The U.S. Navy has one paramount mission: prepare to defend our nation and our national interests through the application of violence at sea. Getting and staying ready to do just that is pretty much a full-time job, leaving little time to dabble in politics.
So why has the Navy’s senior-most officer, Admiral Michael Gilday, insisted on including politically charged books on his officially endorsed reading list for all naval personnel? It’s especially confounding when one considers the lack of evidence suggesting that the Navy has a “diversity problem.”
Gilday’s refusal to address congressional concerns about his list and his subsequent fact-free assertions of racism are leading Americans to question whether the Navy is being politicized.
During a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing, Gilday refused to acknowledge feedback pouring in from sailors troubled by what they perceive as “woke” diversity training. When pressed on why he included Ibram X. Kendi’s problematic book “How To Be An Antiracist” on his Professional Reading Program, he offered little in the way of explanation.
His nebulous response—“I am the chief of naval operations, not a theorist”—answered nothing. Rather, he merely doubled down on the righteousness of his decision.
Coming from the man who stands at the pinnacle the Navy’s hierarchy, Gilday’s endorsement carries enormous weight. Many sailors who might wish to raise uncomfortable but respectful questions about “woke” instruction fear doing so would risk ostracism and negative career consequences.
That’s what prompted two veterans, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, to establish a new whistleblower hotline. Judging from the litany of troubling complaints flooding in, it was sorely needed.
Gilday told lawmakers he included Kendi’s book and Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” because he wanted his reading list to present a diversity of thought. Yet the premises of these books are not contested in any other book on the list. Nor has Gilday expressed any reservations about them.
So what was Gilday thinking?
Undoubtedly, he was motivated by forces outside the Navy. A July 1 memo cites the turmoil inflamed by a contentious presidential campaign and the death of George Floyd. He responded first by forming a group called “Task Force One” to look into diversity and equity in the Navy.
Task Force One’s final report sadly provides little raw data, only anecdotal or subjective opinion surveys. Among its few factual findings:
- Minority junior officers enjoy higher retention rates than white officers.
- Retention rates for female officers are rising.
- There is no disparity in promotion rates up to mid-grade level officers, while minorities receive senior enlisted promotions at a higher rate than whites.
- The report did find a racial disparity favoring whites in senior officer promotions and junior enlisted promotions. It infers racism as the reason but offers no analysis of promotion boards to justify that conclusion.
The report acknowledges, however, that since 2000 the Navy has made significant strides at increasing its racial, gender and ethnic diversity. Its enlisted population today is 60 percent more racially diverse, 56 percent more gender diverse, and over 300 percent more ethnically diverse than 20 years ago.
Separately, regarding discrimination, there is nothing among the recorded complaints that suggests a major problem. Since 2016, only between four to 10 cases of actual discrimination have been reported annually in an organization of more than 600,000 uniformed and civilian members. Either the Navy’s reporting system is flawed, or actual discrimination is very rare. Determining which was true should have been a job of Task Force One.
At the direction of the Secretary of Defense, the Navy conducted a single day anti-extremism stand-down earlier this year. Was this necessary? The Navy has been unable to provide historical records regarding past members separated from the Navy for extremism, and the Department of Defense still struggles with legally defining the term.
There is, however, an internal report that describes a military largely free from extremist activity. The 2018 Gang and Domestic Extremist Activity Threat Assessment recorded only three interactions with police and service members having extremist associations, while 80 cases in the same time period had gang affiliations, which had the highest year-on-year growth rate increase. Moreover, responding to a 2018 request from Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the Department of Defense reported only 27 incidents of extremist activity over the previous five years.
Gilday and other Navy leaders should course-correct to steer the service out of a political morass. A good first step would be to stop defending indefensible books like Kendi’s.
Finally, and most importantly, focus on facts before making future assertions of discrimination, systemic racism or extremism in the ranks. Those in uniform have no business stoking politically charged rhetoric devoid of facts. It serves no one well, nor does it serve our national interests.
This piece originally appeared in Sacramento Bee