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Pentagon considering ban on Confederate flags

By MISSY RYAN AND ALEX HORTON | The Washington Post | Published: July 6, 2020

WASHINGTON — Pentagon leaders are considering a ban on Confederate flags at all bases, an official said Monday, in another possible step in the military's reckoning with racism and its long acceptance of Civil War tributes.

The official said the draft policy being considered at the Pentagon's highest levels would build on recent moves by military services to bar Confederate symbols on facilities they control and, if approved, would represent the first Defense Department-wide prohibition of such iconography.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the proposed change, which was first reported by CNN.

The Pentagon's consideration of the new policy comes as some state and local leaders, along with colleges, universities and organizations, take steps to address the legacy of the Civil War, slavery and racism, removing statues of Confederate leaders from public spaces and renaming institutions honoring officials linked to racist policies. Last month, Mississippi's governor signed a bill changing the state flag. NASCAR has banned the flag.

The moves in some cases have taken on partisan tones, with President Donald Trump decrying NASCAR's flag ban and vowing to veto an annual defense bill if it includes a Democratic proposal to change the names of military bases honoring Confederate leaders. Those proposals come amid a nationwide reckoning that began with the death of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis police custody in May.

A Pentagon ban could also exacerbate strains between Pentagon leaders and Trump caused by the military's involvement in responding to recent civil unrest. Since then, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and military leaders have scrambled to illustrate their responsiveness to a newly open conversation about race.

Military bases generally are not decorated with Confederate flags. Many barracks and homes on post carry the U.S. flag, service-specific banners, the colors of service academies or sports teams and college teams. The Confederate flag can more often be found on T-shirts, service members' tattoos, bumper stickers or banners hanging inside a barracks.

Last month, the Marine Corps ordered the identification and removal of Confederate flag symbols in public and work spaces; the Navy has signaled it is moving to do the same.

The Marine Corps ban applies to mugs, bumper stickers, banners, posters and more. But it stops short of prohibiting the symbol inside barracks rooms and homes and on personal bags and vehicles.

While the Army, the largest military branch, has previously resisted pressure to rename its 10 bases honoring Confederate commanders, saying in 2017 that such moves would be "controversial and divisive," officials have said in recent weeks that Army leaders are now open to at least discussing the issue.

The installations, all in former Confederate states, were named with input from influential locals in the Jim Crow era. The Army courted their approval because it needed large swaths of land to build sprawling bases during the buildups of World Wars I and II.

Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the headquarters of the Special Forces, bears the name of Gen. Braxton Bragg, a commander often criticized as one of the most bumbling commanders in the Civil War. Fort Benning in Georgia, the home of Army infantry and airborne training, is named after Brig. Gen. Henry Benning, who laid out the protection of slavery as the motivation for secession in a speech in 1861.

Also likely to be the subject of conversations about Civil War tributes and the military are ships and buildings on military facilities named for Confederate leaders.
 

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