General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made an extraordinary statement last year, apologizing for walking with President Donald Trump across the park at Lafayette Square to the burned-out St. John’s Episcopal Church.
In a video address to National Defense University, Milley said:
Joint Staff Public Affairs
As many of you saw the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week. That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society. I should not have been there. My presence in that moment, and in that environment, created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from.
Milley had nothing for which to apologize. A violent mob had raged in the park for days, using outrage at the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as a pretext to launch an assault on the White House — and on the country itself. They even set fire to the church and an historical building in the park.Joint Staff Public Affairs
Democrats and the media construed Trump’s walk as the gesture of a would-be autocrat. It was the opposite: it showed that the democratically-elected government was still in control, not the mobs in the streets of cities across America. But Milley bowed to the narrative — which has since been proven conclusively to be false — and threw Trump under the bus.
The best that could be said about Milley’s apology was that he was reacting to “a perception of the military.” If the armed forces are perceived as taking a political side, then even if that perception is false, and is the result of propaganda efforts by the opposition, then perhaps it is worth reacting to that perception, solely for the purpose of preserving the perception that the U.S. armed forces are politically neutral, lest the perception otherwise affect recruitment, discipline, and morale.
It turns out that some perceptions matter more than others. On Wednesday, Milley appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and defended the military from criticism that it had gone “woke” under the Biden administration.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is busy rooting out “extremists” within the military — by which the Pentagon means right-wing extremists — after several veterans, and one active duty member, participated in the January 6 Capitol riot.
Republicans have begun scrutinizing the emerging “woke” culture in the armed forces, which includes a recommended reading list from Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday featuring the radical Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. Gilday has struggled to defend Kendi’s book, which is a recent addition to the field of Critical Race Theory, which holds that American institutions are inherently racist, since they developed during a time when slavery was legal.
On Wednesday, Milley pushed back against conservative criticism, after prompting by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA):
First of all, on the issue of critical race theory, et cetera, I’ll obviously have to get much smarter on whatever the theory is, but I do think it’s important actually for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read. And the United States Military Academy is university and it is important that we train and we understand. And I want to understand white rage and I’m white, and I want to understand it. So what is it that cause 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 analyze it. It’s important that we understand that because our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and guardians, they come from the American people. So it is important that the leaders now and in the future do understand it.
I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist. So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend? And I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our commissioned, non-commissioned officers of being quote woke or something else because we’re studying some theories that are out there. That was started at 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 [sic] when this country was formed. And then we had a Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation to change it. And we brought it up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took another a hundred years to change that.
So look, I do want to know, and I respect your service. And you and I are both Green Berets, but I want to know, and it matters to our military and the discipline and cohesion of this military.
The media, and the left, celebrated Milley’s monologue as a defense of Critical Race Theory, which it was. Milley linked “white rage” — rather than politics — to the Capitol riot. He conflated studying communism, which described how our enemies saw the world, with studying left-wing propaganda that aims to change how we Americans see ourselves. He even mangled the Constitution’s Three-fifths (not “three quarters”) Compromise, which limited the power of slave states.
Why is the military even involved in this bizarre debate? The U.S. armed forces are the most integrated institutions in America. President Harry S. Truman desegregated the military in 1948, and the Pentagon has led the way in developing strategies to advance the careers of minorities and women. The new federal holiday of Juneteenth reminds us that the U.S. military has been a force for liberation — not just for American slaves, but for oppressed people around the world.
The military academies are universities. But the toughest tasks in the military are still done by enlisted men and women, who do not have time to worry about Critical Race Theory. It means almost nothing to their duties, or to their lives.
But white enlisted soldiers are being made to sit through lectures about white privilege by the senior officer class, when they are far more likely than those officers to have grown up in poverty, have black babies, and report to Hispanic superiors.
Note that Milley does not care — at all — about the perception he is creating. Were he to apply a common standard to both political sides, he would take claims of a “woke” military seriously, and drop Critical Race Theory from the reading list. Instead, however, he defended the “woke” ideology, complete with its tortured reading of America’s founding documents.
No, General Milley is not against politics in the U.S. armed forces. He has simply chosen a political side. A radical one.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.