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Why are African Americans Opting Out of Military Service?

October 7, 2007


Photo taken from “Life/ World War II”, circa 1943, photography by Hulton/Archive. From bluegrassboy123’s flickr

By Thought Merchant

According to an article in todays Boston Globe, African American enlistment in the U.S Military has declined by 58% since the year 2000. The obvious reason for this decline has been the Iraq war. Though African Americans have participated in every war in Americas history, the sharp decrease in enlistment since 2000 shows the deep lack of faith Blacks have in the mission President Bush has embarked on in Iraq. The Globe article explains the decrease in enlistment in the following way:

“The unpopular Iraq war is the biggest reason, according to military analysts, Pentagon surveys, and interviews with young African-Americans. But they say mistrust of the Bush administration is adding to the problem – along with the notion that black soldiers are being steered to combat jobs, a lingering perception from the Vietnam War.”

The belief by African Americans that Black soldiers get led to combat positions in larger numbers than Whites demonstrates that a perception of unequal treatment exists in the minds of African Americans when it comes to the United States Military. This perception is troubling since the military has traditionally been marketed as the most meritocratic institution for Black achievement.

Furthermore, this decrease in military participation by young African Americans is understandable from a political standpoint, but from the vantage of socio-economic empowerment it may further diminish options for young Blacks who traditionally used the U.S. Military as a vehicle for social mobility.

Another danger is that those on the political right may look at this decrease in enlistment as further grounds to question African American patriotism and bravery when faced with a war that many on the right trumpet as being a battle for Western Civilization itself.

But that ludicrous position would be historical fantasy considering the dedicated military service Blacks have given this country from Crispus Attucks to the Tuskegee Airmen in the face of segregation and continuing racism. What these statistics illustrate is that African Americans have come to a level of political sophistication that allows them to discern the difference between a “just” war and one waged for cynical geopolitical aggrandizement.

“Despite the sharp decline in enlistments, the percentage of blacks in the military still slightly exceeds that of the general population: 14.5 percent in the military, as of 2005, versus 12.8 percent in the US population.”

Therefore, this decrease in enlistment by Blacks when compared to Whites–whose numbers only decreased 10% since 2000–should not be viewed as an abandonment of service, but as an achievement of political maturity. One of the beauties of an all volunteer army is that people are not compelled to engage in exploits that offend their moral conscience.

What these numbers tell us is that young African Americans refuse to be pawns in a chess game where the prize for the winner is dubious at best, and the cost for everyone else is their lifeblood. Thankfully, we are still at a point in this country where patriotism does not have to come at the expense of personal integrity. In the case of young African Americans, that personal integrity is being shown by their lack of support for a war, and a President that has abandoned what they feel this nation is about.

You can view the rest of the Boston Globe article here.

Please return and post comments.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2007 7:19 pm

    Black folk are not going to give their children to Dubya and his War Profiteers. They didn’t have a choice during Vietnam. They do now, and they’re protesting by not letting their children sign up.

    Think about this – Without ..
    1. The backdoor draft
    2. The HUGE signing bonuses
    3. Lowering standards and letting Urban Terrorists (Gangbangers) in..
    4. Lowering standards and letting Rural Terrorists (White Supremacists) in…
    5. Lowering standards and letting ACTUAL CRIMINALS in….

    Do you realize the bad shape our Armed Services would REALLY be in?

    So, figure in the numbers of the loss of Black joining and they really become obvious.

    I have a nephew. Good kid. No trouble. I think he could use a bit more discipline in a couple of years, and if this were normal times, I would have encouraged him to join the Armed Services. But, not now. Hell no, not now.

    We were against this war from the very beginning. And, while ‘they’ might have ‘ selected’ Bush in 2004, we voiced our protest by not allowing them to be used in their War for Oil.

    Don’t believe for one minute that BS the Armed Services is putting out about ‘ better options of employment’, when, in the next government study, we can find that Black Male Unemployment is the highest it has probably been since what, the Great Depression? So, even though there are no jobs out there, we’re STILL not willing to give our sons and daughters for Dubya’s War for Oil.

  2. October 7, 2007 9:38 pm

    The military is merely an extension of the prison-industrial complex. A voluntary service of poor blacks enlist to avoid incarceration and gain access to higher education. However, serving multiple “sentences” or rotations exhaust their youth and leave them mentally and physically disabled and unemployable upon discharge.

  3. October 11, 2007 9:31 am

    The next large staging ground for the US military will be Africa. Now would be a great time to start teaching our youth, in earnest, about what is going on in Africa and what role they /we can play over the next 20-30 years.

  4. Doris Hayes permalink
    November 9, 2009 8:25 pm

    TOTALLY agree the ALL OF THE ABOVE COMMENTS. My nephew is a good kid, raised by a single mother in DC, in his first year @ Grinnell College.

    I would consider his life a WASTE if he ended up in the “wars” the US is currently waging.

  5. Musingmom permalink
    March 9, 2010 7:01 am

    I agree that it is a sign of “political maturity” . I also agree wholeheartedly with Backyard Beacon who defines the military as an extension of our penal system.

    Furthermore, I would say that there may be some systemic reasons as to why there is a decline in AA enlistment in the military. Please note that I am not saying that ALL African Americans are this way…I am just saying that historically AA young men have been recruited but now many have fallen into the following cracks in our society.

    1. Criminal records
    2. Psychotropic medication use (there are lots of AA young men who are on ritalin and adderall as well as other meds)
    3. History of recreational drug use (youngsters think smoking marijuana is not illegal)

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