American sailors swear an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, “foreign and domestic.” We ask them to put their lives on the line to protect their country. Recommending that sailors read books that trash the Constitution and denounce the country as irredeemably racist is not just absurd—it’s downright dangerous.
Yet, this is exactly what the Navy’s Professional Reading Program (CNO-PRP) is doing. Its reading list includes several books that insist American society is deeply compromised, not worth defending and in need of wholesale change. Naturally, not everyone in Washington feels this is a message well calculated to bolster service to our country. But the Navy, so far, is resisting congressional calls to reconsider its list.
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On Feb. 26, three Republican members of Congress—Jim Banks (Ind.) Doug Lamborn (Colo.) and Vicky Hartzler (Mo.)—wrote the Pentagon expressing specific concerns about the divisive messages espoused by several of the books and the lopsided nature of the reading list. The books in question were Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and Jason Pierceson’s “Sexual Minorities and Politics.”
Kendi is a leading proponent of Critical Race Theory, a Marxist attempt to transform American society from within. His book says that we have a “color-blind Constitution for a White-supremacist America.” It further argues that capitalism “is essentially racist; racism is essentially capitalist. They were birthed together from the same unnatural causes, and they shall one day die together from unnatural causes.”
Alexander’s book, meanwhile, insists that the American penal system represents a modern mechanism of racial suppression. Pierceson’s book takes a side in sexual debates that continue to rage in American society.
On March 12, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday responded to the lawmakers’ concerns. Sort of. Rather than address the three books specifically called out, his letter addressed only Kendi’s. What about the other two?
While Gilday said he doesn’t endorse every viewpoint in his recommended reading list, he didn’t specify which viewpoints he considers problematic. This suggests that he understands that the books advocate troubling viewpoints. In that case, why recommend them at a time when the nation needs a strong and unified Navy to compete with rising military threats from China and Russia? Indeed, why recommend books staking out extremist positions when the Navy is newly embarked on an effort to drive political extremism from its ranks? It is hard to see how the Navy manages to do either while encouraging sailors to read texts that in some cases encourage radical action.
Gilday writes that, in talking with sailors and officers, he has heard of their experiences of social and racial discrimination. But he has yet to articulate specific incidents and the type of actions needed to address them. It helps no one simply to assert the existence of a problem without defining its nature and scope and without presenting a concrete plan to correct it. Gilday has yet to articulate how he will rid the Navy of the last vestiges of discrimination, much less detail how he will improve warfighting excellence through effective and sincere inclusion, which is his job.
Indeed, Gilday’s explanation for recommending the problematic books is that they were added to the list by Task Force One Navy—a group he established last July in the wake of the protests and riots that followed the killing of George Floyd.
In his letter, Gilday writes that Kendi’s book, “evokes the author’s own personal journey in understanding barriers to true inclusion, the deep nuances of racism and racial inequalities,” adding, “This level of self-reflection is precisely what I want our sailors to do.”
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If that is the case, why not make the list intellectually honest and balanced? Why not include books by, say, economist Glenn Loury? Or recommend the autobiography of Clarence Thomas?
By including these three problematic books on his recommended reading list, Gilday has effectively endorsed them. He has chosen a political side in a current national debate—thereby inserting the Navy into a divisive political issue.
This does not mean the Navy has no business addressing issues that undermine its good order and discipline. Racism, ignorance and bigotry do harm the warfighting excellence of the Navy. But it is far from clear that this reading list and the broader efforts of Task Force One are addressing this in a way that brings all sailors and officers together as patriots.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 03/26/21