Pentagon to ban all Confederate flags on military bases despite Trump's objections

Without explicitly mentioning the symbol, Mark Esper's memo says flags must reflect 'good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols'

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 17 July 2020 12:27
Comments
2015 clip sees Trump declare that Confederate flags should be in a museum

The Pentagon will prohibit the Confederate battle flag from US military installations despite Donald Trump's insistence that flying the symbol is "freedom of speech" amid a national reckoning over racist icons and political battles to remove the flag across the US.

Secretary of Defence Mark Esper's memo says "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" – but he does not explicitly mention the Confederate battle flag, in an effort to avoid directly contradicting the president.

In recent weeks, the president has rejected calls to rename military bases named after Confederate generals and has defended the battle flag while threatening prison sentences for people who burn the American flag.

During a House Armed Services Committee hearing on 9 July, Secretary Esper said that "there is a process underway, by which we affirm what types of flags are authorised on US military bases."

"I want to make sure that we have an approach that is enduring and that could withstand legal challenge but that unites us and most importantly helps build cohesion and readiness," he said.

Secretary Esper's memo calls for prohibited symbols to be placed in historical contexts in museums, works of art and educational settings.

General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the administration's senior military official, testified that "those generals fought for the institution of slavery" and condemned the Confederacy's attempt to secede from the US as "an act of treason".

"Those officers turned their back on their oath," he said.

A dozen military installations named after Confederate generals are facing renewed scrutiny as officials across the nation determine whether to preserve symbols of white supremacy that have lingered in US institutions for decades. Officials have considering renaming 10 bases, all in the southern US.

Most bases were renamed at the onset of World War I through World War II, within roughly the same period in which monuments to the Lost Cause of the Civil War – attempting to preserve the legacies of the men on their pedestals without addressing the racist violence they perpetuated – were erected through the US, decades after the war's end.

"I personally think that the original decisions to name those bases after Confederate generals ... were political decisions," Gen Milley said. "And they're going to be political decisions today."

On 28 June, Mississippi's governor approved landmark legislation approved by a majority of lawmakers in the state to remove the symbol from the state's flag. The move took immediate effect – the flag was removed from state properties, and voters will choose whether to approve a new design this fall. All future version of the flag will not include the symbol.

In June, the US Marines ordered the removal of Confederate flags from its bases, offices, naval vessels and other buildings and vehicles. The US Navy also has imposed a ban on the flag on its installations, vessels and other public spaces.

Marine Corps commandant Gen David Berger said in an April memo announcing the branch's intent to ban public displays of the flag that he has "focused solely on building a uniquely capable war-fighting team whose members come from all walks of life and must learn to operate side-by-side" and argued that the symbol "has shown it has the power to inflame feelings of division" and must be removed.

"I am mindful that many people believe that flag to be a symbol of heritage or regional pride," he said. "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."

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