Mr. Esperâ€™s memo on Friday did not address the issue of bases named after Confederate generals; one senior military official said this week that the Pentagon would wait until after the November election before further raising the issue. But the memo goes after the many American soldiers, Marines and airmen who display Confederate flags and other symbols in their barracks and in parking lots on military installations.
â€œFlags are powerful symbols, particularly in the military community for whom flags embody common mission, common histories, and the special, timeless bond of warriors,â€ Mr. Esper said in his memo, before quoting former Justice John Paul Stevens that the United States flag â€œis a symbol of freedom, of equal opportunity, of religious tolerance, and of good will for other peoples who share our aspirations.â€
Mr. Esper added in his memo that â€œthe 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.â€
A Defense Department official said that the new directive meant that Black Lives Matter and L.G.B.T.Q. flags would not be allowed, either. The ban applies to public and shared spaces; troops and military officials can display Confederate flags in areas deemed private and personal, like lockers and single rooms.
â€œItâ€™s absolutely outrageous that Defense Secretary Mark Esper would ban the Pride flag â€” the very symbol of inclusion and diversity,â€ said Jennifer Dane, the interim executive director of the advocacy group Modern Military Association of America. â€œIn what universe is it OK to turn an opportunity to ban a racist symbol like the Confederate flag into an opportunity to ban the symbol of diversity? This decision sends an alarming message to L.G.B.T.Q. service members, their families, and future recruits.â€
Next week, senators will continue their own bipartisan push to strip military bases of Confederate symbols, advancing an amendment to the annual defense bill spearheaded by Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, that would require the Pentagon to eliminate Confederate names, monuments or symbols from military assets in three years. The House is expected to press ahead on a similar measure as lawmakers consider their version of the military policy legislation.
Top Republican leaders in Congress have indicated they would broadly support such measures. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said this week in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he would not block the effort to rename the bases despite Mr. Trumpâ€™s pledge to veto the broader defense bill if Ms. Warrenâ€™s amendment was included. Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the House minority leader, told reporters last month that he was â€œnot opposedâ€ to renaming the bases.