Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper on Friday announced a new Pentagon policy that effectively prohibits the display of the Confederate flag at military facilities, but he stopped short of mentioning the specific symbol.
In a memo, the Pentagon chief unveiled new guidance authorizing the display of specific flags, including the American flag, flags of the U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia, military flags, POW/MIA flags, and allied flags, and prohibits the use of “unauthorized flags.” The Confederate flag is not included in the list of authorized flags.
“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,” Mr. Esper wrote in the memo.
“That is why we honor the American flag, which is the principal flag we are authorized and encouraged to display.”
The guidance applies to the public display or depiction of flags in all Defense Department workplaces, common access areas and public areas, and bans the display of flags “where the nature of the display or depiction cannot reasonably be viewed as endorsement of the flag” by the Pentagon.
A draft version of the memo had reportedly banned the explicit display of the Confederate flag, but the released memo signals efforts to strike a compromise on the controversial matter.
Mr. Esper’s announcement follows weeks of nationwide anti-racism protests after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a White Minneapolis police officer, and calls for the Confederate flag to be banned from military properties and bases that honor Confederate leaders to be renamed.
The effort saw early support from several branches of the military after the Navy, Marine Corps and several arms of the military abroad announced a ban on the display of the Confederate flag last month.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, in a congressional hearing last week backed efforts to end any and all military practices that portray the Confederacy in a positive light. Glorification of the Confederate cause, he said, is problematic for a military that’s increasingly made up of Black service members.
Mr. Esper said that the new policy “will further improve the morale, cohesion, and readiness of the force in defense of our great Nation.”
The move saw praise from the top Democrats on Capitol Hill including Sen. Jack Reed, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who called it “long overdue.”
“Flags are symbols and this is a symbolic move that demonstrates that racism and discrimination have no place in an organization that requires unity of purpose and action,” the Rhode Island Democrat said in a statement Friday afternoon.
“The military is engaged in serious, meaningful self-examination, action, and reform to address these challenges,” Mr. Reed said. “That long march toward progress must continue.”
Rep. Adam Smith, Washington state Democrat and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that in his announcement, Mr. Esper “clearly codified which flags are permissible for public display across the Department.”
“By omitting the Confederate flag from the list of approved flags, the guidance makes clear that there is no place for that symbol in public DOD settings, which is an important change in policy that I strongly support.”