China’s military prepares for war, while America’s military goes ‘woke’
President Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) centenary speech conveyed his regime’s resolve in many ways.
Those who attempt to drive a wedge between the party and the Chinese nation, he stated, will encounter “a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.” He pledged to reinforce central control over the party, warning those who oppose its mission that they will be purged “like viruses.” He praised the party’s “courage to fight and fortitude to win,” making the CCP “invincible.” He committed to expanding and modernizing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to defend Chinese “sovereignty, security, and development interests.” He implied that Taiwan is a part of Chinese sovereign territory — and any efforts toward “Taiwan independence,” therefore, will be met with force.
These sound like the pronouncements of a leader preparing his country for conflict.
The PLA air force and navy violated Taiwanese airspace 380 times in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic raging within China’s borders. In April, the PLA deployed a 25-aircraft strike package to harass Taiwan from the south, including four nuclear-capable H-6K bombers. Its ships have circumnavigated Taiwan with carrier strike groups and supported ground forces and marines in amphibious exercises simulating an invasion of Taiwan.
Xi insists that “peaceful reunification” is the CCP’s objective. But any reunification will be on Beijing’s terms, whether Taiwan capitulates or is invaded and subjugated. Moreover, if conflict begins, Xi knows the U.S.’s Taiwanese red line, albeit fuzzy and fleeting at times, likely still exists; American intervention could bring along Japan, Australia, likely South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam, and possibly NATO. Nevertheless, Xi understands that regional conflict is probable, and global conflict possible, if China assaults Taiwan. Hence, the candor of his speech.
Thirty years ago, U.S. military planners would have begged for this strategic situation. It is not that they wish for cataclysmic great-power conflict — military professionals understand the brutality and violence which warfare entails, and prefer deterrence to warfare. Rather, the collapse of the Soviet Union placed the U.S. military, particularly the Army, in peculiar circumstances. The Army had won its battle over conscription and believed it had instituted enough break points to prevent another Vietnam-esque small war of escalating intensity. The system worked in 1991: The Gulf War was a conventional conflict that the Army could manage through the post-Goldwater-Nichols Joint Chiefs and Combatant Commander system — thus, its limited political objective that apparently vindicated post-Vietnam reforms.
But the 1990s and 2000s proved more troublesome than expected. Civilian leaders called upon the military to execute a variety of tasks, from humanitarian relief and “peace enforcement” to counterinsurgency. The Army, and the military more broadly, prophesied the erosion of American military power if the armed services did not dedicate themselves to fighting and winning conventional wars. Any additional task would hollow out U.S. military competence — see, for example, then-Lt. Col. Charles Dunlap’s fictional account of a 2012 coup, the kerfuffle over Apache gunships’ deployment to the Balkans, or even Les Aspin’s resignation as Defense secretary as examples of this trend.
It is therefore astonishing to witness the contortions the military and defense establishment have worked themselves into defending “woke” measures within the armed services.
On June 10, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a former Army captain who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, published a memorandum detailing 28 instances of critical race theory-related bias in the military, collated from anonymous online submissions his office gathered. These included the propagation of racial narratives undermining unit morale, anti-racism instruction, anti-radicalization training with no mention of Islamic terrorism, the exclusion of white service members from diversity training events, and the explicit suppression of dissenting viewpoints. This behavior began during the “Racism Stand Down” in the summer of 2020 and has continued during the post-Capitol riot “Extremism Stand Down” this year.
Critical race theory (CRT) is an intellectual movement with a single core premise: U.S. legal institutions are inherently racist and designed to uphold a white supremacist social order that America’s Founding Fathers explicitly endorsed. It intersects with other progressive academic orthodoxies on gender, sexuality, religion and class, spawning the descriptor “white supremacist (cis-hetero) capitalist patriarchy” for American society. Indeed, it has become increasingly common to link each variant of intersectional oppression to white supremacy, much as CRT’s traditional Marxist antecedent reduced human life to class conflict.
As anonymous statements, Sen. Cotton’s reports are unconfirmed. But they resonate with broader instances of CRT-driven policy in the military, particularly because other intersectional measures may be looped into this general trend. Nellis Air Force Base hosted a “Drag” event for its airmen, justifying it as “essential to morale, cohesion, and readiness.” A Navy spouse posted an image from her active-duty husband documenting a “Pride Month” diversity hike, complete with a rainbow-colored American flag. The military service academies have also joined this trend: West Point now offers a “Diversity and Inclusion” minor, and the Naval Academy offers courses on “critical race” and “intersectional” themes.
During congressional testimony last week, Gen. Mark Milley, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, defended the military’s policy on racial and intersectional issues. Milley’s patriotism, professionalism and intellect are beyond reproach; his four decades of service include deployments to Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and he is a product of Princeton and Columbia universities.
It is therefore striking that his defense of the military’s actions was logically incoherent. Milley correctly asserted that military officers and enlisted men should be broad-minded, have exposure to opposing viewpoints and understand the country they have pledged to defend. The reading of Marx, per his example, does contribute to this end; indeed, even moderate exposure to the history of political thought would improve military officers’ understanding of the principles they have sworn to defend with their lives. Nor should issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or class be ignored; the U.S. has a complex history — no more complex than that of any country, but complex nonetheless. And the military’s task is so essential that racism within its ranks cannot be tolerated.
Still, the issue is neither one of intellectual diversity nor the necessity of preventing and responding to racism. Rather, it has become increasingly apparent that the military, under presidential pressure, has turned to the radical and bizarre ends of the anti-racism camp for guidance in a national discussion of race, like every major company or academic institution since at least June 2020. Moreover, we must recognize the difficult position of military officers like Milley, or his superior, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin: The Biden administration’s directives have placed them squarely in the midst of an increasingly noxious, nihilistic culture war.
Every member of the military, enlisted or officer, swears an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution. If we accept critical race theorists and their academic fellow travelers’ claims that the Constitution — according to the New York Times, the American founding writ large — is institutionally racist, then absurdity follows: All service members must be racists for swearing to support and defend an article of white supremacy.
The issue, however, would not be solved with a more considered curriculum that avoided the anti-racism movement’s radicalism. The military’s task, as it insisted so strongly in the 1990s, is to fight and win wars, particularly those wars against great-power rivals whose objectives threaten American interests and values. China is the foremost of these rivals, perhaps posing a threat greater than the old Soviet Union, given its economic strength, tacit partnership with Russia, growing military capacity, Near Eastern expansion and supreme leader’s aggressiveness.
Despite Xi’s promises to ensure party control over the military, he has grown a large modern professional armed force that could challenge any element of Chinese society. He has prioritized improving the PLA’s readiness and capabilities virtually from the moment he gained power in 2012. He has purged the old officer corps of its kleptocratic grandees, initiated large-scale military exercises, and invested in the technology and defense industrial base necessary to construct a modern power-projection force.
American soldiers sit through “implicit bias” and “systemic racism” workshops and are told, tacitly or explicitly, that the country they swore to defend is inherently unjust.
Chinese soldiers prepare for war.
Frivolity and sensitivity offer no protection against steel and lead. The former invite the latter.
Seth Cropsey is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington and director of Hudson’s Center for American Seapower. He served as a U.S. naval officer and as deputy Undersecretary of the Navy.
Harry Halem, a research associate at Hudson and graduate student at the London School of Economics, contributed to this op-ed.