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Military leaders push back on questions by Rep. Gaetz about critical race theory

“So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational awareness of the country which we are here to defend?” asked Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Military leaders excoriated Rep. Matt Gaetz during a House hearing on Wednesday after the Florida Republican raised questions about critical race theory being taught to the nation’s soldiers.

"We do not teach critical race theory, we don't embrace critical theory and I think that is a spurious conversation," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Gaetz during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. "And so we are focused on extremism behaviors and not ideology, not people's thoughts, not people's political orientations."

Gaetz and other Republican lawmakers on the committee had criticized reports that the U.S. Military Academy teaches a course involving critical race theory, which is an umbrella term coined in academia in the 1970s that is broadly defined as exploring the idea that racism goes beyond individual prejudice and is interwoven in the nation’s laws and institutions, particularly the criminal justice and health care systems.

Gaetz claimed that he has heard from soldiers who have raised concerns about the subject being taught.

However, Austin sharply responded to that suggestion.

"And thanks for your anecdotal input, but I would say I've gotten 10 times that amount of input, 50 times the amount of input on the other side that have said, 'We are glad to have had a conversation with ourselves and our leadership,'" Austin said, reiterating that they do not teach the subject.

"I trust my leadership from top to bottom."

Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also pushed back at the accusation.

“I’ve read Mao Tse-tung. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a Communist,” Milley said. “So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational awareness of the country which we are here to defend?”

Milley said it is important for leaders to be open-minded and well-read on various subjects. He said that he wanted to understand “white rage,” particularly after the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

“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, I do want to analyze that,” he said. “I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our commissioned, noncommissioned officers of being ‘woke’ or something else.”