On Thursday, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. David H. Berger, the Commandant of the Marines Corps, explained his thought process behind a decision to ban the display of any Confederate flag symbols, noting its “power to inflame feelings of division” and it’s ability to distract from the service’s team oriented atmosphere.
Berger tweeted a copy of his full letter to Marines explaining his decision. The letter was dated for Monday but Berger shared the announcement Thursday.
— David H. Berger (@CMC_MarineCorps) April 23, 2020
Berger’s letter follows up from a February announcement Marine corps installations should prepare for the removal of Confederate symbols from all Marine bases.
“I want to provide you my views on this issue–directly,” Berger’s letter reads. “All of our installations have regulations prohibiting the display of symbols related to hate speech. These regulations are not intended to weigh the value or specific meaning of any particular symbol. Rather they help cultivate an environment which promotes unity and security by limiting offensive or divisive displays.”
Berger’s letter goes on to emphasize the importance of symbols specific to the Marine Corps and the United States.
“From the time Marines enter the force–whether at Parris Island, San Diego, or Quantico, Virginia–we emphasize
that all of our expectations for them relate to their identifying with the team,” Berger’s letter continued. “We train, eat, sleep, sweat, succeed, or fail, together. Our pride in the uniform underscores our bond; it reminds us that we are a Corps; that we prize the team more than the individual. In every facet of every significant endeavor involving Marines, the team has been the primary component. We are a warfighting organization, an elite institution of warriors who depend on each other to win the tough battles. Anything that divides us, anything that threatens team cohesion must be addressed head-on.”
In addressing the controversy surrounding the flag, Berger emphasized he is not making a judgement on the merits of the symbol, but rather the divisive feelings it may elicit among members of the service.
“I am mindful that many people believe that flag to be a symbol of heritage or regional pride. But 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. My intent is not to judge the specific meaning anyone ascribes to that symbol or declare someone’s personally held view to be incorrect. Rather, 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 concluded his letter by calling on Marines to focus on the symbols and values they hold in common, regardless of their individual backgrounds.
“I am asking every Marine to focus on the team and the symbols that bring us together—the eagle, globe and anchor. The stars and stripes. Our battle colors. Our MarPat uniform. Team over self: that is how we must operate to fight and win,” he wrote.
There has been an active debate over the the status of the Confederate flag, and how the U.S. military and the U.S. at large regard the history of the Confederacy and the Civil War. One particular effort to remove a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia caught mass public attention in 2017 after protests around the issue of the statue turned violent.
One U.S. Marine, Lance Cpl. Vasillios Pistolis, was reportedly seen taking part in the violence at the 2017 political rally. He was later court-martialed, jailed for 28 days, demoted two ranks and lost two-thirds of his salary for a month.
The U.S. Army recently rejected calls to rename several bases which were named after Confederate leaders.