WASHINGTON — A top military official defended the U.S. military against GOP lawmakers use of “woke” as an insult for studying theories about race relations in America during a Wednesday House committee hearing.
“I’ve read Mao Tse-tung. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist,” Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nation’s highest ranking military officer, said. “So, what is wrong with understanding … having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend? And I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military — our general officers, our commissioned and non-commissioned officers — of being, quote, ‘woke’ or something else because we’re studying some theories that are out there.”
Milley fired back against criticism from GOP lawmakers on the teaching of critical race theory at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The theory emerged during the 1980s and argues that subordination on the basis of race permeates American law and society.
Objections to the theory follow attempts in several Republican-led states to remove discussions about race from school lesson plans.
“I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely-read,” Milley said during the House Armed Services Committee hearing. “The United States Military Academy is a university, and it is important that we train and we understand … and I want to understand white rage. And I’m white,” he added.
Milley’s comments on broadening the perspectives of military personnel came during his testimony on the 2022 National Defense Authorization Budget Request. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III testified alongside the four-star general.
“What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America?” Milley said of the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump. “What caused that? I want to find that out. I want to maintain an open mind here, and I do want to analyze it.”
Earlier in the hearing, Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla. said cadets, families and soldiers were concerned and alarmed about a theory he said is “rooted in Marxism” and defines an entire race of people as the “oppressor.”
“I cannot think of anything more divisive and more destructive to unit morale,” Waltz said. The Florida congressman is a combat-decorated Green Beret.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who earlier in the hearing said Defense Department officials hired a critical race theorist to advise them on personnel issues, shook his head during Milley’s testimony.
Gaetz also criticized Austin’s decision to implement a one-day “stand-down” in February to offer military leaders the chance to train troops in identifying and addressing extremism in the ranks.
“It caused service members to other-ize one another, it impaired group cohesion. And interesting to me, is that I’ve heard those sentiments most frequently from units that are majority-minority,” Gaetz said before asking Austin how the Department of Defense should think about critical race theory.
“We do not teach critical race theory. We don’t embrace critical race theory. And I think that’s a spurious conversation,” Austin, who is Black, said. “We are focused on extremist behaviors, and not ideologies, not people’s thoughts, not people’s political orientation. Behaviors is what we’re focused on.”
During the hearing, Milley said there is no room in the armed forces for anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the values of the United States of America outlined in the Constitution.
“From private to general, there’s no room for extremist behavior in the United States military,” he said.