How US Military Leaders Are Reacting to Charlottesville

Members of the KKK are escorted by police past a large group of protesters during a KKK rally Saturday, July 8, 2017, in Charlottesville, Va.

AP / Steve Helber

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Members of the KKK are escorted by police past a large group of protesters during a KKK rally Saturday, July 8, 2017, in Charlottesville, Va.

While the president wavers in his criticism of white nationalist protesters, military leaders are speaking out against racism and intolerance in America’s ranks.

The U.S. Army’s top general on Wednesday became the latest high-ranking American military official to speak out against a resurgence of Nazi support following violence and unrest over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va.

Gen. Mark Milley joined his counterparts in the Navy and Marine Corps in explicitly calling for an end to the kinds of “intolerance, racism and hatred” that led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing her and wounding 19 others on Saturday.

Gen. Mark Milley, U.S. Army Chief of Staff:

  • “The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our Values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.” (Twitter, Wed., Aug. 16)

Milley’s remarks stand out for not just the unusual nature of the message in 21st-century American discourse, but also because he spoke just hours after the president curbed his criticism of white supremacists in an unusual press conference of his own Tuesday afternoon.

Shortly after Trump’s remarks Tuesday, the head of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller took to Twitter to send a message to his troops.

Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps:

  • “No place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act.” (Twitter, Tues., Aug. 15)

And on Monday, Defense Secretary James Mattis sidestepped the question of blame for violence over the weekend, expressing his condolences and sadness for what the nation witnessed.

Defense Secretary James Mattis:

  • When asked about the violence in Charlottesville, Mattis told reporters that he is “saddened by it. Very saddened by what I saw,” the Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe reported. (Twitter, Mon., Aug. 14)

Monday was a very busy day for the 82nd Airborne Division’s Twitter team. The historic division — which parachuted into Normandy and Sainte-Mère-Église to fight Nazi Germany in World War II — spent hours reacting to readers’ various positive and negative replies to an initial tweet on the topic — before most soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., began their workday at 9 a.m.

82nd Airborne Division:

  • “Our WWII Airborne forefathers jumped into Europe to defeat Nazism.  We know who we are.  We know our legacy.” (Twitter, Mon., Aug. 14 — and many more reply tweets engaging Twitter users)

One officer who spent time in the Division at Bragg defended his historic unit on Sunday, too.

U.S. Army aviator Maj. Crispin Burke:

  • “The only reason for an American to hold a Nazi flag is if it has been captured in battle.” (Twitter, Sun., Aug. 13)

And on the president’s team, there’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that hatred is not “what America stands for.”

National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster:

  • “We cannot tolerate, obviously, that bigotry, that hatred that is rooted in ignorance, ignorance of what America stands for, what America is.” (“Meet the Press,” Sun., Aug. 13)

But the first U.S. military official to speak out was the man in charge of the country’s Navy and its more than 300,000 sailors around the world. Vowing to “forever stand against intolerance and hatred,” Adm. John Richardson’s Aug. 12 statement remains the most lengthy of all the commanders’ responses to date:

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson:

  • “The shameful events in Charlottesville are unacceptable and must not be tolerated. Our thoughts and prayers go to those who were killed and injured, and to all those trying to bring peace back to the community. The Navy will forever stand against intolerance and hatred. For those on our team, we want our Navy to be the safest possible place—a team as strong and tough as we can be, saving violence only for our enemies.” (Facebook/Twitter, Sat., Aug. 12)

Other top officials — Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. David Goldfein, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford — are traveling this week: Goldfein to the Middle East, and Dunford to the Asia-Pacific. The latter has made little time for Twitter during his career, while the former’s team, generally a bit more active on social media, has kept their focus on service news and operations.

Update: Gen. Goldfein tweeted a message to Airmen later in the morning Wednesday. “I stand with my fellow service chiefs in saying we’re always stronger together. It’s who we are as Airmen. Integrity, service and excellence…That’s what America’s Air Force is about.”

Added National Guard Chief, Gen. Joseph Lengyel: “I stand with my fellow Joint Chiefs in condemning racism, extremism & hatred. Our diversity is our strength. #NationalGuard.”

And on Thursday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Dunford told reporters in Beijing, “I can absolutely and unambiguously tell you that there is no place for racism and bigotry in the U.S. military or in the United States as a whole,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

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