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Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley delivered a powerful defense of the military’s right to study critical race theory while speaking before Congress on Wednesday. In just under two minutes, Milley drew on history from the Civil War to the January 6th insurrection in explaining how important it is for members of the military to educate themselves on the ideas that are animating America.
“I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin,” Milley said. “That doesn’t make me a communist. So what is wrong with having some situational understanding about the country which we are here to defend?”
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Milley also called out those who have denigrated military officials as “woke” for entertaining critical race theory, saying he was personally offended that anyone would criticize members for “studying some theories that are out there.”
Milley’s speech came during a House Armed Services Committee budget hearing on Wednesday. After Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — who, we must remind you, is currently under federal investigation for sex trafficking a 17-year-old — asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin how the Department of Defense should think about critical race theory, Milley asked if he could make a comment. Gaetz rebuffed the request, but Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Penn.) later yielded some of her time so that Milley could say his piece. Here are his remarks in full:
“I do think it’s important for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read. The United States Military Academy is a university. It is important that we train and we understand. I want to understand white rage — and I’m white. What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out. I want to maintain an open mind. I do want to analyze it. It’s important that we understand it. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and guardians — they come from the American people. It’s important that the leaders, now and in the future, understand it. I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist. So what is wrong with having some situational understanding about the country we are here to defend? I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military — our general officers, our commissioned and non-commissioned — of being ‘woke’ or something else because we’re studying some theories that are out there while calling out those who have criticized military officials as “woke” for entertaining the theory based on the idea that systemic racism exists in America. [Critical race theory] was started at Harvard Law School years ago and proposed that there were laws in the United States prior to the Civil War that led to a power differential with African Americans that were three-quarters of a human being when this country was formed. We had a Civil War and an Emancipation Proclamation to change it. We brought it up in the Civil Rights Act. It took another 100 years to change that. I do want to know. I respect your service and we’re both Green Berets, but I want to know. It matters to the discipline and cohesion of this military.”
Critical race theory, an academic movement based on the idea that systemic racism exists in America, has been around for decades, but right-wing media and Republican demagogues in Congress have recently been using it to drum up fear that the Biden administration wants to destroy America.
The most recent example came on Tuesday during a Senate confirmation hearing for Kiran Adju, an Indian-American woman Biden tapped to run the Office of Personnel Management. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) used the occasion to go on a screed against critical race theory, arguing it holds that “the United States is rotten to its core.” He rationalized voting against Adju by claiming that critical race theory “appears to be her fundamental ideology,” and that her nomination is an example of Biden trying to pump the government full of “individuals who do not share a view of America as a good and decent place.”
“In our American flag, they see propaganda, and in our family businesses, they see white supremacy,” Hawley said of the Biden administration.
We’d like to see him say that to Milley’s face.
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