbol for white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups to which more than a few Marines have belonged in recent years.

“My intent is not to judge the specific meaning anyone ascribed to that symbol or declare someone's personally held view to be incorrect,” Berger wrote on Thursday. “Rather, I am focused solely on building a uniquely capable warfighting team whose members comes from all walks of life and must learn to operate side by side. This symbol has shown it has the power to inflame feelings of division. I cannot have division inside our Corps.”

Read Gen. Berger's entire letter below: