African Americans and the Military

African Americans and the Military

The United States military is full of examples of the sacrifice made by African Americans. I find it amazing and absurd that the likes of someone like Sarah Palin questions if African-Americans are loyal citizens. Since the arrival of the first slave ship African-Americans were some of the first to give the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom and America.

The first such example is that of Crispus Atticus, the first casualty was in the Revolutionary war. During the war against the British, King George III offered enslaved blacks their freedom if they renounce the United States and fight for the crown. The majority fought on the side of Gen. Washington and the United States.

There has been no war fought by or within the United States in which African-Americans did not participate, including the Revolutionary war, the Spanish-American war, the world wars, civil war, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (we are the only group that can make that claim!). Now you tell me, how could anyone question the patriotism of African-Americans?

Historic figures throughout our United States military history are full of examples of generals who actually preferred having African-American troops. Such as; Theodore Roosevelt, Gen. George Patton and Ulysses S. Grant. During World War II Gen. Patton was known as “Ole blood and guts.” African American’s quietly joked among themselves; “his guts and our blood;” Gives quiet testimony to the front line sacrifices made by African American soldiers during World War II.

During the US Civil War African-American men comprising 163 units, who served in the Union Army were both free African-Americans and runaway slaves who joined the fight. On the confederate side blacks both free and slave, were used for labor. But the issue of whether to arm them and under what terms became a major source of debate amongst those in the south.

The sacrifice made by African American soldiers during the Civil War was documented in the 1989 film “Glory,” starring Denzel Washington. This is the valiant story that chronicles the heroics of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment who integrated themselves into becoming battle ready soldiers. Black men volunteering for Army service in types of discrimination and hatred is expanded upon in thorough detail in the novel.

It’s hard enough to imagine the selfless sacrifice of these great Americans in war but also to an oppressive racism and discrimination. My father served in World War II both overseas and in the American South. He was in charge of guarding German prisoners of war at a military base in Georgia. German prisoners of war were given every courtesy and comfort that one would extend in polite society. However, my father as well as other African-American soldiers had to endure the elements because they were forbidden from eating inside the mess hall with white soldiers or the German prisoners of war. Ironic isn’t it?

At the end of World War II amidst the euphoria of American victory in Europe there was a sense of elation among African-American military personnel. There was a strong feeling that African-Americans would be accorded the protection of the United States Constitution and all that every American is entitled to. There was a great disappointment that it did not occur. There was one saving grace and that was the desegregation of the United States military in 1948 under Pres. Truman. Comprehensive civil rights as we have come to know it today did not occur until 1964.

This was a crushing blow to the psyche of millions of African-Americans who served in World War II. We destroyed fascism, the third Reich and the Empire of Japan using segregated military forces. Pressure from our allies was the driving force and the catalyst in the executive order issued by Pres. Truman in 1948.

The United States has a large number of African American veterans who have served in recent wars. The casualties, injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder that come with combat are disproportionately impacting African American military personnel and veterans. So to Sarah Palin and other hawkish conservatives I say to you, how dare you question the loyalty of one of the most loyal group of people in America?

Progressive politics we want to take our country forward, not backwards.