Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded to criticism from Republican lawmakers Wednesday that members of the military are taught critical race theory, the academic concept that racism is a systemic, social construct.
In recent months, critical race theory has come under fire from conservatives who believe it should not be taught in public schools.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Milley, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, said there was nothing wrong with learning from history.
"I do think it's important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read," Milley said. "And it is important that we train and we understand.
"I want to understand white rage, and I'm white," he continued in reference to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump. "And I want to understand it.
"I've read Karl Marx. I've read Lenin. That doesn't make me a communist," he added. "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, our noncommissioned officers, of being 'woke.'"
Milley had been given time by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., a former Air Force officer, to respond to comments from Reps. Matt Gaetz and Michael Waltz, both Republicans from Florida, who had raised the issue of critical race theory being taught at military service academies, including West Point, earlier in the hearing.
As Milley spoke, Gaetz shook his head in disapproval.
At the end of his comments, Milley directly addressed Waltz, a combat veteran.
"I respect your service, and you and I are both Green Berets," Milley said. "But I do want to know [about critical race theory]. And it matters to the discipline and cohesion of this military."
Earlier, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was a witness alongside Milley at the hearing, sparred with Gaetz, who claimed that military service members complain to him about critical race theory being taught during training.
“We do not teach critical race theory, we don’t embrace critical race theory and I think that’s a spurious conversation,” Austin said “We are focused on extremist behaviors, and not ideology.”
Following the hearing, Gaetz voiced his displeasure on Twitter.
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