National Defense University hosts speaker arguing 'democratic socialism' is answer to China threat

The academic lecture for national security leaders, which will condemn "Western arrogance," comes as U.S. military is accused of going woke.

Published: February 14, 2022 3:39pm

Updated: February 14, 2022 11:12pm

A prestigious school funded by the Department of Defense to educate U.S. military officers and other national security leaders is hosting an event this week where the featured speaker will argue America must respond to its competition with China by ending its "arrogance" and promoting "democratic socialism."

The controversial event, which critics described to Just the News as anti-American propaganda, comes at a time when the Pentagon has come under fire for embracing "woke" ideas. Such scrutiny has coincided with a drop in public trust in the military, according to recent polling.

On Wednesday, the National Defense University (NDU) is scheduled to hold a speaker session titled "Responding to China: The Case for Global Justice and Democratic Socialism." The speaker will be Thomas Piketty, a French academic who is currently a professor at the Paris School of Economics and the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences. Piketty has also written several books, including "Time for Socialism."

"Western countries are still struggling to define their attitude toward the Beijing regime," the official description of the NDU event states. "In this talk, Mr. Piketty will argue that the right answer lies in ending Western arrogance and promoting a new emancipatory and egalitarian horizon on a global scale — a new form of democratic and participatory, ecological, and post-colonial socialism."

"If they stick to their usual lecturing posture and a dated hyper-capitalist model," the description continues, "Western countries may find it extremely difficult to meet the Chinese challenge."

The Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) and the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy, both part of NDU, are presenting the session in collaboration with the DOD Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) program, a portfolio of projects that studies and assesses challenging problems associated with the planning and operations of the Pentagon, the military services, and other government agencies.

Part of INSS's stated mission is "to provide strategic support to the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the services, and combatant commands." The Eisenhower School's mission is to "prepare select military officers and civilians for strategic leadership and success in developing national security strategy."

The NDU event is drawing backlash among some in the broader national security community, including individuals who previously worked at NDU. They told Just the News that inviting someone to promote socialism as a response to growing tensions with China — which is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party — is not in accordance with the school's mission.

"As a former associate dean at National Defense University and a former strategist to the president, I am disgusted and horrified that our nation's highest institution of military education is being used as a platform to promote anti-capitalist, pro-socialist propaganda," said Sebastian Gorka. "And on the taxpayer dime."

Gorka, who served in former President Trump's White House and was named to the National Security Education Board in 2020, rebuked Piketty for advocating socialism as the solution to the strategic challenged posed by China.

"The fact that a French apologist for an ideology Americans died to prevent the spread of dares to hold a lecture on one of the oldest military bases in our nation is an affront to all veterans and those still serving," said Gorka, referring to Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., where NDU is located. "Mr. Piketty seems to have forgotten that 'Western arrogance' saved France from destruction by Hitler's Germany's National SOCIALIST Workers' Party."

When asked to elaborate on his views on the U.S.-China relationship and how NDU selected him as a speaker, Piketty told Just the News to attend his talk without expanding further.

NDU described Wednesday's event as nothing out of the ordinary, touting it as a way to expose students and faculty to different perspectives.

"NDU's mission is to educate joint warfighters and other national security leaders in critical thinking and the creative application of military power to inform national strategy and globally integrated operations, under conditions of disruptive change, in order to prevail in war, peace, and competition," an NDU spokesperson told Just the News.

"To do that," the spokesperson continued, "we provide opportunities for students and faculty to be exposed to a wide variety of perspectives on national security and international affairs, to include this optional engagement with economist Thomas Piketty. This is in line with the accreditation requirement that NDU demonstrates a commitment to academic freedom, intellectual freedom, and freedom of expression."

Wednesday's event comes at a time when senior military and civilian leadership inside the Pentagon is being scrutinized for pushing soldiers to consider so-called "woke" ideas pushed by the far left.

"The Department of Defense has become deeply and dangerously politicized," said a senior Republican congressional aide. "This sort of woke and anti-American propaganda is everywhere, and especially in the military academies and places like NDU. This propaganda isn't about challenging our young men and women — it's about making the case for the Chinese Communist Party and against America."

"If and when Republicans retake Congress and the White House," the aide added, "we will systematically move to reverse these trends, and the academies and NDU are absolutely going to be part of that."

NDU is designated as a "Chairman's Controlled Activity," meaning its charter was approved by the secretary of defense and the school operates under the guidance and direction of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation's highest-ranking military officer.

The current chairman, Gen. Mark Milley, was accused of pushing wokeness on soldiers after defending the study and teaching of critical race theory within the armed forces last June.

"It's important actually for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read," Milley told the House Armed Services Committee. "I want to understand white rage."

"I personally find it offensive," Milley said, "that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our commissioned and noncommissioned officers, of being woke because we're studying some theories that are out there."

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point offers a seminar class on "white rage" and the chief of Naval Operations recommends "How to Be an Antiracist "— a foundational text of critical race theory — on the official reading list of the U.S. Navy. The list also includes "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and Sexual Minorities and Politics."

Supporters argue incorporating such texts and ideas into the armed forces fosters well-rounded service members who better understand the world around them beyond military tactics. Critics counter that doing so will divide and demoralize soldiers when unity is crucial for military effectiveness, adding the focus of military education should be how to prepare, deter, and fight wars.

Last week, the DOD wrote that diversity, equity, and inclusion are "necessities" in the military and need to be "a consideration or a part of all decisions in the military."

In this environment, some military experts have warned the country's war colleges and service academies no longer teach warfighting. The curricula at these schools have for some 50 years taught soldiers to be "a diplomat, an economist, a scientist, a historian, and a lawyer," but not a warfighter, two professors and military historians at the U.S. Army War College wrote last year, arguing the military "no longer knows how to fight and win wars."

This perception of the military, especially in the wake of President Biden's botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, may be one reason why public trust in the military has declined.

Only 45% of Americans have a "great deal" of trust in the military, a steep drop from 70% three years ago, according to a recent survey conducted by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. An additional 10% of respondents said they had "not much" trust in the military, compared to just 2% three years ago.

The results, released late last year, also showed an 11-point drop in admiration for the military since February 2020.

The findings also revealed a majority of Americans — 52% — named China as the country posing the greatest threat to the U.S. That's up from 21% four years ago.

This broader context has contributed to some observers' objections to Piketty's planned speech on Wednesday.

"I did not serve on Fort McNair for more than half a decade to see it become a platform for those who hate America and the West," said Gorka. "And I will dedicate myself to making sure this event does not happen."

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