US General thwarts accusations that the military is becoming too ‘woke’

By Melissa Coade

Friday June 25, 2021

General Mark A. Milley
was asked why West Point taught ‘critical race theory’ and specifically ‘understanding whiteness and white rage’. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)

A top US military brass has schooled a Republican lawmaker on the benefits of training educated, well-read and open minded leaders for the armed forces in response to questioning over the legitimacy of teaching service academy students about ‘critical race theory’.

According to The New York Times, General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was testifying before the US House Armed Services Committee this week when Florida Republican representative Michael Waltz asked why the national military academy West Point had a race relations curriculum.

Waltz put the question to General Milley and defence secretary Lloyd J Austin III why West Point taught ‘critical race theory’, and specifically a seminar named ‘understanding whiteness and white rage’.

“This came to me from cadets, from families, from soldiers with their alarm and their concern about how divisive this type of teaching is that is rooted in Marxism,” Mr. Waltz said.

General Milley responded by saying that it was important to offer education to service members about controversial or uncomfortable ideas because they helped develop thinking leaders, who understood cultural differences. He used the violent insurrection at the Congress building in Washington earlier this year — an event commonly referred to as the ‘Capitol riots’ (in which some veterans and active-duty service personnel participated) as an example of events that need to be better understood.

“I want to understand white rage, and I’m white,” General Milley said.

“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 is wrong with having some situational understanding about the country we are here to defend?”

According to the NYT, Austin (who is America’s first Black defence secretary) suggested that the teaching of white rage as described by Waltz ‘certainly sounds like something that should not occur’. 

But Milley pushed back on Waltz’ suggestion that the academy’s curriculum was inappropriate, labelling any accusation that the military was too ‘woke’ as ‘offensive’. The general went on to argue that just because he has read about communist ideas in the writings of Karl Marx, that did not make him a communist. 

This latest episode in the US is in keeping with a theme of military institutions coming under political fire by conservative politicians, including in Australia, for approaches that are perceived by some as promoting progressive values. 

In June (world pride month) the Australian defence minister Peter Dutton issued a department wide directive, banning the ADF from hosting diversity morning teas in a bid to ‘stop those woke agendas’.

The directive reminded defence members that it “represents the people of Australia” and “must at all times be focused on our primary mission to protect Australia’s national security interests”.

“We must not be putting effort into matters that distract from this.”


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