Top Marine Orders Confederate Paraphernalia to Be Removed from All Bases

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Confederate flag is removed from South Carolina state house in 2015.
H.K. Edgerton, right, gets a hug from a man in front of the South Carolina state house grounds on July 10, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Since the early sixties and until today the Confederate battle flag had flown on the capitol grounds. The flag debate was reignited following the mass murder at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, that June. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

As states continue to grapple with the passionate debate over whether to display statues and other tributes to Confederate leaders, Marines have been told the materials won't be tolerated on any of the Corps' installations.

Commandant Gen. David Berger last week instructed top Marine leaders to remove Confederate-related paraphernalia from the service's bases worldwide. The directive is one of several forward-leaning initiatives Berger said he is "prioritizing for immediate execution."

In his memo, a copy of which was obtained by Military.com, Berger also ordered leaders to find ways to move more women into combat jobs, to review the possibility of yearlong maternity leave for female Marines, and to extend parental leave policies to same-sex partners.

The commandant's order came about a week after a congressional hearing on the rise of extremism in the ranks. A recent survey of active-duty troops by the independent Military Times also found signs of white supremacy are on the rise.

Related: Neo-Nazi Group Membership May Not Get You Booted from Military, Officials Say

Maj. Eric Flanagan, Berger's spokesman, did not specify the types of Confederate paraphernalia the general wants stripped from Marine Corps bases.

"Last week, the Commandant of the Marine Corps directed specific tasks be reviewed or addressed by Headquarters Marine Corps staff," Flanagan said. "Many of the tasks were published on Twitter Friday. Other tasks not published previously are mostly administrative matters."

Official policy decisions, changes or implementation plans will be published in appropriate orders or service-wide messages, he added.

The debate over Confederate materials and names on military installations has swirled for years. Ten Army bases are named after leaders of secessionist states, a point of contention for many -- especially after a 2015 racially motivated attack on a South Carolina church thrust the debate over honoring Confederate history onto the national stage.

The attack prompted fierce debate over whether state and local governments should remove statues, street names and other references to Confederate leaders. Major retailers announced they would no longer sell Confederate flags.

But the military's response to Confederate names, flags and other materials was less clear. The Defense Department didn't take any immediate action on the issue, Military Times reported at the time, opting to leave it up to individual services to address.

Richard Kohn, a history professor who studies peace, war and defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said Berger appears to be modernizing the Marine Corps. Ridding military installations of Confederate materials is long overdue, he said.

"We have the need within the country to try and create as much unity as possible and to suppress white nationalism and racism within the ranks of the military because, every once in a while, it crops up and causes an issue," Kohn said.

Several Marines have recently been punished or booted out of the military over racist social media posts, and lawmakers are pushing the Pentagon to better track extremism in the ranks.

Since the Marine Corps' major installations opened after the turn of the 20th century, Kohn said they're unlikely to have overt nods to Confederate leaders.

A 2017 study by the Congressional Research Service found there were no Navy or Marine Corps bases named for Confederate military leaders. The Navy Department follows a procedure for naming streets, facilities and structures on its bases for deceased members of the sea services or those who made significant contributions to the Navy and Marine Corps.

Names of internal portions of buildings can be assigned at the discretion of the local base commander.

But even as one member of the Joint Chiefs makes a stance to rid his service's bases of Confederate paraphernalia, Kohn said it's unlikely to result in the Army renaming those 10 bases that have drawn criticism.

"I think the Army would worry about alienating the local population," he said. "... Most of the people joining the military are from areas where these bases are ... so the recruiting people might say, 'You know, you really don't want to do that.'"

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Read more: Congress Wants the Military to Report Extremism in the Ranks. Here's Why That Will Be Tough

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