Without specifically mentioning it, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued a new Defense Department policy on Friday that will act as a de facto ban on the display of the Confederate Battle flag from all military installations.
The new policy guidance comes on the heels of a frequently contentious debate about the display of the Confederate battle flag and whether military bases named after Confederate States of America officers should be renamed. President Donald Trump has already said that he’d veto any such name change if the Pentagon’s budget contains any language for base renaming.
The Pentagon released a statement earlier on Friday that stated that Esper presented the guidance Friday morning to senior leaders and commanders and noted that flags are powerful symbols, in the military and must embody a common mission, common histories, and the special, timeless bonds of warriors.
General David Berger, the Commandant of the Marine Corps has already issued a ban on the display of the Confederate battle flag at all Marine bases worldwide.
“I have determined it is time to act to exclude from our Corps public displays of the battle flag carried by the Confederate Army during the American Civil War,” Berger wrote, in a letter to the troops. “This symbol has shown it has the power to inflame feelings of division. I cannot have that division inside our Corps.”
“The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mike Gilday, has directed his staff to begin crafting an order,” said Cmdr. Nate Christensen, Gilday’s spokesman, “that would prohibit the Confederate battle flag from all public spaces and work areas aboard Navy installations, ships, aircraft, and submarines.”
Esper carefully worded the guidance not to draw the ire of the president who has already spoken out about the decision by NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at all races and events.
The Secretary laid out a detailed two-page memo that lists the various flags that are now authorized to be displayed on U.S. military property and that will “promote unity and esprit de corps.”
But the Confederate Battle Flag was not the only flag to be missing from the list of approved flags on military installations. Black Lives Matter flags and LGBTQ pride flags and depictions of flags will not be allowed either.
Apparently, the decision to not name a specifically prohibited flag was planned and”was to ensure the department-wide policy would be apolitical and withstand potential free speech political challenges, but that the services are still free to act on other flags,” according to an unnamed Defense Department official who spoke to CNN on Friday afternoon.
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
— Dr. Mark T. Esper (@EsperDoD) July 17, 2020
“I am committed to fielding the most powerful military force the world has known by strengthening the bonds of our most valuable resource — our people. That is why we honor the American flag, which is the principal flag we are authorized and encouraged to display,” Esper wrote in the memo, which has been posted on Twitter.
“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,” Esper added.
All non-sanctioned flags, are not prohibited from being displayed in “museum exhibits, state-issued license plates, gravesites, memorial markers, monuments, educational displays, historical displays, or works of art, where the nature of the display or depiction cannot reasonably be viewed as an endorsement of the flag by the Department of Defense,” according to Esper’s new policy guidance.
It is has been stated that President Trump is aware of this new policy.
However, Esper’s new policy didn’t mention the renaming of the 10 military bases than are named after Confederate leaders. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army General Mark Milley was outspoken about his feeling about the name change that he says is needed, calling the Confederate generals “traitors to the Stars and Stripes.”
“The Confederacy, the American Civil War was fought, and it was an act of rebellion,” Milley said in a meeting with the House Armed Services Committee. “It 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 back on their oath.”