Esper issues new diversity memo but leaves out topic of Confederate flag, other divisive symbols

Greg Nash

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday unveiled recommendations aimed at stamping out racial discrimination within the military in a memo that left out any mention of divisive symbols.

The July 14 memo — which was comprised of recommendations from across the Defense Department — instructs the military to review whether grooming standards are racially biased, undertake a review of the military’s equal opportunity office and train leadership to discuss and address issues of racial justice.

“Diversity and inclusivity in the ranks are not merely aspirations, they are fundamental necessities to our readiness and our mission success,” Esper wrote. “The actions I am directing are a necessary first step, but hard work remains, and we will continue to learn as we move forward.”

Notably, the memo left out any mention of divisive symbols, including the Confederate flag. The question of whether to allow such symbols in public places on military installations has embroiled the military since late spring, following nationwide protests against racial injustice sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The Pentagon is reportedly working on a policy that would ban the display of the flag on military bases, expected later this week, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers that the U.S. military must take a “hard look” at Confederate symbols on its installations.

Esper’s memo comes less than a month after the Pentagon stood up the Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion in the Military, an internal panel which over the next six months will further look at and develop recommendations to increase racial diversity and equal opportunity across the ranks.

The board held its first meeting on Wednesday and will last through December. 

Esper has said he also plans by the end of the year to create a permanent Defense Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion in the Armed Services, meant to build upon the work of the new defense board. 

Esper in the latest memo also directed his personnel and readiness office to increase the frequency of its “Workplace and Equal Opportunity” survey in order to measure the military’s progress on its actions. 

“The prejudice and bias that exist within our force are not always transparent,” Esper wrote in the memo. “The Department must collect data and analyze it to identify patterns and trends, and to inform and improve the Department’s policies and programs.”

As the military grapples with racial issues, several military leaders have spoken out about racial inequality in the ranks and have taken some steps to address the issue. The Marine Corps, for example, formalized a ban on the Confederate battle flag, and the Navy has said it would follow suit. U.S. Forces Korea also announced a ban on the flag.

The Army said it was open to renaming its 10 bases named after Confederate leaders, but President Trump has publicly opposed such an idea, putting the White House and Pentagon at odds.

Tags Donald Trump Mark Esper Pentagon Racial disparities United States Armed Forces
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