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The African-American Army

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During the war on Korea, however, the military moved in the direction of integration, and of full combat roles for blacks.  The draft disproportionately brought blacks into the military, while at the same time they lost the publicly understood disadvantage of being kept away from combat and acquired the disadvantage understood by soldiers of being sent into combat -- sent into more dangerous combat than others, in fact, and accused of cowardice as a reward. 

While black soldiers like James Forman were coming to recognize their participation in foreign occupations for what it was, blacks were enlisting, reenlisting, and being drafted in record numbers -- largely for economic reasons, needing the employment and lacking qualifying grounds for deferment, such as college.  From the Korean War forward, blacks were no longer kept out of the U.S. military through quota limits, but made up a greater percentage of the military than of the population at large.

At the same time, in contrast to World War II, the war on Korea met with opposition from many prominent African Americans, and a movement against militarism began to grow, as did the movement at home for civil rights.  African American newspapers in the north began sending their war correspondents to places like Mississippi.  J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant murdered Emmett Till in 1955 for supposedly whistling at a white woman.  Milam said he'd done to Till exactly what he'd done to Germans during World War II -- the war that never stops giving.  Conscientious objectors Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, William Worthy, James Farmer, James Lawson, and Bob Moses organized in the U.S. South against violence of all varieties, joined by John Lewis, Julian Bond, Diane Nash, and Gwen Patton.

Vietnam was the same story: ever more African Americans in the military, and yet ever stronger activism against it, including resistance by GIs.  The day three SNCC volunteers -- Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney disappeared -- was also the day of the pretended Gulf of Tonkin incident.  Robert McNamara in 1966 announced Project 100,000, aimed at lifting 100,000 men out of poverty by moving them into the military and sending them to war.  Between 1966 and 1971, the project brought 400,000 men into the military, 40 percent of them African American.  Increasingly, through the 1960s, African Americans' opinions turned against war.  The Last Poets' 1970 "The Black Soldier" said:

"Here's to you black soldier
"fightin' in Vietnam
"helping your oppressor
"oppress another man."

I found this and a detailed discussion of much of the above in a new book by Kimberley L. Phillips called "War: What Is It Good For? Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military From World War II to Iraq."  The author's father fought in Vietnam.  Her parents were unable to buy a home in San Luis Obispo because, "local residents' equal disdain for the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement meant no one would sell a black soldier a home."

Phillips, who is the dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Brooklyn College, writes that "since the Vietnam War, the armed forces have served as a de facto jobs program for black Americans and a symbol of a gain in their long struggle for full citizenship.  In a postindustrial economy of the late twentieth century, the military has provided steady work and important benefits, including health care, child care, and education.  For increasing numbers of black immigrants, military service has provided a step toward legal citizenship."  That hideous step is being imposed on all sorts of immigrants today.

African Americans disproportionately opposed wars, enlisted in the military, and gave their loyalty to the Democratic Party.  So, what happened when a Republican President led major wars that even white people opposed?  Between 2000 and 2005, black enlistments in the military dropped 40%, and black presence in the military 25%.  These trends continued through 2008, at which point they began to turn back around.

Maybe that's the economy's fault.  Maybe it's misperceptions that the war is over.  Or maybe it's a question of what the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize President looks like.  But the U.S. military is targeting Africa in a big new way, and targeting Asia and the Middle East in a big familiar way.  Why should anyone participate in oppressing anyone anywhere for the Pentagon?

A poet in Qatar was recently given a life-sentence in prison for reciting a poem.  This is a translation:

Oh, Prime Minister, Mohammad al-Ghannoushi, if we consider your power, it doesn't come from the Constitution.
We are not nostalgic for Ben Ali, nor for his times, which represent merely a dot on the line of history
Dictatorship is a repressive and tyrannical system and Tunisia has announced its people's revolt.
If we criticize, it is to decry what is base and disgraceful
If we praise, we do it in first person
The revolt began with the blood of the people rising up and has painted liberation on the face of every living creature.
We know they'll do what they wish and that all victories bear tragic events,
But pity the country that lets itself be governed by ignorance and believes in the strength of the American army,
And pity that country that starves its people while the government rejoices of its economic success
And pity that country whose people go to sleep a citizen and wake up poor and stateless
Pity that system that inherits repression
Until when shall we be slaves of all that selfishness?
When shall the people realize their worthiness?
That worthiness that is hidden from them and that they soon forget?
Why don't governments ever choose a way to end a tyrannical power system that is aware of its disease
and at the same time poisons its people who know that tomorrow a successor shall occupy that very seat of power?
He doesn't take into account that the country bears its name and that of his family,
the self-same country that preserves its glory in the glories of the people,
the people that answers with one voice to a single destiny: in the face of the oppressor we are all Tunisian!
Arab governments and those who lead them, all are thieves, to the same degree.
That question that causes sleepless nights for those who ask it will not find an answer from those who embody officialdom.

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http://davidswanson.org

David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 

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