WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Friday unveiled what's effectively a ban on public displays of the Confederate flag on U.S. military installations.
The policy change may draw ire from President Donald Trump, who said last month that his administration would "not even consider" the removal of Confederate symbols.
The carefully worded policy approved by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Thursday does not specifically mention the Confederate battle flag. Instead it clarifies that the American flag is the "principal flag we are authorized and encouraged to display."
The memo also lists authorized flags that may be displayed. The Confederate flag is not named.
"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 in a Friday memo explaining the policy change. "With this change in policy, we will further improve the morale, cohesion, and readiness of the force in defense of our great nation," the statement added.
A push to remove Confederate symbols has gained renewed force after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes.
Esper recently told lawmakers that a process was underway to evaluate the potential removal of Confederate symbols from U.S. military installations.
"There is a process underway, by which we affirm what types of flags are authorized on U.S. military bases," Esper said before the House Armed Services Committee when asked about the potential removal of the Confederate battle flag as well as other associated symbols of the Confederacy.
When asked, alongside Esper, whether U.S. Army bases named after Confederate generals harmed morale or unit cohesion in the military, the nation's highest-ranking officer offered a personal story.
"For those young soldiers that go on to a base, Fort Hood or Fort Bragg or wherever, named after a Confederate general, they can be reminded that that general fought for an institution of slavery that may have enslaved one of their ancestors," Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley explained.
"I had a staff sergeant when I was a young officer who actually told me that at Fort Bragg. He said he went to work every day on a base that represented a guy who had enslaved his grandparents," he added.
"The American Civil War was fought, and it was an act of rebellion and an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes and against the U.S. Constitution," Milley said.
Last month, Trump, in a string of tweets, wrote that U.S. Army bases named after generals who fought for slaveholding states of the Confederacy in the Civil War will not be renamed.
The president contended in his June 10 tweets that the Confederate names of the bases have become part of the nation's great "heritage."
"It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc. These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom," Trump wrote on Twitter.
Trump's statement that his administration "will not even consider" changing the names came three days after a spokesman for the U.S. Army said, "The secretary of the Army is open to having a bipartisan conversation regarding the renaming" of 10 Army bases named after Confederate generals who had served in the U.S. Army, the nation's oldest service branch.
Last month, both the Marine Corps and Navy announced plans to ban the Confederate battle flag from being displayed on vessels and installations.