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Sen. Cotton says Navy teaching critical race theory ‘will promote hatred of US and divide Navy’

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) Jan. 8, 2020. (Stefani Reynolds/CNP/Zuma Press/TNS)
June 22, 2021

On Tuesday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) questioned Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday, the top officer in the U.S. Navy, on his decision to include racially charged books like “How to be An Antiracist” and “The New Jim Crow” on the U.S. Navy’s official reading list. Cotton said those books are divisive and would not help the Navy regain its mission focus.

Cotton tweeted a video of his exchange with Gilday and said “The Navy has had genuine cultural problems and a lack of focus for years. Teaching Critical Race Theory will promote hatred of our country and divide the Navy even further.”

Cotton’s line of questioning followed similar questions for Gilday raised by fellow Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee last week. Cotton said that in a one-on-one phone call with the Gilday, the CNO shared the same answers with him that he had with his House colleagues, namely that questions about the inclusion of those two books were meant to characterize the Navy as weak, rather than address legitimate concerns about the service.

“When you were asked questions about this you characterized it as a criticism of sailors for being weak—that is a straw man,” Cotton said. “It is not a criticism of sailors for being weak. It is a criticism of your decision to include these books on your professional reading list, which ensigns and sailors across your service take very seriously.”

Cotton then reiterated some of the passages from the book “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi that House Republicans took issue with.

“Some of the things that are included in books like this that the notion that: ‘capitalism is essentially racist and racism is essentially capitalist,’ that ‘the only remedy for past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy for present discrimination is future discrimination,’ that ‘some individuals by virtue of his or her race are inherently oppressive or privileged, while others are victimized or oppressed,’ that ‘individuals can bear some kind of collective responsibility or collective guilt for the actions committed by members of his or her race,'” Cotton said. “Admiral Gilday, how did these books get on your reading list?”

Gilday responded that he chose a variety of books for the Navy reading list and include a “wide range of information from which I hope they can make facts-based decisions on both their ability to look outwardly at potential aggressors like China and Russia as well as looking inwardly and being honest with ourselves in areas we need to improve.”

Gilday similarly told Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) last week that he doesn’t necessarily support all of the views Kendi espoused in his book.

Cotton asked “Do you agree that capitalism is essentially racist?”

Gilday responded, “Sir, with all due respect, I’m not going to engage without understanding the context of statements like that.”

Cotton then interjected, “I know you said this in the House Armed Services Committee last week, in what context could the claim that capitalism is essentially racist possibly be something with which you would agree?”

Gilday said he would have to review the specific passages in question, “But again, this comes down to trusting sailors who are running nuclear power plants on submarines at hundreds of feet under the water, under the polar ice cap, that are maintaining the highest, the most complicated, complex jets in the world. We put them in harm’s way every day, sir I believe we can trust them to read books like that and to draw reasonable conclusions.”

Responding to Gilday, Cotton said the inclusion of books like “How to Be an Antiracist” aren’t just “a matter of trust” about what conclusions sailors will draw from their reading, but also a matter of time management.

“You, as the Chief of Naval Operations, are suggesting in your professional reading list that it’s a worthwhile endeavor for our sailors and ensigns to spend their time reading books like these, as opposed to, say, books on maritime strategy or basic seafaring skills,” Cotton said.

Cotton noted some books on maritime strategy and seafaring skills are included, but “there’s plenty not included on your list that I think would also benefit them.”

Cotton then listed several issues within the Navy that could be considered of a more pressing concern than race relations within the service.

“The Navy has had genuine cultural problems now for many years, whether it’s the McCain and the Fitzgerald having collisions in the Western Pacific, the Bonhomme Richard catching fire in port, the Fat Leonard scandal, a Navy Seal team being recalled from Iraq because of a breakdown in basic military order, a patrol boat in the Persian Gulf surrendering to what was little more than an Iranian fishing boat,” Cotton said. “The Navy has had some genuine cultural problems and drift and lack of focus that it needs to address. Assigning books like these and encouraging your sailors to take the time to do so is not a way for the Navy to regain its focus, Admiral.”