Many people in the South, and a few people in other parts of the nation, argue that the Confederate flag represents Southern heritage and that flying it or displaying it is a matter of free speech.

But the country's top military leaders see it a different way. They have responsibility to lead their troops, and they cannot do that without showing the troops respect.

Although the African American population of the country is about 13.4%, the percentage of Blacks in the Army is more than 21%; the Navy, 17%; the Air Force, 13.5%; and the Marine Corps, 10.3%.

To many of those African American military members the Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery and the severe discrimination and oppression that followed slavery.

So the military found a way to eliminate the confederate flag from military installations without specifically banning it.

In a carefully worded policy memo, signed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week, the types of flags that are permitted to be displayed are spelled out — the U.S. flag and state banners, flags of allies and partners, the POW/MIA flag and official military unit flags. The memo does not mention the Confederate flag or use the word ban, but the memo is clear — if it's not on the approved list, it's not allowed.

This is the right decision by military leaders who wanted to make sure the flag did not fly above military installations without contradicting President Donald Trump, who supports an individual's right to display it.

Individuals do have the right to display the Confederate flag. It is a free speech issue.

And free speech in this country is about as close to an absolute right as any right can be.

But public and semipublic institutions have additional considerations and must take a wider view. Hence, Nikki Haley, when she was governor of South Carolina, took down the flag that flew over the capitol in Charleston.

That was after a mass slaughter at a historic Black church took the lives of nine African Americans.

It was a matter of respect. Haley spoke about unity, inclusion and empathy.

Haley is a conservative Republican. But she wanted to show respect.

Military leaders honoring the sensibilities of their officers and their enlisted men and women are showing respect in this instance.

They were also cognizant of morale and discipline.

The Marine Corps ordered the removal of Confederate flags in June because the commandant, Gen. David Berger, said it "carries the power to inflame feelings of division" and that would weaken the unit cohesion the corps demands.

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