United Kingdom

Marine Corps bans public display of Confederate flag amid unrest over George Floyd killing

The United States Marine Corps has officially barred public displays of the Confederate battle flag from public spaces, including bases and military installations, following the police-involved death of George Floyd.

‘The Confederate battle flag has all too often been co-opted by violent extremist and racist groups whose divisive beliefs have no place in our Corps,’ the Marine Corps said in a social media post Friday.

‘This presents a threat to our core values, unit cohesion, security, and good order and discipline,’ the post read.

‘This must be addressed.’

The Corps on Friday issued a MARADMIN, or a Marine Administrative Message, to all of its commanders ordering the removal of the flag as depicted on bumper stickers, clothing, coffee mugs, flags, and posters.

The United States Marine Corps has ordered a ban on all public displays of the Confederate flag. The image above shows Marines march on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House during the inauguration parade in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2017

The Marine Corps posted its announcement on its social media feed on Friday

The Corps on Friday issued a MARADMIN, or a Marine Administrative Message, to all of its commanders ordering the removal of the flag as depicted on bumper stickers, clothing, coffee mugs, flags, and posters

Exceptions will be made to works of art or historical displayers where the flag is depicted but is not the ‘main focus of the work.’

These exceptions also cover stage flags where the Confederate flag is part of the symbol, state license plates that include the image of the flag, and grave sites of soldiers who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Public spaces that will be subject to inspection include office buildings, open-bay barracks and shipboard berthing, commissaries, schoolhouses, and front yards of military housing, according to the Marine Corps Times.

But commanders will not inspect assigned individual barracks rooms or living quarters. They will also not be inspecting assigned desk drawers, cabinets, or lockers.

Marine Corps soldiers can display the flag inside their individual backpacks, private vehicles, and in their homes.

The senior officership of the Marine Corps has taken several steps in recent months to do away with the controversial battle flag.

In April, the top Marine, General David Berger, took on the issue of racial tensions within the Corps by banning the display of the Confederate flag and other such symbols.

In a memo to the Corps on April 20, he said, 'I am mindful that many people believe that flag to be a symbol of heritage or regional pride. 

Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger, who ordered the ban, has been praised for the effort to 'modernize' the Marines

'But I am also mindful of the feelings of pain and rejection of those who inherited the cultural memory and present effects of the scourge of slavery in our country.'

'Anything that divides us, anything that threatens team cohesion must be addressed head-on,' he declared.

In February, Berger sent a directive to his senior staff ordering the removal of Confederate symbols after a poll revealed 36 percent of active-duty troops in the U.S. military have witnessed white supremacy and racism in their ranks. 

The 2019 survey showed that as many of half of minority service members were personal witnesses to racism with enlisted members more likely to see it than officers. 

Demonstrators protest at the South Carolina State House calling for the Confederate flag to remain in 2015. The flag was removed after a white supremacist who killed nine was pictured with it. It will now also be removed from Marine bases

The troops also cited white supremacy as a greater national security threat than domestic terrorism with a connection to Islam or immigration. 

'The majority of my co-workers were absolutely outstanding regarding race and work-relations and I credit military service for that,' one participant said.

'Nevertheless, somehow more racists are slipping through the cracks into the military.' 

The debate over Confederate flags and statues as a hate symbol is troubling for military officials after several high-profile incidents in which troops were found to be engaging in white supremacy.

Lance Corporal Vasillios Pistolis was kicked out of the Marine Corps in 2018 and sentenced to 28 days confinement after it was revealed that he attended the 2017 white supremacist 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, at which a counter-protester was killed.

Pistolis was identified in photos from the rally on August 12, 2017, violently smashing a Confederate flag onto a counter-protester.

'The Marine Corps' stance on membership in extremist or hate groups remains the same: there is no place for racial hatred or extremism in the Marine Corps,' Major Brian Block wrote in a statement after Pistolis' dismissal.

In 2016, 18-year-old Anthony Bauswell was also turned away from the Marines for a Confederate flag tattoo reading 'Southern Pride'.

The long-running debate about the Confederate flag and its symbols and statues has been increasingly heated in the past few years.

Cpl Vasillios Pistolis was dismissed from the Marine Corps in 2018 for attending a white supremacist rally and being pictured hitting a counter-protester with a Confederate flag

Several states and municipalities have taken steps in recent days to remove Confederate statues and symbols as the George Floyd killing has elevated the issue of race relations in the public discourse. 

The death of Floyd in police hands has also pushed the US military to search its soul and to admit that, like the rest of America, it has fallen short on racial fairness.

Although the military historically has prided itself on diversity, leaders acknowledge that black troops often are disproportionately subject to military legal punishment and are impeded in promotions.

THE FLAG OF THE CONFEDERACY

The Civil War-era Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is today known as the symbol of the Confederacy

What is today considered the Confederate flag was never the official national flag of the 13 states which made up the Confederate States of America from 1861 until 1865.

The banner that is often hoisted at rallies today is a version of the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Also known as the 'Dixie flag,' 'rebel flag', or 'battle flag,' the design has come to be associated with the racial history of the South.

The Confederate States of America were formed in 1861 when 11 states seceded from the union in order to protect the institution of slavery.

The North eventually defeated the South in the Civil War, resulting in the abolition of slavery.

But racial injustices continued, particularly in the South, where blacks were subject to systematic discrimination and violence at the hands of whites.

While the flag is often flown by non-extremists who cite Southern pride and heritage, the symbol has also been adopted by extremist groups like neo-Nazis and other white supremacist organizations, according to the Anti-Defamation League. 

The use of the Confederate battle flag by extremist groups has prompted widespread calls for the banner to be banned and for statues and monuments honoring Civil War-era figures from the South to be taken down. 

'I struggle with the Air Force's own demons that include the racial disparities in military justice and discipline among our youngest black male airmen,' Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, an African American and the service's top enlisted airman, wrote in a social media post this week.

While tensions simmer between the Pentagon and the White House over the proper limits of military involvement in policing protests prompted by the May 25 killing of Floyd in Minneapolis, what goes largely unspoken is that many of the troops being called upon to help keep order are African Americans and other minorities.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said little about the Floyd killing until Wednesday, when he called a news conference and declared the death a police murder. 

'It is a tragedy that we have seen repeat itself too many times,' he said.

Esper, a West Point graduate who served 10 years on active duty in the Army, called the military a leader on the racial front. 

But he acknowledged it has 'much to do' to improve diversity and stop discrimination.

The military, with African Americans making up a little over 17 per cent of its active duty ranks, is more racially diverse than the country, which is 13 per cent African American, according to 2019 Census estimates. 

The Army is the most diverse with more than 21 per cent African Americans, while the Marine Corp is the least, with 10 percent. 

Blacks make up about 17 per cent of the Navy and less than 15 per cent of the Air Force.

But there is a much greater racial divide within the active duty military based on rank.

Fully 19 per cent of active duty enlisted troops are black, but they make up only 9 per cent of the officer corps. Of those, there are just 71 who are general or flag officers, wearing one to four stars, including only two who have attained the top four-star rank.

Colin Powell, an Army four-star, was White House national security adviser and then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before President George W. Bush named him secretary of state.

However, none of the military services has ever been led by a black officer, although that is expected to change soon. Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., has been nominated to lead the Air Force, succeeding Gen. David Goldfein.     

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