Chairman Mark Milley and Critical Theory (In 700 Words or Less)

This past week the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, defended the “study” of Critical Theory by American military personnel through Department of Defense reading lists and syllabi. In response to criticism, Chairman Milley said two things that make no sense. The first is that “I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist. So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?” Well, the problem Mr. Chairman, is that you hire people within the diversity and inclusion wing of the Department of Defense that espouse this Theory as fact. Then you force soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen to acknowledge it as such through mandated training. Thus we are dealing with indoctrination, not just reasonable studying.

I attended such training at the Pentagon in 2014. In it, I was merely told how privileged I was for being white. My chain of command had it worse. These were accomplished, capable men and great leaders being told they had no real power or authority. Even where they had the illusion of success, they were permanently oppressed by racism in society at large because they are black and brown. It did nothing for morale or cohesion. Imagine having regular training and instruction in the US military about how Fascism is authentic and appropriate as an ideology instead of just “understanding” it, and then having reading lists filled with the Doctrine of Fascism or Mein Kampf. This is the point of the Chairman’s critics.

Second, the Chairman wishes to understand the “White Rage” that led to January 6th, so he reads these materials. To understand why this is absurd, one has to understand Critical Theory. Critical Theory presupposes the only relations that matter between groups and individuals are power relations. It divides individuals and groups alike into the categories of oppressed or oppressor. Starting from this assumption, the Theory then aims to “emancipate” the oppressed from the oppressor. It does not welcome dialogue to question its premises, and it is hostile to such sentiments. It comes from the Western European Marxist tradition, but it is not explicitly Marxist. Marxism is sophisticated even if you are opposed to it. Critical Theory is more like Tribalism on steroids.

Further, it has various offshoots depending on the power dynamic discussed. For example, power relations between oppressed and oppressor in the context of race is called Critical Race Theory, in the context of gender Critical Gender Theory and so on. Under Critical Theory, the lazy explanation for actions, especially a violent act like the Jan 6th riot, depends on what category the one committing the act belongs to. Groups classed oppressors (villains) will therefore be oppressing and fighting the emancipation of the oppressed to keep their power. In contrast, the oppressed (heroes) are fighting for their freedom and liberation. Everything, in the end, is reduced to barney-style explanations of good or bad depending on arbitrary non-negotiable categories. It encourages less critical thought from its adherents, not more, and elevates cranks to esteemed intellectuals. There should be a higher standard for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

This Theory, like a cult, is problematic because its basic implied tenant is that it is the only truth. A truth that pits every category of person and group against each other until the oppressed eat the oppressor or the oppressor submits and relationship switches. There is no light at the end of such a tunnel. As it becomes standard military doctrine, the tunnel gets darker by significant degrees.

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The Angry Opinion

I write on current events, especially when they grind my gears!