On Thursday, in a follow-up from his February decision to ban all Confederate symbols from Marine Corps installations, Commandant Gen. David H. Berger tweeted out his views on the Confederate battle flag.
In a letter dated April 20, 2020, Berger directly addresses his fellow Marines, stating that he hopes to “cultivate an environment which promotes unity and security by limiting offensive or divisive displays.” While mindful of the “precious constitutional right—the right to free speech,” Berger writes that it is his job to “identify symbols or subcultures that degrade the cohesion that combat demands of us.”
Berger’s February decision to ban the battle flag and all Confederate-related paraphernalia from all Marine Corps bases came one week after a congressional hearing warned of the rise of extremism within the ranks of the military.
In a February poll among active-duty troops, Military Times reported that of those 1,630 surveyed, “more than one-third of all active-duty troops and more than half of minority service members say they have personally witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological-driven racism within the ranks.”
The problem of extremism has plagued the military in recent years, with a 2008 FBI report noting with high confidence that “extremist leaders seek to recruit members with military experience in order to exploit their discipline, knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and access to weapons and intelligence.”
In a 2018 bombshell ProPublica investigation, Marine Lance Cpl. Vasillios G. Pistolis was linked to the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group that is deemed by many to be a terror organization. Pistolis was kicked out of the Corps shortly after the investigation came to light.
Berger’s letter on Thursday also comes amid the fierce ongoing national debate over what to do with the some 700 Confederate statues that are erected across 31 states.
However, despite excluding public displays of the Confederate battle flag, Berger is “mindful that many people believe that flag to be a symbol of heritage or regional pride,” but adds that “anything that threatens team cohesion must be addressed head-on.”
In the same vein, Berger writes that he is “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. This symbol has shown it has the power to inflame feelings of division. I cannot have that division inside our Corps.”
Berger asks every Marine to instead focus on the symbols that unite the Corps—“the eagle, globe and anchor. The stars and stripes. Our battle colors. Our MarPat uniform.”
Ending with, “Team over self: that is how we must operate to fight and win.”
Read the full letter below:
— David H. Berger (@CMC_MarineCorps) April 23, 2020