At a Wednesday hearing, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, criticized legislators questioning critical race theory, saying it is vital for leaders to be well-versed in a variety of schools of thought.
“I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist,” Milley told the House Armed Services Committee. “So what is wrong with understanding … the country which we are here to defend?”
Rep. Mike Waltz, R-FL, lambasted allegations that the United States Military Academy at West Point provides a course on the theory, which generally investigates the concept that racism impacts minorities at the institutional level, notably in the criminal justice system.
Waltz said that a guest lecturer at the school used terms like “White anger,” and he urged Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the nation’s first Black Pentagon chief, to go into it further.
When the committee offered Milley the opportunity to speak, he launched into an impassioned defense of research into American culture and its racial dynamics. He made it clear that the United States Military Academy is a university.
“I want to understand White rage. And I’m White,” Milley said, focused on learning more about the mostly White, mostly male mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“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?” Milley asked. “I want to find that out.”
According to Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, the university superintendent, just one optional course at the school, “Politics of Race, Gender, and Sexuality,” contains critical race theory in its syllabus.
About 23 cadets take it each year, with the majority of them majoring in political science, according to Williams.
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Milley said he was outraged that detractors, including Republican legislators and right-wing pundits like Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, have accused the military of being “woke or something else because we’re studying some theories that are out there.”
Republicans have been slamming military and Pentagon leaders for months, accusing them of being distracted by a liberal agenda by policy and personnel reforms such as loosening hair limits for women and lifting bans on open transgender service.
After the hearing, Gaetz took a blow at Milley on Twitter: “With Generals like this it’s no wonder we’ve fought considerably more wars than we’ve won.”
With Generals like this it’s no wonder we’ve fought considerably more wars than we’ve won. https://t.co/wt43YAs6cU
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) June 23, 2021
This revolutionary military discussion topic began a year ago, when Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright wrote a poignant lengthy media post, published on the account of JoAnne S. Bass, @cmsaf_official, U.S. Air Force Airman and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force about his experience being a Black American in the military.
“Who am I? “I am a Black man who happens to be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. I am George Floyd…I am Philando Castile, I am Michael Brown, I am Alton Sterling, I am Tamir Rice. Just like most of the Black Airmen and so many others in our ranks…I am outraged at watching another Black man die on television before our very eyes. What happens all too often in this country to Black men who are subjected to police brutality that ends in death…could happen to me. As shocking as that may sound to some of you…I hope you realize that racism/discrimination/exclusion does not care much about position, titles or stature…. so yes, it could happen to you, or one of your friends, or your Airmen, or your NCOIC, your Flight Chief, your Squadron Commander or even your Wing Commander. This, my friends, is my greatest fear, not that I will be killed by a white police officer (believe me my heart starts racing like most other Black men in America when I see those blue lights behind me)…But that I will wake up to a report that one of our Black Airmen has died at the hands of a white police officer. As I struggle with the Air Force’s own demons that include the racial disparities in military justice and discipline among our youngest Black male Airmen and the clear lack of diversity in our senior officer ranks…I can only look in the mirror for the solution. I, the CMSAF, must do better in ensuring every Airmen in our ranks has a fair chance at becoming the best version of themselves. While this is a complicated issue…I, along with every other leader across the force, am responsible for making sure it becomes a reality. What have I been doing? Not enough…I have done my share of community service work, been in involved in mentor programs, voted in local, state and national elections, but I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever I have done in the past is just not enough. So, I spent the last week, “plotting, planning, strategizing, organizing and mobilizing” just as Killer Mike, the popular Atlanta rapper and activist encouraged us to do. Twenty-five of my closest friends (White, Black, Asian, enlisted, officer and civilian) and I have an ongoing dialogue where we began by acknowledging our right to be angry about what is happening. We eventually moved beyond the rage and began to think about what’s next? What could or should we be doing as a group and as individuals to stop this from happening in our communities across these United States? We don’t have all the answers, but we do have some of the most brilliant minds, many, who have first hand experience with this topic and we will continue working towards a solution. While we can’t change the world, we can change the communities we live in and more importantly, those where our Airmen strive to be seen, heard, and treated as human beings. I have also not done enough as your most senior enlisted leader… While we have made progress in many of the areas that impact our Airmen and families; I believe that we have not made much progress in this area of racial injustice and diversity among our ranks. This is why I’m working with @GenDaveGoldfein, first and foremost to have a full and thorough independent review of our military justice system. We will look to uncover where the problem lies, and how we can fix it. We are also working to improve the diversity of our force, especially within the senior ranks. I hope this message triggers responses and ideas from each of you on things we can do better. What should you be doing? Like me, acknowledge your right to be upset about what’s happening to our nation. But you must then find a way to move beyond the rage and do what you think is right for the country, for your community, for your sons, daughters, friends and colleagues…for every Black man in this country who could end up like George Floyd. Part of my group’s solution involves helping to bridge the communication & understanding gap between law enforcement and young Black men. You decide what works best for you, where you can have the most meaningful impact and most importantly, what you can stay committed to… We didn’t get here overnight so don’t expect things to change tomorrow…we are in this for the long haul. Vote, protest peacefully, reach out to your local and state officials, to your Air Force leadership and become active in your communities… We need all hands on deck. If you don’t do anything else, I encourage everyone to fight, not just for freedom, justice and equality, but to fight for understanding. You might think you know what it’s like to grow up, exist, survive & even thrive in this country as a Black person, but let me tell you, regardless of how many Black friends you have, how Black your neighborhood was, or if your spouse or in-laws are Black… You don’t know. You don’t know the anxiety, the despair, the heartache, the fear, the rage and the disappointment that comes with living in this country, OUR country every single day. So, take the time to talk to someone – your brand new Airmen, your NCOIC or your Flight Commander – about their experiences so that you have a better understanding of who they are, where they come from and what drives them. Frankly, you owe this to every Airmen, but I’m asking you specifically to pay attention to the Black Airmen in your ranks during this trying time. Don’t misunderstand me, they don’t need, nor do they want any special treatment…but they deserve to be treated fairly & equally, both by our United States Air Force & these United States of America…this begins with you, & I am asking, no fighting, for your understanding. Like you, I don’t have all of the answers, but I’m committed to seeing a better future for this nation. A future where Black men no longer suffer needlessly at the hands of White police officers, & Black Airmen have the same chance to succeed as their White counterparts. Trust me, I understand this is a difficult topic to talk about… Difficult…not impossible… Difficult…but necessary. Who am I… I am Kaleth. I am a Black Man who happens to be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force and I am committed to making this better.”
Who am I?
I am a Black man who happens to be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.
I am George Floyd…I am Philando Castile, I am Michael Brown, I am Alton Sterling, I am Tamir Rice.
— JoAnne S. Bass (@cmsaf_official) June 1, 2020
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein later released his own statement, and the two held a town hall meeting Wednesday evening, inviting troops’ questions about race and the national conversation.
A few days later, Milley made a formal statement that it is time for a dialogue in the ranks on racism, the right to peaceful protest, and the military’s core values if ordered to back up local law enforcement.
“I, like you, am steadfast in my belief that Americans who are frustrated, angry and seeking to be heard must be ensured that opportunity,” he said in a message Tuesday to the service chiefs and combatant commanders. “Please remind all of our troops and leaders that we will uphold the values of our nation, and operate consistent with national laws and our own high standards of conduct at all times.”
It was at this point, following May 25 death of George Floyd, leaders from each of the services published memos to their force addressing Floyd’s death and the ensuing anger that led to the deployment of tens of thousands of National Guard forces nationwide.
This began an earnest revolutionary dialogue in the ranks by military leaders addressing racial and gender inequities, privilege, and how to move forward as a stronger entity.
The service chiefs called upon troops to stay out of politics, eradicate racism in the ranks, and fulfill their duties if called upon to protect Americans’ rights to free assembly.