Pentagon effectively bans the Confederate battle flag from military bases in memo rejecting ‘divisive symbols’

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A Confederate battle flag in front of the South Carolina statehouse, in Columbia, South Carolina, July 9, 2015. AP Photo/John Bazemore
  • Secretary of Defence Mark Esper sent out a memo Friday regarding flags flown at American military installations.
  • The memo effectively bans the display of the Confederate flag, which is not on the list of approved banners included in the document, at US military bases.
  • Speaking before the House Armed Service Committee this month, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley condemned the Confederacy as an “act of treason.”
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Secretary of Defence Mark Esper issued a memo Friday that effectively bans the display of the Confederate flag at US military installations.

“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,” he said, “must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols.”

Esper’s memo does not specifically mention the Confederate battle flag; however, the flag does not appear on the list of acceptable flags included within the document. The memo says that the American flag is the “principal flag we are authorised and encouraged to display.”

The memo comes at a time of national reflection on race, injustice, and division following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, in late May.

The move by the Pentagon follows action by the Marine Corps in early June to officially ban the display of the Confederate battle flag from both public and work spaces on its military bases. The Navy followed suit a week later, announcing that it was drafting plans to prohibit the display of the Confederate battle flag in all public and work areas on bases, ships, aircraft, and submarines.

The Army has also been looking closely at divisive symbols. Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy told reporters this week 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,” Politico reported Thursday, revealing that McCarthy had been pushing Esper “hard” to ban the Confederate flag.

Speaking before the House Armed Service Committee this month, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milleycondemned the Confederacy as an “act of treason.” He also suggested the military take a “hard look” at bases honouring Confederate military leaders.

“We’ve also got to take a hard look at the symbology, the symbols, things like the Confederate flags and statues and bases,” he said, telling representatives that “those officers turned their back on their oath.”

President Donald Trump has firmly opposed the renaming of bases celebrating Confederate leaders, like Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, and Fort Pickett. He tweeted last month “my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.”