By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper effectively banned Friday display of the Confederate battle flag from all US military installations.

In a memo sent to the US military, Esper did not explicitly mention the flag, but said “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.”

That effectively bans display of the flag of the Confederacy, which took up arms against the US in a secessionist bid to maintain their ability to own black people as slaves. The Navy and Marines had previously acted to ban display of the flag.

The flag has been a highly contentious symbol, and it has become a flashpoint in America’s ongoing reckoning with race that gained renewed attention after the fatal arrest of George Floyd.

Mississippi, the last state to have the emblematic stars and bars of the Confederacy included in its flag, announced last month that it would be scrapping the flag in favor of one that does not don the secessionist imagery criticized by many for being an explicitly racist reference.

“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 to the military. “As Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a veteran of the Second World War, once wrote about the United States flag: ‘It is a symbol of freedom, of equal opportunity, of religious tolerance, and of good will for other peoples who share our aspirations.”

In addition to the US flag, Esper said the US would continue to permit the display of a series of flags at US military facilities, including the NATO flag, flags of allied nations, state flags and military service flags.

Esper said his directive would not apply to a series of sites and objects including museums, state license plates, grave markers, memorials, historical displays and artworks “where the nature of the display or depiction cannot be viewed as an endorsement of the flag by the Department of Defense.”

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