WASHINGTON – After weeks of wrangling, the Pentagon is banning displays of the Confederate flag on military installations, in a carefully worded policy that doesn't mention the word ban or that specific flag. The policy, laid out in a memo released Friday, was described by officials as a creative way to bar the flag's display without openly contradicting or angering President Donald Trump, who has defended people’s rights to display it.
Signed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday night, the memo lists the types of flags that may be displayed at military installations. The Confederate flag is not among them — thus barring its display without singling it out in a “ban.” Details of the policy were first reported by the AP.
“We must always remain focused on what unifies us, our sworn oath to the Constitution and our shared duty to defend the nation,” Esper's memo states. “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.”
Acceptable flags listed in the memo include the U.S. and state banners, flags of other allies and partners, the widely displayed POW/MIA flag and official military unit flags.
Confederate flags, monuments and military base names have become a national flashpoint in the weeks since the death of George Floyd. Protesters decrying racism have targeted Confederate monuments in multiple cities. Some state officials are considering taking them down, but they face vehement opposition in some areas.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement that the American flag is the symbol of the Constitution that service members swore to protect. He added, "Each of us must create (and) maintain an environment of cohesion across the Joint Force. One way to do that is to always honor our American Flag.”
According to a Defense Department official familiar with the matter, the decision not to name a specific prohibited flag was to ensure the policy would be apolitical and could withstand potential legal challenges based on free speech. The official said that the White House is aware of the new policy and that it takes effect immediately.
Trump has flatly rejected any notion of changing base names and has defended the flying of the Confederate flag, saying it’s a freedom of speech issue.