President Donald Trump issued a sweeping executive order Tuesday banning the military’s use of diversity training programs that suggest that the United States is “an irredeemably racist and sexist country.”
The move is an extension of a prior ban that applied to government workers; the latest order would also block the agencies from paying for “divisive” training programs supplied by federal contractors.
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Trump said his order is aimed at combating a “pernicious” ideology taking root in the U.S. that “some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans.”
“Unfortunately, this malign ideology is now migrating from the fringes of American society and threatens to infect core institutions of our country,” he said in the order.
However, nothing in the order should be construed as prohibiting discussion of what he called “divisive concepts,” so long as the discussion is conducted “in an objective manner and without endorsement,” Trump said.
The order also directs the DoD and other agencies to assign “at least one senior political appointee responsibility for ensuring compliance with the requirements of this order.”
In Twitter posts Tuesday night, Trump wrote, “A few weeks ago, I BANNED efforts to indoctrinate government employees with divisive and harmful sex and race-based ideologies. Today, I’ve expanded that ban to people and companies that do business with our Country.”
He added, “Americans should be taught to take PRIDE in our Great Country, and if you don’t, there’s nothing in it for you.”
The service branches had already begun assessing their diversity training programs following Trump’s Sept. 4 executive order and guidance issued by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The guidance from OMB Director Russell Vought warned that training programs supplied by federal contractors could be smoke screens meant to indoctrinate those participating “to believe divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and several service leaders have recently stressed the importance of discussing diversity issues in the wake of the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in May.
Floyd’s death prompted nationwide protests and spurred an internal review at the Defense Department to improve diversity and inclusion.
The Air Force is setting new targets to ensure it is recruiting a force that represents the country’s diversity, Maj. Gen. Edward Thomas Jr., Air Force Recruiting Service’s commander, said last week.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger has also said his service will review why women and minority officers take themselves out of the running for command at higher rates than white men.
“I believe we are a more capable Marine Corps as a more diverse force,” Berger said Wednesday during the annual Modern Day Marine exposition.
“It’s not about being politically correct,” he added, but about having “diversity of thought” to outsmart the enemy.
“I’m not talking about a particular skin color; I’m talking about a diverse force,” Berger said. “I am absolutely convinced [that] too much similarity, too much of ‘we look all the same, think the same, got the same background,’ we’re going to get killed because we’re going to end up with solutions that we’re all familiar with, but they’re easy to counter.”
Since Floyd’s death, military leaders have been open in addressing the need to combat discrimination in the ranks and their concerns over minority troops having to serve at bases and posts named for Confederate generals.
At a July 9 House Armed Services Committee hearing, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said he worried about “those young soldiers who go onto a base, a Fort Hood [Texas] or a Fort Bragg [North Carolina] or a Fort Wherever, named after a Confederate general.”
“They can be reminded that that general fought for an institution of slavery that may have enslaved one of their ancestors,” he said. “I had a staff sergeant when I was a young officer [at Fort Bragg]. He said he went to work every day on a base that represented a guy who enslaved one of his ancestors.”
The installation is named for Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg.
Commanders have also been candid in noting their own shortcomings in facing up to the challenges posed by discrimination.
At a June 11 town hall meeting at Camp Humphreys in South Korea, Army Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said he was “strongly affected by what happened back in the States” after George Floyd’s death. “I feel personally a lot of anger and disgust and concern about what’s happened.”
In his 38 years in the Army, Abrams said that the issue of racism “has been considered taboo to discuss,” but the time has now come for candid dialogues.
“If you look like me,” meaning a white officer, “now is the time to listen,” he said. “I’ve tried real hard to be part of the solution.”
But he added that he had realized “I had fallen way short” in the effort to eliminate racism in the ranks.
In June, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy launched “Project Inclusion,” described in an Army statement as an effort to build “cohesive teams” and “identify practices that inadvertently discriminate.”
However, the Army stumbled in one of its first efforts to implement the project.
In emails sent July 6 to promote a town hall meeting on diversity at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, the Army listed Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan as a possible indicator of covert white supremacist sympathies.
“Convert white supremacy [sic]” could be indicated by such phrases as “Make America Great Again;” “Eurocentric Curriculum;” “English-Only Initiatives;” “Bootstrap Theory;” and “All Lives Matter,” according to the flier.
The Army later said that it was sent in error and inadvertently included material from a non-government website.
“The Army does not condone the use of phrases that indicate political support,” the service’s statement said. “The Army is and will continue to remain an apolitical organization.”
— Richard Sisk can be reached at [email protected]
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