The Pentagon’s top two officials have faced pointed questions in recent weeks over whether the military is “indoctrinating” troops with what some conservative politicians have misidentified as critical race theory. The Defense Department is not a supporter, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Wednesday, though some DoD-affiliated academic institutions study it as part of sociology or legal curricula.

Both Austin and Milley faced questioning by Republican lawmakers in June on whether DoD diversity, equity and inclusion training included the tenets of critical race theory ― an analytical framework for discussing the American legal system and its disparate treatment of racial minorities.

And both flatly denied any “indoctrination.”

Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a staunch defense of having a military that is well educated and well read on diverse topics.

“Critical race theory is not something that this department teaches, professes, embraces,” Austin said, adding that it is discussed in academic settings, including at the U.S. Military Academy. “But because that’s the case does not mean that this department embraces this theory, and I stand by what I said earlier.”

Conservative outrage over what’s been mislabeled “critical race theory,” including training that promotes understanding the experiences of people of different backgrounds, hit a fever pitch in June. Lawmakers have accused DoD of teaching troops that white people are inherently oppressors at that people of color are inherently victims.

“...I don’t want us to get distracted with the critical race conversation,” Austin told reporters Wednesday. “This department will be diverse. It will be inclusive. We’re going to look like the country we’re supposed to support and defend. Our leadership will look like what’s in the ranks of the military.”

And that’s where efforts will remain focused, he added.

“We’re not going to spend too much time debating the merits of this theory or any other theory,” he said.

Despite public protestations, both Austin and Milley have been dragged into political scrums.

During the Wednesday briefing, the second they have done together since Austin took office in February, Milley addressed passages of a book released Tuesday that characterize him as creating a contingency in the event former President Donald Trump attempted to stay in office past Jan. 20.

“I’m not going to comment on what’s in any of those books,” Milley said. “Let me just say this though. I always, personally, provided the best military advice to President Trump, previously, to President Biden, or any other president.”

Milley reiterated what has become part of his stump speech over the past year, as political tensions have continued to drag in the military and force officials to clarify their role in supporting the federal government.

“We take an oath, an oath to a document,” he said. “An oath to the Constitution of the United States, and not one time did we violate that.”

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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