The African-American Army

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?…

Consider this forgotten wisdom:

“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world: My own Government, I cannot be Silent.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Anthony Monteiro: Obama’s presidency has nothing to do with the legacy of King, it’s actually the opposite.

Speak Your Mind