After weeks of wrangling, the Pentagon will effectively ban the display of the Confederate flag on military installations from Friday.
The new policy has been described by officials as a creative way to bar the flag without openly contradicting or angering US president Donald Trump, who has defended people’s rights to display it.
The carefully worded policy, laid out in a memo obtained by the Associated Press, does not mention the word “ban” or the specific flag.
Signed by US defence 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”.
The memo says: “We must always remain focused on what unifies us, our sworn oath to the constitution and our shared duty to defend the nation.
“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 US 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.
According to a US defence department official, 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 the White House is aware of the new policy.
Confederate battle flag flies on the grounds of the South Carolina State House in Columbia. File photograph: Travis Dove/The New York Times
Mr Trump has flatly rejected any notion of changing base names and has defended the flying of the Confederate flag, saying it is a freedom of speech issue.
According to Mr Esper’s memo, the display of unauthorised flags — such as the Confederate banner carried during the US civil war — is acceptable in museums, historical exhibits, works of art or other educational programs.
The US marine corps has already banned the Confederate flag.
General David Berger, the commandant of the marine corps, directed his commanders in early June to remove public displays of the Confederate battle flag.
The flag, which some embrace as a symbol of heritage, “carries the power to inflame feelings of division” and can weaken the unit cohesion that combat requires, Mr Berger said.
Military commands in South Korea and Japan quickly followed suit. The new policy does not affect or rescind those bans.
The other three US military services were all moving to enact similar bans but they paused when Mr Esper made it known he wanted a consistent policy across the whole department.
Now they will issue this new policy to their troops and employees.-AP