The U.S. military has now banned the Confederate flag from military installations without specifically mentioning the flag in its new policy change.
A July 16 memo signed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper makes clear which flags can be flown at military installations — and the Confederate flag is not one of them, Lolita Baldor of the Associated Press first revealed on Friday.
“Flags are powerful symbols, particularly in the military community for whom flags embody common mission, common histories, and the special timeless bond of warriors,” Esper wrote in the memo. “The flags we fly must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols.”
Today I issued a memorandum to the force on the display of flags at @DeptofDefense facilities. With this change in policy, we will further improve the morale, cohesion, and readiness of the force in defense of our great Nation. pic.twitter.com/YQPc3kxf4V
— Archive: Dr. Mark T. Esper (@EsperDoD) July 17, 2020
The memo applies to work and public spaces, schools and training centers, and barracks and other living quarters. However, there are some exceptions.
“The public display or depiction of unauthorized flags in museum exhibits, state-issued license
plates, grave sites, memorial markers, monuments, educational displays, historical displays, or works of art, where the nature of the display or depiction cannot reasonably be viewed as endorsement of the flag by the Department of Defense, is not prohibited,” the memo says.
The move comes five months after Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger first ordered in February that Confederate flags and other paraphernalia be removed from Corps installations.
“In doing so, I am mindful that many people believe the flag to be a symbol of heritage or regional pride,” Berger later explained in an April 20 message to Marines. “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.”
With the public outrage over the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, efforts to ban all Confederate symbols from military bases have gained momentum in recent weeks.
In June, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday ordered his staff to begin working on an order to ban Confederate symbols in public spaces and work areas at Navy installations and aboard ships, aircraft and submarines.
The Army also appeared to have a change of heart about the 10 bases named for Confederates. In February, a service spokesperson told Task & Purpose that the Army had no intention of renaming the posts, but by early June Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy indicated he was open to the idea after all.
On Thursday, McCarthy told reporters that “anything that is a divisive symbol, we do want to take those off our installations and keep that sort of thing out of our formation.”
When pressed further on if the Confederate flag specifically would be identified as inappropriate, McCarthy said that any “divisive symbols” would be “on a no-fly list, if you will.”
The issue about renaming the Army bases remains unresolved. President Donald Trump effectively put an end to the discussion on the matter by tweeting on June 10 that he would never allow names of the 10 “Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations” to be changed.
“He believes that our young men and women who left these bases overseas – many of whom lost their lives, and the last thing they saw was being on one of these military bases – that they should not be told that the base that they trained in, the last place they saw on American soil was a racist institution,” White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told reporters during a July 1 news briefing.
Still, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently told lawmakers that he supported having a commission look into the use of Confederate symbols within the military, including base names, statues, and Confederate flags.
Milley noted that he once served with a young officer at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who told him the post was named for a man who represented the system that had enslaved his grandparents.
“The American Civil War … was an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution – and those officers turned their backs on their oath,”Milley told members of the House Armed Services Committee on July 9.
Task & Purpose reporter Haley Britzky contributed to this story.