The Marine Corps took a welcome step toward modernizing after the service’s top general ordered the removal of all Confederate paraphernalia from all Marine installations around the world. The directive from Commandant Gen. David Berger came last week, shortly after a congressional hearing on the rise of the racist ideology of white nationalism in the military. The directive did not specify what exact forms of paraphernalia would now be prohibited beyond, presumably, the Confederate flag. The move was a long time in coming and could draw the Marines further into what has been a divisive societal issue that has morphed into a political issue in the Trump years: the push for the removal of Confederate statues and iconography across American life.
The U.S. has witnessed a troubling rise of white nationalist extremism since Trump’s election, and the military is no different. Several Marines have been punished or kicked out of the service for racist social media posts, prompting Congress to push the Pentagon to better monitor extremism in its ranks. A survey published by the Military Times earlier this month found more than 50 percent of minority service members reported recently witnessing instances of ideological racism, like white nationalism. More than a third of all active-duty troops reported witnessing such instances of racism, including “racist language and discriminatory attitudes from peers, but also more specific examples like swastikas being drawn on service members’ cars, tattoos affiliated with white supremacist groups, stickers supporting the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi-style salutes between individuals.” Those types of extremist attitudes rose by nearly two-thirds from the previous year’s survey.
The debate over the appropriateness of the American military using Confederate names and allowing its symbols is not new. “Ten Army bases are named after leaders of secessionist states, a point of contention for many—especially after a 2015 racially motivated attack on a South Carolina church thrust the debate over honoring Confederate history onto the national stage,” according to Military.com. “But the military’s response to Confederate names, flags and other materials was less clear. The Defense Department didn’t take any immediate action on the issue, Military Times reported at the time, opting to leave it up to individual services to address.”
In addition to the ban on Confederate symbols, the general also ordered Marine leadership to work to deploy more women in combat roles, including positions leading infantry battalions. Directives also pushed the Marines to explore the possibility of yearlong maternity leave and to extend current parental leave benefits to same-sex couples in the service.