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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Denies Military Has Gone ‘Woke,’ Says He ‘Wants to Understand White Rage’

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley testifies during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., June 17, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denied accusations that the military has gone “woke” on Wednesday and defended the U.S. military academy’s teaching of critical race theory, saying that it is important to have some “situational understanding” of the country’s history. 

During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee regarding the budget request for the Department of Defense, Milley said that “on the issue of critical race theory” he believes it is “important actually for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and widely read.”

“The United States Military Academy is a university and it is important that we train and we understand,” he said.

“I want to understand white rage and I’m white,” he added.

“What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the constitution of the United States of America,” Milley said, seeming to suggest January 6 Capitol riot was related to racial strife.

“I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist,” he said. “So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?” 

“I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our noncommissioned officers of being ‘woke’ or something else because we’re studying some theories that are out there that was started in Harvard Law School years ago,” he said. 

Milley’s comments come after Representative Mike Waltz (R., Fla.) demanded earlier this month that U.S. Military Academy West Point stop teaching cadets critical race theory.

Waltz first contacted West Point Superintendent Lieutenant General Darryl Williams in April to question the school’s curriculum around race after he obtained examples of a lecture entitled “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage” and a classroom slide labeled “White Power at West Point.”

Waltz called the teachings “divisive,” “destructive,” and “unacceptable” for the future leaders of the U.S. military.

In a letter to Williams earlier this month, Waltz questioned whether the academy plans to continue its teachings and warned that the country is “on incredibly perilous ground if any future leaders of our military are taught the civilian institutions and structures with ultimate authority over them… are systemically oppressive and that they therefore have a duty to oppose them.”

Earlier this year the Pentagon completed a 60-day “stand down” to address extremism after a number of veterans participated in the Capitol riot. A “stand down” occurs when the defense secretary deems an issue important enough to be addressed through discussions across the force, according to the New York Times.

The Pentagon said a group would be assembled to review how to improve its vetting process for recruits and to educate service members who may be targeted by extremist organizations.

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