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Posted on Aug 19, 2020 Print this Article

Keep “Woke” Ideology Out of the Department of Defense

Imagine this: The streets of Army bases or the decks of Navy ships are painted with large yellow letters saluting the controversial organization, “Black Lives Matter.”  At the Army/Navy game, players take a knee instead of saluting the flag.

At all the military service academies, “woke” instructors are teaching mandatory “critical race theory” courses.   Non-minority midshipmen and cadets must confess their own “white privilege” and agree that all institutions are racist, and a person’s denial of racism proves they are racist. 

Also imagine military officers accepting denials of promotions if they do not fit the desired diversity quotas.  To overcome this disadvantage, some promotable officers start book clubs for subordinates to study best sellers like White Fragility.

Oh, wait – Navy Captain Hallock N. Mohler, Jr. already announced a book club for Second Fleet sailors' “voluntary” reading, naming White Fragility as its first selection. 

All of these scenarios, and more, are likely to play out worldwide.  It is difficult to imagine is a more demoralizing attack on the best qualities of military culture, especially in combat units where inter-personal cohesion depends on mutual trust for survival.

“Diversity” used to be a positive word describing the happy result of non-discrimination and recognition of individual merit, but this is no longer the case.  Toxic racialist ideology is not consistent with military principles of non-discrimination and recognition of individual merit.

It would be a big mistake for lawmakers or Pentagon leaders to bow to demands from “woke” activists and organized anarchists who hijacked peaceful protests during the 2020 summer of violence and racial unrest.

CMR has analyzed several diversity provisions of the proposed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2021, which would use a re-defined concept of “diversity” to change the culture of our military:

President Trump has pledged to veto the NDAA if it requires changes in the names of military bases, but House-passed Diversity & Inclusion provisions are even more deserving of a presidential veto.

Return of the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC)

The most egregious provision in the House version of the NDAA would establish a new Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council of the Department of Defense.  Significantly, the Summary of the Chairman’s Mark suggests that the new commission should revive recommendations of the 2011 Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC).

The original Military Leadership Diversity Commission was largely composed of professional diversity advisors, academics, and a few military officers, including Robert B. Neller, who later was promoted to be Commandant of the Marine Corps. (2015-2019).

Nine years ago, the MLDC issued a voluminous, multi-sectioned Final Report titled From Representation to Inclusion: Diversity Leadership for the 21st Century.

The report promoted percentage-based quotas and group rights, admitting that those concepts were not the same as individual rights, non-discrimination, and recognition of personal merit.  As stated in the MLDC report:

Successful implementation of diversity initiatives requires a deliberate strategy that ties the new diversity vision to desired outcomes via policies and metrics.” (p. xviii, emphasis added) “In particular, although good diversity management rests on a foundation of fair treatment, it is not about treating everyone the sameThis can be a difficult concept to grasp, especially for leaders who grew up with the EO-inspired mandate to be both color and gender blind.”  (p. 18, emphasis added)

Taking “Diversity” to Extremes

The MLDC report presaged today’s culture of “wokeness” and critical race theory, which has gained ground in recent months.  Many schools and colleges already are teaching critical race theory from K-12 through higher education.

The New York Times “1619 Project,” which burst on the scene only 12 months ago, is a prime example of “woke” indoctrination.  The 1619 Project curriculum claims that the birth of America occurred not in 1776, with the Declaration of Independence, but in 1619, when slave trade ships first arrived in the New World.

The 1619 Project ideology is even more radical than the 2011 MLDC agenda because it does not center on individual bias or acts of discrimination against minorities.  Critical race theory claims that all American institutions, laws, and history are inherently racist and must be destroyed. 

A new Diversity & Inclusion Council within the Pentagon would become a permanent power base for 21st Century racialists who demand that the military embrace the full “woke” agenda.  Mandatory training and education programs would assume racism everywhere, revise American history to fit “white supremacy” narratives, and increase separatist racial tensions between military personnel rather than reducing them.

New institutional demands would be layered on top of those from long-standing “equal opportunity” commissions, panels, task forces, working groups, institutes, and committees currently operating in the Pentagon.  Many of these time-consuming bureaucracies have outlived their usefulness and they should be discontinued, not increased and multiplied.

What Is Critical Race Theory?

Columnist Ben Shapiro explains critical race theory in an article titled The Problem of ‘Anti-Racism.”   Quoting Ibram X. Kendi, author of  How to Be An Antiracist, Shapiro writes:

Racism is no longer to be defined as the belief that someone is inferior based on race.  Instead . . . any system that ends with different outcomes must be racist.”

Shapiro continues, “To be anti-racist means to tear down these systems.  Any obstacle in the pursuit of equality of outcome must be torn down, assumed to be a product of discrimination. . . The product of the woke crusade will not be a less racist America but a more polarized one.

“That’s because the woke crusade is not truly about reducing racism; it is about attacking fundamental institutions, American history, and our very culture of rights.  All the things we share must be eviscerated.”  (Townhall, July 1, 2020, emphasis added)

The historically questionable 1619 Project and other “anti-racist” programs and books such as White Fragility, relentlessly criticize “white privilege” and “supremacy culture” in American life.  (Sen. Tom Cotton, R-AR, is sponsoring a bill to end federal funding for the 1619 curriculum.)

Such courses, which sow division and weaken patriotism on which the All-Volunteer Force depends, already are having an impact.  For example:

At the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, an Army Project Inclusion handout delivered to the troops included a pyramid-shaped graph listing examples of socially unacceptable “Overt White Supremacy” (e.g., lynching, hate crimes, racist jokes, etc.) and “Covert White Supremacy” such as celebrating Columbus Day, color blindness, denial of racism, Eurocentric beauty standards, and President Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”  (Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) has demanded an investigation.)

  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., displayed and later removed a graphic that attempted to describe “aspects and assumptions about white culture.”  The graphic described 14 categories of “white dominant culture,” or “whiteness,” including history, religion, family structure and justice, hard work, self-reliance, respect for authority and the nuclear family.
  • On June 29, a group of recent US Military Academy Alumni signed and sent to West Point leadership a 40-page manifesto demanding that the Academy make “anti-racism” the central feature of the curriculum.  Action items included statements from all white leaders “acknowledging how their white privilege sustains systems of racism,” establishment of “an independent anti-racism advisory committee composed of subject matter experts on racism and other forms of oppression . . . [that is] free of institutional influence,” and education for cadets and faculty on “appropriate and necessary political awareness and participation, and on proper social discourse in these matters.”

None of these initiatives promote understanding, unity, cohesion, or high standards – all of which are essential for combat effectiveness in the armed forces.  This type of divisive activism has no place in military training, installations, or the service academies.

"Woke" Ideology Trashes Truman’s Executive Order

The Declaration of Independence unequivocally states, “all men are created equal.”  Critical race theory, however, teaches that some people are more equal than others.  The agenda demands special treatment for individuals who fit demographic “diversity” goals and quotas.  This is a sharp departure from long-standing non-discrimination principles.

Executive Order #9981, which President Harry Truman signed on July 26, 1948, ended segregation in the armed forces.  As the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces noted in its Final Report, Truman’s historic Executive Order advanced equal opportunity (EO), but the directive’s primary purpose was military necessity, not career advancement or equal opportunity.  (Findings #1.33 and 1.33A, p. C-40)

Minority race soldiers had proven themselves in battle and President Truman needed them to fight during the Korean War era.  Discrimination still occurs, but the military followed orders to eliminate racial bias almost two decades before the civilian world.

Trump Administration Objections

The 2011 Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended establishment of a “Chief Diversity Officer” (CDO), reporting to the Secretary of Defense, who would authorize promotions only for officer candidates who embrace the new definition of diversity. (p. 97) The House-passed NDAA endorses the same demoralizing CDO proposal, drawing objections from the Trump Administration.

A Statement of Administration Policy (SAP), filed on July 2, lists objections to parts of the House legislation.  One of them would establish Chief Diversity Officers in the Department of Defense and in each of the military services.  The Administration’s objection is justified, but it only centers on bureaucratic turf fights with existing Pentagon offices. (p. 3).

Problems caused by official CDOs would be far greater than that.  High-level CDO operatives could blackball promotions of officers who do not support “woke” agendas, or do not fit the desired diversity profile.  The Department of Defense does not need political commissars empowered to enforce percentage-based “diversity metrics” and quotas for favored demographic groups.

In addition, the establishment of CDO political officers empowered to block otherwise qualified candidates for promotion would contradict Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s initiatives to eliminate bias and ensure merit-based promotions.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s Diversity Initiatives

In a June 19 Memorandum, Secretary Esper set up an internal Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion in the Military, an internal group of uniformed and civilian personnel.  Esper gave the panel six months to make recommendations on ways to end inequality in the armed forces.

Following that Board’s initial recommendations, Secretary Esper directed promotion selection panels to eliminate personal photos, names, and gender-revealing pronouns from each candidate’s promotion, school, and command selection packages.  If the Defense Department omits all race and gender identification from promotion packages, including names and pronouns, a pure merit selection process could be the result.

The merit-based directive is interesting and deserving of a chance to work, even though removing indicators of race or sex might make it difficult to comply with percentage-based diversity metrics and quotas.  In theory, equal treatment should benefit female candidates for promotion, but the plan might disadvantage servicewomen in occupational fields where they have not served or gained command experience in combat arms units such as the infantry.

There would be a lesser effect in the smaller specialty branches, such as the Judge Advocate Corps and Medical Corps.  Still, some women might feel pressured to harm their own health and personal desires (like starting a family) to meet those promotion requirements in competition with men in the combat arms.

It will be interesting to see whether the Defense Department will stick to this policy when promotion selection lists do not produce the “right” number of women and minorities to meet diversity quotas.  At that point, the Pentagon will have to choose whether it wants to move toward a color-blind system or make the system appear color-blind when it really is not.

Secretary Esper Flirts with Diversity Commission Disaster

The administration should have filed even stronger objections to the legislation’s call for a Commission modeled after the 2011 Military Leadership Diversity Commission and should reconsider plans to establish such a commission administratively. 

Secretary Esper, unfortunately, contradicted his own positive moves to advance equality in the ranks by announcing an ill-advised plan to set up a permanent “Defense Advisory Committee on Diversity & Inclusion,” modeled after the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS).

CMR President Elaine Donnelly, a former member of the DACOWITS, understands how this would work.  By constantly filing inquiries and demanding briefings from military officials, a permanent advisory committee on Diversity & Inclusion would promote “woke” ideology and percentage-based demographic quotas, not sound priorities such as non-discrimination and recognition of individual merit.

Whether established by the Secretary of Defense or by Congress in the NDAA, a divisive Commission such as this would become a Pentagon power base for professional “experts” in the toxic field of critical race theory.  The last thing the Defense Department needs is another permanent, tax-funded, in-house pressure group empowered to push for extreme racialist agendas.

The Trump Administration should drop this bad idea and vigorously oppose defense bill mandates to establish something similar.  Instead, officials should consider abolishing the DACOWITS.  The committee used to support military women in constructive ways, but in recent years it has betrayed the best interests of most military women and failed to consider how its recommendations may have made matters worse.

Possible Options for the NDAA

President Trump is threatening to veto the NDAA if it includes base-renaming language.  The Senate bill also would remove flags and items associated with the Confederacy, but Defense Secretary Esper already made that issue moot with a Memorandum permitting only authorized flags on military bases.  (LGBT groups are complaining but the Administration should not make exceptions in response to their demands.)

Even people who favor new names for military bases share his concerns about where the process would stop.  The administration must understand, however, that a powerful Diversity & Inclusion Commission would, as its first order of business, push for new base names and removal of certain monuments at bases worldwide.

Provocative murals, doctrinaire training, and discriminatory promotion policies would be next on the Commission’s agenda.  Once planted in the Pentagon, like the man-eating plant “Audrey II” in the play Little Shop of Horrors, who would stand in the way?

If there is a Conference Committee compromise to be made on the base-renaming issue, it should ensure presidential appointments for a commission that would really study the issue and involve veterans, historians, and residents in the affected communities.

Revised legislation also should specifically state the purpose of considering changes in military base names, and specifically authorize the option not to make changes.  A careful, rational process should only be authorized if it requires subsequent presidential and congressional approval.

Priority should be assigned to reconciliation, respect for history, and recognition of past military heroes, including Medal of Honor recipients who had ties to each base in question.  Many outstanding names might be better than current ones, but nothing should be done for political reasons or advancement of social agendas that are not consistent with military readiness and morale.


In summary, the administration should insist on removal of House-passed diversity proposals, which would prioritize demographic quotas and racialist theories over military necessity, morale, and readiness.  At the same time, the administration should discontinue Secretary Esper’s plans to establish a DACOWITS-type Commission on “Diversity & Inclusion.”

New diversity power bases in the Pentagon, including career-controlling Chief Diversity Officers to enforce race- and gender-conscious promotion quotas, have no place in the Pentagon.  Politically charged bureaucracies such as this would destroy any illusions that non-discrimination and recognition of merit are being used to select people for promotion.

In the armed forces, equal opportunity is important, but if there is a conflict between EO and the needs of the military, the needs of the military must come first.  Inverting sound priorities would change the very character of our military and vitiate its potential to fight and win against adversaries that do not care about diversity.

The Administration should reject short-term pressure group demands and concentrate on long-term principles that strengthen our military, not weaken it.

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Prepared by the Center for Military Readiness, an independent public policy organization that reports on and analyzes military/social issues.  More information is available on the CMR website,

Posted on Aug 19, 2020 Print this Article