What Is Behind Gen. Mark Milley’s Righteous Race Sermon? Look to the New Domestic War on Terror
Imperial war machine's search for enemies turns inward
For two hundred forty years, American generals have not exactly been defined by adamant public advocacy for left-wing cultural dogma. Yet there appeared to be a great awakening at the Pentagon on Wednesday when Gen. Mark Milley, the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified at a House hearing. The Chairman vehemently defended the teaching of critical race theory at West Point and, referencing the January 6 Capitol riot, said, “it is important that we train and we understand … and I want to understand white rage. And I’m white.”
In response to conservative criticisms that top military officials should not be weighing in on inflammatory and polarizing cultural debates, liberals were ecstatic to have found such an empathetic, racially aware, and humanitarian general sitting atop the U.S. imperial war machine. Overnight, Gen. Milley became a new hero for U.S. liberalism, a noble military leader which — like former FBI Director Robert Mueller before him — no patriotic, decent American would question let alone mock. Some prominent liberal commentators warned that conservatives are now anti-military and even seek to defund the Pentagon.
It is, of course, possible that the top brass of the U.S. military has suddenly become supremely enlightened on questions of racial strife and racial identity in the U.S., and thus genuinely embraced theories that, until very recently, were the exclusive province of left-wing scholars at elite academic institutions. Given that all U.S. wars in the post-World War II era have been directed at predominantly non-white countries, which — like all wars — required a sustained demonization campaign of those enemy populations, having top Pentagon officials become leading anti-racism warriors would be quite a remarkable transformation indeed. But stranger things have happened, I suppose.
But perhaps there is another explanation other than righteous, earnest transformation as to why the top U.S. General has suddenly expressed such keen interest in studying and exploring “white rage”. Note that Gen. Milley’s justification for the military’s sudden immersion in the study of modern race theories is the January 6 Capitol riot — which, in the lexicon of the U.S. security state and American liberalism, is called The Insurrection. When explaining why it is so vital to study “white rage,” Gen. Milley argued:
What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out. I want to maintain an open mind here, and I do want to analyze it.
The post-WW2 military posture of the U.S. has been endless war. To enable that, there must always be an existential threat, a new and fresh enemy that can scare a large enough portion of the population with sufficient intensity to make them accept, even plead for, greater military spending, surveillance powers, and continuation of permanent war footing. Starring in that war-justifying role of villain have been the Communists, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Russia, and an assortment of other fleeting foreign threats.
According to the Pentagon, the U.S. intelligence community, and President Joe Biden, none of those is the greatest national security threat to the United States any longer. Instead, they all say explicitly and in unison, the gravest menace to American national security is now domestic in nature. Specifically, it is “domestic extremists” in general — and far-right white supremacist groups in particular — that now pose the greatest threat to the safety of the homeland and to the people who reside in it.
In other words, to justify the current domestic War on Terror that has already provoked billions more in military spending and intensified domestic surveillance, the Pentagon must ratify the narrative that those they are fighting in order to defend the homeland are white supremacist domestic terrorists. That will not work if white supremacists are small in number or weak and isolated in their organizing capabilities. To serve the war machine’s agenda, they must pose a grave, pervasive and systemic threat.
Viewed through that lens, it makes perfect sense that Gen. Milley is spouting the theories and viewpoints that underlie this war framework and which depicts white supremacy and “white rage” as a foundational threat to the American homeland. A new domestic War on Terror against white supremacists and right-wing extremists is far more justifiable if, as Gen. Milley strongly suggested, it was “white rage” that fueled an armed insurrection that, in the words of President Biden, is the greatest assault on American democracy since the Civil War.
Within that domestic War on Terror framework, Gen. Milley, by pontificating on race, is not providing cultural commentary but military dogma. Just as it was central to the job of a top Cold War general to embrace theories depicting Communism as a grave threat, and an equally central part of the job of a top general during the first War on Terror to do the same for Muslim extremists, embracing theories of systemic racism and the perils posed to domestic order by “white rage” is absolutely necessary to justify the U.S. Government’s current posture about what war it is fighting and why that war is so imperative.
None of this means that Gen. Milley’s defense of critical race theory and woke ideology is purely cynical and disingenuous. The U.S. military is a racially diverse institution and — just as is true for the CIA and FBI — endorsing modern-day theories of racial and gender diversity can be important for workplace cohesion and inspiring confidence in leadership. And many people in various sectors of American life have undergone radical changes in their speech if not their belief system over the last year — that is, after all, the purpose of the sustained nationwide protest movement that erupted in the wake of the killing of George Floyd — due either to conviction, fear of loss of position, or both. One cannot reflexively discount the possibility that Gen. Milley is among those whose views have changed as the cultural climate shifted around him.
But it is preposterously naive and deceitful to divorce Gen. Milley’s steadfast advocacy of racial theories from the current war strategy of the U.S. military that he leads. The Pentagon’s prime targets, by their own statements, are sectors of the U.S. population that they regard as major threats to the national security of the United States. Embracing theories that depict “white rage” and white supremacy as the source of domestic instability and violence is not just consistent with but necessary for the advancement of that mission. Put another way, the doctrine of the U.S. intelligence and military community is based on race and ideology, and it should therefore be unsurprising that the worldview promoted by top generals is racialist in nature as well.
Whatever else is true, it is creepy and tyrannical to try to place military leaders and their pronouncements about war off-limits from critique, dissent and mockery. No healthy democracy allows military officials to be venerated to the point of residing above critique. That is especially true when their public decrees are central to the dangerous attempt to turn the war posture of the U.S. military inward to its own citizens.