National Security & Defense

Woke Books Have No Place in U.S. Navy Training

Ibram X. Kendi (Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images)
How will reading Ibram X. Kendi help us fight our enemies better?

From soft-drink companies instructing their employees to be less white, to the cancellation of children’s books that, until two minutes ago, were completely benign fixtures in the libraries of many, a powerful segment of the American public seems intent on sending every inch of public life careening over a cliff’s edge in the ill-begotten quest to please the most extreme elements of the Left. Over the past several weeks, it has become quite apparent that the United States Navy is no exception to the relentless onslaught of “woke” politicking.

On February 23, the chief of naval operations Admiral Michael Gilday released an updated version of the Navy’s Professional Reading Program. The program, a long-standing tradition that curates suggested readings for all members of the Navy, has a stated aim of educating and training the sailors that compose this branch of the Armed Forces. According to the Navy’s official website on this program, Admiral Gilday believes that in order to “outthink our competitors, we must study and apply lessons we’ve learned from the past.” He further holds that “one of the very best ways to do that is to foster an environment where every Sailor deepens their level of understanding and learning.” Many of the 48 books listed in the newly released reading checklist cover topics relevant to the Navy’s overall mission of becoming a more lethal fighting force: naval strategy, deep-dives into future world superpowers, leadership development, technology changes in the domain of warfighting, etc.

However, the checklist also included several books that are overtly political in nature, threatening what should be the apolitical nature of our nation’s fighting forces. As just one example, Ibram X. Kendi’s overly wrought screed How to Be an Antiracist somehow landed on the admiral’s book list. Writings in a similar vein appear on the list as well, including Jason Pierceson’s Sexual Minorities and Politics, as well as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. The inclusion of these books, especially given the hot-button topics they cover (and the controversial takes they provide) seems to place the Navy squarely into the realm of politics, which it has stridently attempted to avoid in the 200-plus years of its existence.

The inclusion of these books on an official DoD website is an embrace of partisan politics by a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. One need only look at the contents of these pieces of literature (“literature” being used loosely) to understand just how true this statement is. Kendi’s book argues that capitalism is a racist construct. Alexander’s obfuscates real issues of violent crime in order to argue that incarceration rates for minorities are predominately, if not exclusively, based on race. Perhaps most egregious of the three, the openly partisan nature of Pierceson’s “textbook” practically hits the reader over the head with its agenda. Each piece of writing offers its own particular viewpoint; it just so happens that each is of the woke, left-leaning variety.

Including these works as part of naval instruction threatens the apolitical nature of the U.S. military. The Armed Forces of the United States have long presented themselves as an apolitical institution that serves no one except the American people and the Constitution. Even with missteps over the years, this institution has maintained its apolitical veneer far more often than not. This belief in the apolitical nature of the institution is not merely a time-honored tradition for those who serve; it’s the law. In particular, a Department of Defense Directive (entitled “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces”) articulates the on-the-books stance that the Department has concerning members’ participation in political activities. It states that active-duty service members “should not engage in partisan political activity” and that those members not on active duty “should avoid interferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement…” Furthermore, the directive explicitly prohibits “any activity that may reasonably viewed as directly or indirectly associating the [DOD] . . . with a partisan political activity or is otherwise contrary to the spirit and intention of this Directive…”

The importance of the apolitical nature of the military cannot be understated. It’s an ideal summed up well by the 1976 Supreme Court decision of Greer v. Spock. In this decision, the Court stated that keeping the military “insulated from both the reality and the appearance of acting as a handmaiden for partisan political cause or candidates . . . is wholly consistent with the American constitutional tradition of a politically neutral military establishment under civilian control.” Given the way armed forces throughout history have succumbed to sundry political and legal machinations, it is all the more baffling that the Navy would fully embrace and endorse literature that advocates viewpoints which are frankly only held by one side of the political aisle. It does neither our country nor our military any good, and indeed quite a bit of harm, for the military to be compromised in this manner, especially as the essential apolitical nature of the military as an institution is undermined in the public mind as a consequence.

Moreover, the books do not enhance the stated goal of the reading program: the preparation of sailors to engage current and future enemies. One need not be a scholar to see how reading Kendi — who once wrote that “Europeans” were “socialized to be aggressive people,” and that in order to prevent racial extinction, white people had used “psychological brainwashing” and “the AIDS virus” — neither prepares nor challenges the Navy to become a more battle-ready fighting force. Similarly, discussions of the complex and difficult questions surrounding the U.S. justice system have little to do with the operation of a nuclear submarine. The historical context of the LGBT movement does not drop bombs on enemies, nor does the discussion of pre-pubescent hormone blockers intercept ICBMs. Ultimately, these books have limited — if any — utility for the Navy’s goal to defeat U.S. adversaries. Any potential gain from reading these books is far outweighed by their clearly left-wing, partisan framing. What’s left in the wake is yet another institution that seems to have succumbed to the political persuasions of the day — a great and historic institution marred by a woke ideology that never builds, and only destroys.

Roger J. Maxwell is a practicing attorney with previous military experience located in Salt Lake City, Utah, specializing in criminal law, military law, and the law of armed conflict. Roger J. Maxwell is his pen name. 

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