US’s top general tears into notion that the US military is ‘woke,’ calling GOP critiques ‘offensive’

General Mark Milley testifies in front of Congress.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images
  • The top US general tore into claims that the military has gone “woke.”
  • Republicans have pushed for the military to drop its diversity training.
  • Gen. Mark Milley said it’s important for service members “to be open minded and be widely read.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, picked apart a growing argument from Republicans that the US military has gone “woke” with excessive diversity training.

Republicans were asking the Army general, who was chosen for his post by former President Donald Trump, about the role diversity training and “critical race theory” play in the military, the latter of which has become a major focus for the party in its messaging and fundraising efforts.

Milley grew animated during his testimony, which was ostensibly convened on the topic of the Department of Defense’s requested budget.

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“I want to understand white rage – and I’m white,” 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 caused that? I want to find that out. I want to maintain an open mind here. And I do want to understand that.”

Milley earlier said that “a lot of us have to get much smarter on whatever the theory is,” referring to critical race theory.

“I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open minded and be widely read,” he said, “And the United States Military Academy is a university.”

Republican talking points often refer to diversity trainings and the academic discipline of critical race theory as “indoctrination.” Milley bristled at that accusation, and outlined how reading something does not mean one immediately becomes a devotee of that ideology.

“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 some situational understanding of the country for which we are personally here to defend?

“And I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our commissioned or non-commissioned officers of being, quote, woke or something else because we’re studying the same theories that are out there,” Milley continued.

Mostly confined to the realm of academia, critical race theorists look at how America’s history of racism and discrimination continues to impact the country today through laws and other policies that disproportionately affect people of color, regardless of intent.

Milley listed a series of laws and legal doctrines that discriminated against Black people in the US through the decades after over a century of slavery.

“That [critical race theory] was started in Harvard Law School years ago, and it proposed that there were laws in the United States – antebellum laws prior to the Civil War that led to a power differential with African Americans that were three-quarters of a human being when this country was formed,” Milley said. “And then we had a Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation to change it, and we brought it up to the Civil Rights Act in 1964. It took another hundred years to change that.”

In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, the Biden administration has been working to root out white supremacists from the military.

Milley defended those efforts, and said cadets at institutions like West Point learning more about the country’s past is a good thing.

“It’s important that leaders now and in the future do understand it.”