Pentagon's embrace of wokeness undermining ability to wage war, critics warn

From diversity to climate change, military leadership devoting significant energy to range of priorities other than preparing to fight and win wars.

Updated: February 24, 2022 - 10:38pm

In May 2017, an interviewer asked then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis what keeps him up at night.

"Nothing," responded the retired general. "I keep other people awake at night."

Today, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, increasing Chinese belligerence toward U.S. ally Taiwan, and the ongoing fallout from the loss of Afghanistan to the Taliban, some lawmakers and military experts question whether the Pentagon is projecting the kind of warfighting focus and ferocity that intimidate adversaries and deter aggression.

This eroding confidence in the U.S. military largely stems from a belief that the Pentagon's senior leadership, both civilian and uniformed, is too focused on priorities other than deterring and preparing for war.

One such priority is climate change, which the Pentagon under the Biden administration has declared a "national security issue" and a top priority integral to the military's planning at all levels — tactical, operational, and strategic.

The military's emphasis on climate change follows the example of the White House. This week, as Russia waged what U.S. defense officials believe to be the largest conventional military attack in Europe since World War II, President Biden's special envoy for climate issues, John Kerry, warned that Moscow's offensive will produce "massive emissions" and distract the world from "what we need to do for the climate."

The Pentagon has also dedicated much of its energies in recent months to its mandate that all soldiers receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine mandate was announced in August and has been a massive logistical lift for the Defense Department to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of civilians and well over a million service members in uniform. (Efforts to vaccinate civilians have been paused following court rulings against President Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.)

Thousands of soldiers refused to get vaccinated, many of whom have been or stand to be discharged.

The mandate has embroiled the Pentagon in several lawsuits, and the department has spent millions of dollars recruiting, training, and equipping new recruits who have refused the vaccine and will be discharged without ever reporting to a unit.

Of course, when it comes to the Pentagon's priorities other than training for war, the one that has come under the most fire is the notion that Defense Department leaders have embraced "woke" ideas.

On Thursday, as Russian troops attacked Ukraine, the NATO alliance put out a video saying "diversity is our strength."

"At NATO, we embrace diversity and thrive on it by cultivating inclusion in all its forms," read the message accompanying the video. "We are dedicated to leveraging the unique perspectives and backgrounds of every employee."

The video came two weeks after the Defense Department 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."

The Pentagon brass have particularly focused on race, warning that white supremacists have made inroads into the military and promising to root them out. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made identifying and stamping out "extremism" in the services a top priority.

A Pentagon report from December found that "fewer than 100" military personnel were found to have engaged in prohibited extremist activity over the past year.

"White rage" has been a particular focus of Pentagon leaders, who have increasingly embraced the teaching of critical race theory within military ranks.

Last June, Gen. Mark Millley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation's highest-ranking military officer, was accused of pushing wokeness on soldiers after defending the study and teaching of critical race theory within the armed forces.

"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."

Austin, who testified at the same hearing as Milley, echoed his comments about being inclusive.

"Diversity, equity, and inclusion is important to this military now, and it will be important in the future," he said. "We are going to make sure that our military looks like America and that our leadership looks like what's in the ranks of the military."

Austin added that the U.S. military is the "most lethal organization on the face of the planet, and it will remain so."

Still, the Defense Department spent nearly 6 million man-hours on implementing a "leftist social agenda" across the military, according to a group of Republican senators led by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The figure comes from Milley, who responded to a request for data on the total number of hours and money the Pentagon spent on new trainings regarding climate change, extremism, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Milley's response, which Fox News obtained, revealed that the Defense Department spent millions of hours and over $1 million on some of these initiatives.

"We face real threats across the world, yet the Biden administration is more focused on promoting its leftist social agenda in the military instead of countering China, Russia, and Iran or creating an effective counterterrorism plan," the senators wrote last week in a letter responding to Milley.

The letter was penned the same week that the National Defense University, a school funded by the Defense Department to educate U.S. military officers and other national security leaders, hosted an event where the featured speaker argued America must respond to its competition with China by ending its own "arrogance" and promoting "democratic socialism."

According to some experts, there's an incentive for the military brass to go woke.

"The military is seen by the left as receptive to radical changes because it bypasses legislative give and take and uses the chain of command to make change by fiat," said Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. "In a sort of devil's bargain, top-ranking officers accept that their promotions and post-military retirement corporate board opportunities depend on establishing a woke reputation and assuaging liberal congressional representatives and senators and later CEOs."

"This diverts from military readiness and causes cynicism among the public and in the ranks, especially among officers below the rank of colonel," Hanson added.

Other military experts note another threat to military readiness: the country's war colleges and service academies.

The curricula at these schools no longer teach warfighting, according to two professors and military historians at the U.S. Army War College who wrote last year that the military "no longer knows how to fight and win wars."

They're not alone.

"We have allowed a culture of accepting mediocrity and mendacity to fill the void where a culture of winning used to exist," wrote retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who served as an adviser to former President Trump. "Within our military, many seem to have fallen prey to the idea that holding someone accountable is the same thing as attacking them personally. "

In such an environment, he continued, "too many have forgotten that they lead the military to fight and win our nation's wars."

This perception of the military may be one reason why public trust in the military has sharply declined. Hanson noted that a recent survey conducted by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute found that only 45% of Americans have a "great deal" of trust in the military, a steep drop from 70% three years ago.

Amid such distrust, fueled in part by the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and a lack of recent, sustained military successes, some voices have advocated purging the Pentagon's leadership.

"You only have to turn to recent history and General George C. Marshall's 'plucking boards,' which forced hundreds of colonels and generals into retirement based on performance to understand the necessity of accountability," wrote Kellogg. "Arguably, this purge ensured our victory in World War II. Just as then, a full-scale removal of many of our senior uniformed leaders is exactly what is needed for us to win our next war."

"Unfortunately," he continued, "we have elected leaders who lack the fortitude and vision to make those hard calls when it comes to the defense establishment."

Just the News reached out to the Defense Department for comment for this story and has yet to hear back.