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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said during a hearing before the House Committee on Armed Services on Wednesday that is important for members of the military to understand critical race theory.

Why it matters: Milley advocated for the teaching of the theory after several House Republicans questioned whether the Department of Defense is teaching courses involving it at military academies.

What they're saying: "I do think it's important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read," Milley said.

  • "The United States Military Academy is a university. And it is important that we train and we understand. I want to understand white rage, and I'm white. And I want to understand it," he said, referring to a book by Carol Anderson assigned during a race and ethnicity course at West Point.
  • "So, 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, and I want to maintain an open mind here, and I want to analyze it," he said about the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
  • "It's important we understand that because our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and guardians, they come from the American people. So, it is important that the leaders, now and in the future, do understand it."
  • "So, what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding, about the country for which we are here to defend?"
  • "I personally find it offensive we are accusing the United States Military ... of being quote 'woke' or something else because we're studying some theories that are out there."

The big picture: Republicans have moved to ban or heavily limit the teaching of critical race theory from schools and other institutions, which civil rights advocates and some educators have criticized as an attempt to sugarcoat U.S. history.

  • After being questioned by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) if the Defense Department promotes the theory, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said it does not "teach" or "embrace" it.

Go deeper: Why everyone's talking about critical race theory

Go deeper

Mark Milley's crisis

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley goes before Congress on Sept. 28, he may face some of the most hostile questioning of any modern four-star general.

Driving the news: Newly released excerpts from "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa — detailing secret moves by the nation's highest-ranking military officers to manage national security risks that he perceived Donald Trump posed in the final days of his presidency — are driving questions about whether Milley went too far. 

Biden expresses "great confidence" in top general after Woodward report

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Biden on Wednesday expressed "great confidence" in Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley after a new book said the general secretly assured his Chinese counterpart that President Trump had no plans to launch an attack.

The big picture: Details emerged that Milley told his Chinese counterpart that if Trump did decide to attack, Milley would give him a heads-up, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports.

Sep 16, 2021 - Podcasts

A crisis for Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley

Did Gen. Mark Milley go too far? That’s the question in Washington today after newly released excerpts of the new book from Bob Woodward and Robert Costa are calling into question the top U.S. general's role during the Trump administration.

  • Plus, how teen mental health is affected by the pandemic.
  • And, survivors of Larry Nassar's abuse call out the FBI.

Guests: Axios' Jonathan Swan and Penn State University's Paul Harris.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper: Mark Milley's crisis