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US military effectively bans Confederate flag with new policy

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The Confederate flag can no longer be flown on US military properties after the Pentagon issued a new policy to reject displays of “divisive symbols”.

Defence Secretary Mark Esper did not name the flag in a memo announcing the rules, but the policy effectively bans the secessionist banner.

The Confederacy was the group of southern states that fought to keep slavery during the US Civil War.

Recent protests have renewed calls to ban the Confederate flag across the US.

In his memo to senior defence leaders, Mr Esper said: “Flags are powerful symbols, particularly in the military community for whom flags embody common mission, common histories, and the special, timeless bond of warriors.”

He said that the US ‘Stars and Stripes’ flag is the principal flag the military is encouraged to display. Other flags “must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols”.

The memo contains a list of acceptable flags, including those belonging to US states and territories, military services, and US allies, partners and member organisations, like Nato.

The policy applies to all public displays of flags by soldiers and civilians in all areas of the Department.

The Confederate flag is not listed among these, though no there is no reference of a specific ban.

The display of unauthorised flags in museums, historical or educational displays, artwork and similar monuments – “where the nature of the display or depiction cannot reasonably be viewed as endorsement” is still allowed.

“With this change in policy, we will further improve the morale, cohesion, and readiness of the force in defence of our great Nation,” Mr Esper wrote.

Other branches of the military, including the Navy and Marines, recently took steps to ban the flag ahead of the departmental guidance.

President Donald Trump has previously defended the use of the Confederate flag as free speech.

In an interview with CBS News on Saturday, the president said: “I know people that like the Confederate flag and they’re not thinking about slavery…I just think it’s freedom of speech. Whether it’s Confederate flags or Black Lives Matter, or anything else you want to talk about, it’s freedom of speech.”

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Andrew Lichtenstein

Image caption

Many Confederate memorials have been covered in graffiti

The renewed push to ban the Confederate flag follows widespread protests against racism and injustice, prompted by the killing of George Floyd.

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A number of statues related to the Confederacy have been removed in recent weeks – in some cases torn down by protesters – though some Americans favour keeping the memorials as historical symbols. Others also say the flag is associated with rebellion rather than racism.

At the end of last month, the southern state of Mississippi voted to strip Confederate emblems from its state flag.

Amid the nationwide discussion on racism, Mr Trump has rejected calls to rename military bases named after Confederate generals, saying they remain part of the country’s heritage.

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