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Woke Imperialism is Still Imperialism

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In the last week, the media has smeared anti-war activist Mike Gravelignored the war crimes of Donald Rumsfeld, and painted bombing Syria and Iraq as acts of self defense. The response to all this news should have been a renewed and united anti-war, anti-military narrative. Yet in the midst of all this, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley has become the center of a dispute over Critical Race Theory. This serves as a distraction; the real struggle must be to denounce United States’ imperialism.  

In a recent speech, former president Donald Trump called for the resignation of General Mark Milley. Here is what Trump said:  

“To further ingratiate himself with Biden, progressive media, and the radical left, Milley went to Congress and actually defended Critical Race Theory being shoved down the throats of our soldiers.”  

“This Marxist, racist anti-American propaganda has no place in our military—I banned these training programs, now Biden and the Pentagon have resumed them. As soon as possible, Congress must defund this racist indoctrination.” 

“Gen. Milley ought to resign and be replaced with someone who is actually willing to defend our military from the leftist radicals who hate our country and our flag.” 

As usual, Trump was wrong, but so was most of the media. General Milley did not actually defend Critical Race Theory. Here is the video from C-Span:  

In this video, General Milley admits he needs to study Critical Race Theory more before fully addressing it, saying “I’ll obviously have to get much smarter on whatever the theory is.” This is not a defense of Critical Race Theory at all. He simply says he does not know enough about it to give an adequate response.  

CRT has become a dog whistle for the right and has been used by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and others as a rallying cry for their base. It only follows they would make General Milley a target after his remarks.  

Fox news host Laura Ingraham responded:  

Laura Ingraham is right about one thing here – the military should be defunded. The rest of her argument is absurd starting with the taxpayer funding myth. Tucker Carlson also covered this:  

And finally, Senator Tom Cotton:  

“Most of the contacts we get, most of my buddies who contact me still, they just want to know why we can’t go back to what we all took an oath to, to our founding principles in the Declaration and the Constitution, or for that matter, why these training sessions can’t just replay Martin Luther King’s ‘Dream’ speech, and that we should all be judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin. 

Or, to put it in military terms, by our tactical and operational performance, in addition to the content of our character, not the color of our skin.” 

This ignores much of what MLK Jr. actually said in this speech including:  

“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” 

These horrors continue today, but Tom Cotton is doing nothing to address them. Instead, he is calling for more funding for the police. If the military is to be trained in the beliefs of MLK Jr., then they should also take heed of the Three Evils of Society address. The three evils outlined in this address were racism, extreme materialism, and militarism. MLK Jr. described militarism as, 

 “This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s home with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloodied battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.”  

When conservatives cite MLK Jr., they only use one sentence, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” They then use this line to defend their own racist beliefs and ignore that this day has not yet come. To cherry pick MLK Jr. is to ignore his actual message. Tom Cotton ignores the real MLK Jr. in favor of a fabrication that did not exist. The true MLK Jr. fought to end racism, capitalism, and imperialism. 

To return to General Milley, he also said:  

“I’ve read Mao Tse Tung, I’ve read Karl Marx, I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a  communist.” 

This illustrates that General Milley is no friend of the left. He read Marx and Lenin to understand the enemy. He is familiar with the maxim of Sun Tzu, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” General Milley wrote a 185-page senior-thesis for his bachelor’s degree from Princeton entitled A Critical Analysis of Revolutionary Guerrilla Organization in Theory and Practice. He has studied revolutionaries because stopping socialist revolutions is the number one priority for US foreign policy. And he has no problem with that. To defend General Milley is to defend US imperialism. 

I’ve read Kissinger, that doesn’t make me an imperialist. Marx read Adam Smith, that doesn’t make him a capitalist. To have read Marx and not be a communist shows a lack of understanding, a lack of empathy, or both. How can anyone who understands the inherent exploitation of the capitalist system defend it? General Milley not only supports capitalism, he actively fights to uphold it. General Milley is the highest ranking and most senior officer of the armed forces of the United States. The US derives its state power from its military. And the state acts on behalf of the economically dominant class – the capitalist class. As Engels wrote:  

“Because the state arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check, but because it arose, at the same time, in the midst of the conflict of these classes, it is, as a rule, the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which, through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class.” 

The military has a vested interest in combating racism because as a class-based institution, it relies on the most exploited in society to fill its ranks and due to racial capitalism these are disproportionately people of color. General Milley himself has admitted, “Sure, there are benefits of serving: the pay, education, medical care, and housing.” These are no more than bribes to the working class to enlist. If the United States had universal healthcare, housing, a federal job guarantee, and free college tuition, there would be no material reason to join the military.  

Eugene V. Debs at desk

“And here let me emphasize the fact—and it cannot be repeated too often—that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.”  

Eugene v Debs 

There can be no doubt that General Milley is very well-read and intelligent. His knowledge of war has brought him to the conclusion that war with China or Russia would be insane. As Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute described in December:  

“Milley’s message is that planning for conflict against Russia or China is not like these other cases. It is not just that they would be harder and more complex. Rather, they are wars that must not be fought, where the measure of success is not military victory but deterrence and, if war does happen, rapid de-escalation and conflict termination.” 

While this is good news and the Biden administration would do well to listen to this advice, General Milley is by no means in favor of peace. Successful social revolutions have improved the material conditions in their countries. Successful US interventions have installed right wing dictators and supported genocide and mass poverty. General Milley is complicit in many of these actions. He is on record opposing the proposed US withdrawal from Afghanistan.  

Instead of covering important things like the collapse of late-stage capitalism, the media would prefer to highlight the conflict between Trump and Milley. Shortly after General Milley’s statements in Congress went viral, it came out that General Milley once told Stephen Miller to “Shut the fuck up.” Business Insider describes this exchange: 

“These cities are burning,” Miller was quoted as saying. 

Milley turned around in his seat, pointed his finger at Miller, and said, “Shut the f— up, Stephen,” the book reportedly says. 

Now General Milley is being portrayed as some sort of neoliberal resistance hero. Here is how Democratic congressman Tom Malinowski responded:  

Neither party has taken the correct line in response to General Milley’s comments. While the GOP continues to push their racist narrative on Critical Race Theory, the Democrats defend the imperialist system that General Milley represents. General Milley remains a lapdog to the imperialist establishment, as shown when he joined President Trump during his bible photo-op. He has since apologized for that and almost resigned his position.  

In this video, he describes the military as apolitical. This is so ridiculous as to be hilarious. Any one at his level in the US military has read the Prussian military philosopher, Carl von Clausewitz, whose most famous dictum is “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” In fact, General Milley paraphrased Clausewitz in an interview in 2019 defining war as “the imposition of political will on your opponent by the use of violence.” General Milley exists inside a political realm that serves to defend global capitalism.  

General Milley is no hero. If he were, he would take the path of Major General Smedley Butler and expose the military machine for what it is. As Butler wrote in Common Sense magazine in 1935: 

“I spent 33 years and 4 months in active service as a member of our country’s most agile military force — the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from a second lieutenant to Major General. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all members of the profession, I never had an original thought until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of the higher-ups. This is typical of everyone in the military service. 

Thus, I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested. 

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals, promotion. Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents.” 

This relentless imperialism on the behalf of international corporations has continued to this day. The United States military acts on behalf of the corporations, it does not act for the people or defense of the United States. Where there is mineral and fossil fuel wealth to be found, the US military is not far away. The military is not stationed near Syrian oil fields for self-defense. AFRICOM exists to protect corporations extracting the mineral wealth from Africa.  

“Accordingly, as president, I would take the admittedly controversial step of abolishing the United States military. The total savings, including the mammoth reduction in oil consumption, would be more than a trillion dollars a year.” 

William Blum 

At the top of the war machine, General Milley stands as a symbol of US imperialism. No matter how well read he might be, he is still wrong. The argument should not be whether the US military is “woke” or if anti-racism training belongs in the military. Rather it should be about how we can abolish the military before it is too late. The Democrats and Republicans both want the people to buy into a culture war in order to distract them from the ongoing class war. Until the overexploited and underprivileged classes unite, the wars will continue as late-stage capitalism attempts to prop itself up under the weight of its own internal contradictions. Any hope of salvaging society must come through socialism, not through the imperial war machine, no matter how “woke” it may be.  

Works Cited

The Number One Priority: An Interview with Gen. Mark Milley. Dilanian, Arpi; Howard, Matthew. Army Sustainment; Fort Lee Vol. 51, Iss. 2, (Apr-Jun 2019): 10-17. 

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