Marines' Top General Opens Up About Decision to Ban Confederate Flag Displays

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Gen. David Berger, the new U.S. Marines commandant, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)
Gen. David Berger, the U.S. Marines commandant, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)

The Marine Corps' top general has issued a rallying cry for leathernecks to unite around symbols that bring them together, rather than those that divide, as he moves to prohibit the Confederate flag on all installations.

Commandant Gen. David Berger issued a letter to Marines on Thursday explaining his reasoning for banning all public displays of Confederate paraphernalia. It is a leader's responsibility, he said, to address anything that threatens unit cohesion head-on.

"I am focused solely on building a uniquely capable warfighting team whose members come from all walks of life and must learn to operate side-by-side," Berger wrote. "This symbol has shown it has the power to inflame feelings of division.

"I cannot have that division inside our Corps."

Related: Top Marine Explains Why He's Banning Confederate Flags on Bases

Berger's intent to bar Confederate flags and other items on base was included in a February memo on his top priorities. He told Military.com last month that anything that divides Marines needs attention.

The decision to remove Confederate displays on base is "about focusing on how we can get better, how we can get better as an organization," he added.

Berger's not alone in weighing the issue. Whether Confederate flags, statues and other items should remain has spurred a national debate in recent years, prompting state and local leaders to take down flags, change street names and remove statues from government buildings and property.

The debate ramped up after a self-described white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman in 2017. That followed photos of a gunman who carried out a 2015 attack on a South Carolina church posing in front of a vehicle with Confederate license plates.

Many see the flag as a point of pride in their southern heritage, which Berger acknowledged in his letter.

"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," the commandant wrote. "My intent is not to judge the specific meaning anyone ascribes to that symbol or declare someone's personally held view to be incorrect."

Instead, he said he's focused solely on creating a warfighting team in which members from all walks of lives can operate alongside one another.

"I must identify symbols or subcultures that degrade the cohesion that combat demands of us," Berger wrote.

The military has struggled in recent years to address racist and extremist beliefs in the ranks, prompting members of Congress to require command climate surveys to start addressing the issue. Lawmakers have also held hearings on the problem, asking experts what more needs to be done to combat it.

As of last month, Berger said, other service leaders had not asked about his decision to remove Confederate items from bases. Army officials told Task & Purpose in February that there were no plans to rename bases and facilities that honor Confederate leaders.

Those names were selected "in a spirit of reconciliation, not to demonstrate support for any particular cause or ideology," an official said, according to the outlet.

Berger on Thursday encouraged every Marine to see things through one another's eyes and to walk in each other's shoes.

"We train, eat, sleep, sweat, succeed, or fail, together," he said. "... Team over self: That is how we must operate to fight and win."

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

Read more: The Military Surveyed Troops on Extremist Activity Decades Ago. Here's What it Found

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