Washington (CNN)The US Navy’s highest-ranking officer pushed back strongly against what he called efforts by two Republican congressmen to portray the US military as “weak” and “woke” in a hearing on Tuesday.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday’s comments came during a House Armed Services budget hearing as Reps. Doug Lamborn and Jim Banks questioned his recommendation of the book “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi on a voluntary reading list for Navy sailors, which Gilday tied directly to efforts to combat misinformation by adversaries such as Russia and China.
Kendi argues in the book that people must actively be antiracist — instead of being “not racist” — to progress toward racial equality.
“Inwardly, we have to understand ourselves. And we have to understand critically that we value diversity,” said Gilday, defending his recommendation of the book, even as he acknowledged he does not agree with everything in it.
Gilday’s comments come as military officials have faced a chorus of GOP voices questioning the Defense Department’s efforts to promote diversity and combat extremism in the ranks. He took a similar stance to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin who stressed the importance of promoting diversity and inclusion when he came under a similar attack from Republican Senators at a hearing last week.
Banks, a Navy reservist who deployed to Afghanistan, said he believes Kendi, a Boston University professor and National Book Award winner, is an “extremist” and questioned Gilday about whether sailors reading his book would adversely affect morale.
“This is a bigger issue than Kendi’s book. What this is really about is trying to paint the United States military, and in this case, the United States Navy as weak, as woke,” Gilday fired back. “We are not weak.”
Asked by Lamborn how sailors reading the book would “improve our Navy’s readiness and lethality for great power competition,” Gilday said the conversation about racism and diversity in the military is necessary to fight against misinformation by US adversaries.
“Everybody has to be in a position to weigh fact from fiction, even our sailors. They’re bombarded every day by misinformation — much of it comes from China and Russia — on this issue that’s getting at our national psyche,” said Gilday. “I’m trying to get after it in the Navy.”
The efforts by Republican congressman to question the military’s efforts to promote diversity come amid a nationwide GOP push against promoting “critical race theory,” a decades-old academic concept which recognizes systemic racism as part of American society, and which the Trump administration attempted to turn into a political talking point.
“Initially you mentioned critical race the
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