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September 22, 2022

A General Takes on Military Wokeness

It’s hard to imagine a more serious threat to our national security than a military shot through with wokeism.

As a retired lieutenant general, Thomas Spoehr is no longer beholden to the Pentagon or bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That’s good news for the rest of us, because he’s able to speak freely about the institution he loves and about a gangrenous infection that gravely threatens it: the infection called wokeness.

Spoehr is the director of the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation, but he previously served in the Army for more than 36 years, including tours with the 82nd Airborne Division and the 1st Armored Division. So he’s seen and done a thing or two. But unlike the typical old soldiers of yore — those who believe the shortcomings of the young warriors will be the ruin of our once-proud military — Spoehr says the greatest threat he and his senior colleagues see by far is “the weakening of its fabric” by radical progressives. In a word, wokeness.

Here’s some of what Spoehr said in a July address on Hillsdale’s DC campus:

Wokeness in the military is being imposed by elected and appointed leaders in the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon who have little understanding of the purpose, character, traditions, and requirements of the institution they are trying to change. The push for it didn’t begin in the last two years under the Biden administration — nor will it automatically end if a non-woke administration is elected in 2024. Wokeness in the military has become ingrained. And unless the policies that flow from it are illegal or directly jeopardize readiness, senior military leaders have little alternative but to comply.

Woke ideology undermines military readiness in various ways. It undermines cohesiveness by emphasizing differences based on race, ethnicity, and sex. It undermines leadership authority by introducing questions about whether promotion is based on merit or quota requirements. It leads to military personnel serving in specialties and areas for which they are not qualified or ready. And it takes time and resources away from training activities and weapons development that contribute to readiness.

Wokeness in the military also affects relations between the military and society at large. It acts as a disincentive for many young Americans in terms of enlistment. And it undermines wholehearted support for the military by a significant portion of the American public at a time when it is needed the most.

Spoehr went on to list one example after another in which wokeness trumped operational readiness, including the time in 2015 when then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus rejected a Marine Corps study that said gender-integrated combat units didn’t move as quickly or shoot as accurately, and that women were twice as likely as men to suffer combat injuries. Clearly, the study didn’t comport with the Obama administration’s leftist agenda.

Then there was Obama Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s disgraceful commitment to gender-neutral physical fitness standards — the result of which was ultimately no standards at all — and the Biden administration’s decree that active-duty military members can take time off from their duties to have sex-change operations at taxpayer expense.

The worst of it, though, is the racial component of wokeism. As Spoehr noted:

Much of the emphasis of wokeness today is on promoting the idea that America is fatally flawed by systemic racism and white privilege. Our fighting men and women are required to sit through indoctrination programs, often with roots in the Marxist tenets of critical race theory, either by Pentagon diktat or through carelessness by senior leaders who delegate their command responsibilities to private Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion instructors.

These indoctrination programs differentiate servicemembers along racial and gender lines, which runs completely counter to the military imperative to build cohesiveness based on common loyalties, training, and standards. Traditional training and education programs used to combat racial and sex discrimination have been supplanted by programs that promote discrimination by replacing the American ideal of equality with the progressive ideal of equity — which in practice means unequal treatment based on group identity.

And now we have Joe Biden’s Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael Gilday, officially recommending Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, which tells our warriors, among other things, that “Capitalism is essentially racist” and that “to truly be antiracist, you also have to be truly anticapitalist.”

Again, these are your tax dollars at work. But there’s nothing to see here, say stooges like Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley.

Spoehr notes that our service academies are also infected — to the point where one training slide at West Point reads, “In order to understand racial inequality and slavery, it is first necessary to address whiteness.”


We’ve written about the dangerous effect all this is having on recruiting and about the Pentagon’s unwillingness to come to grips with these realities, seemingly to no avail. And in addition to General Spoehr, our military analyst Lee Miller, a West Point graduate, Army Ranger and combat veteran, also called out the rot in our modern military, from wokeness to vax mandates, against a backdrop of geopolitical threats. As he noted in a recent column:

The Biden administration’s weak leadership, woke policies, and illegal mandates are now manifesting as a willful destruction of our military at a time when our enemies are emboldened by our weak leadership and lack of political will to defend liberty abroad. As Biden fumbles reading from his teleprompter and trying to keep his balance on his bike, Beijing and Moscow take note. Xi Jinping and the Communist Chinese want to reclaim Taiwan more than ever and while Vladimir Putin’s foray into Ukraine wasn’t the blitzkrieg he’d hoped, his strangle hold over Europe’s energy supply remains a very real geopolitical lever of power. Let’s just hope that our brave men and women in uniform don’t have to suffer much longer before they’re called to fight the next war.

Instead of our military commanders being asked — we kid you not — “What is up with us white people?” shouldn’t Biden’s Pentagon instead be asking them, “How can we better focus on training for war and defending our nation?”

And where our next generation of warriors is concerned, that same Pentagon would do well to consider the advice of national security expert Dave Reaboi: “Maybe it’s better having a country that inspires patriots to defend it, rather than one that makes them want to throw up.”

“The American military,” concludes General Spoehr, “remains a faithful and loyal servant of the republic. Most Americans are still proud and trusting of our military. But this trust and support cannot be taken for granted. If Americans perceive that the military is being exploited for political purposes or being used for experiments in woke social policies, that support will evaporate, and the consequences will be dire. My hope and my prayer are that we figure this out before it is too late.”

Ours too.

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