WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a memorandum Thursday night effectively barring U.S. military installations from displaying the Confederate battle flag.
The memo lists the types of flags which are allowed to be flown “in all Department of Defense work places, common access areas, and public areas,” which did not include the Confederate flag.
“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 wrote. “With this change in policy, we will further improve the morale, cohesion, and readiness of the force in defense of our great Nation.”
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
Among the acceptable flags listed Thursday are the American flag, military service flags, the POW/MIA flag, and flags of states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.
“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.
Unauthorized flags — such as the Confederate banner carried during the Civil War — will still be allowed to be displayed or depicted under some circumstances, Esper said, including in museum exhibits, on grave sites or in 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.”
The debate over Confederate symbols and monuments has raged in the U.S. since the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died on Memorial Day while in the custody of Minneapolis police. Demonstrators protesting against racism and police violence have pulled down Confederate monuments or prompted officials to do as much in several cities nationwide.
Last month, Politico reported Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy were open to the possibility of renaming Army bases and facilities named for Confederate leaders. President Donald Trump, however, strongly opposed the measure. Trump has defended the flying of the flag, framing the issue as one of free speech.
The Marine Corps has already banned the Confederate flag. Gen. David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, directed his commanders in early June to remove public displays of the Confederate battle flag.
The other three military services were moving to enact similar bans, but paused when Esper made it known he wanted a consistent policy across the whole department. Now they will instead issue this new policy to their troops and employees.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.