Has the army “woken up”?
Army General Mark Milley is receiving kudos from the media for telling Congress that the military has not gone “awake,” even as its leaders urge soldiers and sailors to soak up bright ideas. The brass are trying to have it both ways on this issue, which could ultimately undermine its core mission.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that he found “personally” “offensive” that Republicans accused general officers of being “woken up”. Two members of Congress from Florida had criticized General Milley over seminars at West Point on “white rage.” The chief of naval operations recommended “How to be an anti-racist”, a book that offers “future discrimination», Ostensibly against the Whites, on his reading list for sailors.
General Milley must be sensitive to the political realities of the White House, but he spoke clearly about the criticisms, saying that it is “actually important for those of us in uniform to have an open mind and to be widely read “. He later added, “I have read Mao Zedong. I read Karl Marx. I read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a Communist. So, he asked, “what’s wrong” with “having some understanding of the situation of the country that we are here to defend for?”
Of course, Sailors and Marines should read widely. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday similarly said last week that he was only exposing sailors to new ideas. But one still wonders why “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” a book promoting sectarian racism, is on the playlist as “foundational” material alongside classic Jim Hornfischer naval stories.
The Navy’s Sailor Playlist also includes “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” and “Sexual Minorities and Politics”. Unlike General Milley and senior Navy officers, it is not a violation of open-mindedness to ask whether an institution that requires esprit de corps and a common goal can work if sailors are prepared to view white comrades as potential “oppressors”.
The branches argued that they were simply trying to recruit talent amid declining interest in the service. The services must tap into new pools of talent, but that goal will surely fail if the military is seen as the site of some of the most contested cultural debates.
Many military families, a mainstay of our service, will not continue to send their sons and daughters to enlist if they think the military is just another progressive greenhouse like universities. Officers will leave if they think their advancement depends more on awakened good faith than on merit.
All of this comes as the military is in desperate need of more resources to deal with significant threats, such as the rise of China. The military is a rare American institution that inspires bipartisan trust. If that trust is torpedoed over the next few years, General Milley and his colleagues will share the responsibility for the long-term damage.
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Published in the print edition of June 26, 2021.