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As military tackles diversity, Republicans see cultural warfare target

WASHINGTON – At Fort Bragg, one of the country’s largest military installations, plans are underway for its first commemoration on June 19, highlighting the Union military’s role in emancipation.

The Department of Defense recently added an Assistant Inspector General for Diversity and Inclusion and Supremacy, Extremism and Criminal Gang Activities. In February, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III ordered the military to examine extremist activity within it and to ask the troops for their views. Earlier, Austin revoked the ban on diversity training for the military and on Wednesday spoke at a Pride Month celebration at the Pentagon.

With active wars ending, its smaller and more diverse ranks and talents must change, the Pentagon is embracing ideas like inclusion and embracing many of the long-standing private sector efforts to recruit and retain women. and people of color.

Yet while many servicemen, inside and outside the military, see this effort as expected, some influential Republican and conservative lawmakers are mounting a rudimentary but increasingly boisterous protest and promoting the idea that the armed forces become the last pawn of American cultural wars.

They targeted various initiatives, including a possible Pentagon plan to increase oversight of service members’ social media posts and adding reading recommendations on “white supremacy and systemic racism” to military training guides. .

By stoking the opposition, these critics say that the Pentagon’s policies amount to imposing a liberal, and in some cases unpatriotic, worldview on the armed forces.

“The strength of our military depends on the unity of our troops and their belief that America is a noble nation,” said Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas. “Critical race theory erodes both. Critical Race Theory and similar ideas teach our troops to be race obsessed and that America is an evil and oppressive country.

It is impossible to know to what extent these opinions are shared among the military in an increasingly politically diverse military. Military culture varies between branches of service, rank and generations.

But Pentagon leadership says its approach is necessary both to uphold the nation’s values ​​and to ensure it can recruit people with the skills needed for 21st century warfare.

“The secretary has been very clear and quite unabashed that we want to get all of the best talent available from the American people,” said John F. Kirby, spokesperson for Mr. Austin.

“If you meet the standards and are qualified to be in the military, and you are ready to raise your hand and serve this country, we want you to be able to do it and we want you to be able to do it there is free from hatred, fear and discrimination, ”he said. “We owe it to you. “

Even since President Harry S. Truman joined the military, Americans have questioned whether services should be ahead or behind civil society when it comes to social change regarding race, gender, and focus. sexual, and to what extent they pose a threat to effective combat.

The most recent efforts are driven in part by the participation of some military and active-duty veterans in the Jan.6 Capitol riot, as well as a desire to recruit and retain more Americans off a roster. increasingly narrow zip codes largely in the South and West. As national security needs shift from muscles to brains, some of the movements reflect the increased demand for science, technology and engineering skills from a larger pool of talent.

The issues facing women in the military – the fastest growing group of veterans – and people of color have been well documented for years. Promotions often elude minority agents, sexual assault remains rampant, racist extremism threatens black and Latino military personnel. Mr. Austin, the black first secretary of defense, spoke about confronting troops with Nazi insignia at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, while serving there.

For generations, military bases have retained the names of disgraced Confederate officers – even after the military’s racial integration – the Ku Klux Klan was known to recruit just outside of certain facilities. African-American and Hispanic servicemen are more likely to be court martialed than white servicemen, according to the Government Accountability Office.

After years of battles over their role in the military, women continue to face obstacles on the job and worse still while in service.

Sexual assault cases have barely budged in the past decade, drawing impatience from lawmakers who now seek to suppress a general’s role in adjudicating assault cases. The majority of students appointed by Congress to military service academies are still men. There is an ongoing struggle in the military and beyond over fitness standards for women.

There have been clashes over political ideology. A Space Force lieutenant colonel, Matthew Lohmeier, was removed from his post after he said in a podcast that Marxism was invading the military, a theme in his book.

The military’s moves towards inclusive policies predate Mr. Austin and the 2020 election.

The Marine Corps banned the display of the Confederate battle flag at its facilities last year. Last year, Congress decided to change the names of bases bearing the names of Confederate officers, a change Mr. Trump resisted. The military has banned photographs from promotional packages that could indicate race, ethnicity or gender. All branches of service have looked at hairstyling and grooming policies which are biased against black and female members.

Trump’s Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper has also ordered Pentagon leaders to come up with ideas for diversity and inclusion.

But with President Biden now in the White House, some of Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters are using these measures as a wedge issue, appealing to part of the conservative base by suggesting Democrats promote extreme theories. left and potentially undermine national security. .

Representative Michael Waltz, Republican of Florida, wrote a letter to the superintendent of West Point Military Academy demanding Congress oversight of its diversity workshops.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Republican from Texas, with assistance from Mr. Cotton, has started a “whistleblower” page on his website, where members of the service can report overt “wake-up” complaints. Mr Cotton’s office has received hundreds of complaints about the politicization of the military, an aide said. (On social media, many have widely mocked the page, responding with storylines from movies and TV shows like “M * A * S * H” and “A Few Good Men.”)

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz took to Twitter to complain about a recruitment ad featuring a female soldier whose parents are both female, drawing an unusual rebuke from Mr Austin.

“Senator Cruz has been clear about his long-standing and growing concern that Democrats are using our military as a laboratory for awakened ideology,” his spokesman, Christian McMullen, said in an email.

Fox News personality and one of America’s most influential right-wing figures Tucker Carlson ran his Memorial Day show highlighting some of the changes and suggested the military was no longer “interested in protecting the United States. country ”.

For some Democrats, it is the Republican critics who endanger national security by injecting politics and ideology into the military.

“This is an attempt to disrupt the chain of command and cause dissension in the ranks,” said Stephen Webber, a veteran of the Marines who is a former president of the Missouri Democratic Party. “Every American should be very worried about what Crenshaw is trying to do. It is the continuation of many attempts by Trump to drag the military into the election, which the military, to their credit, has resisted. “

Representative Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado, who served as the Army Ranger in Afghanistan, said the Republican arguments were corrosive to the military. “When the military receives mixed messages from their civilian leaders, it doesn’t help commanders build relationships based on trust,” he said.

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