May 11, 2007

African America and the End of the Occupation of Iraq

The invaluable Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson has just published an essential piece on the near-universal opposition to the occupation of Iraq among African Americans. I encourage folks to read it and spread it around.

One point he raises is of the highest importance:

This war, launched under false pretenses, now has so little merit that the enrollment of African-Americans in the military may be at its lowest point since the creation of the all-volunteer military in 1973. In 2000, 23.5 percent of Army recruits were African-American. By 2005, the percentage dropped to 13.9 percent. National Public Radio this week quoted a Pentagon statistic that said that African-American propensity to join the military had dropped to 9 percent.

Nine percent! Nine!! This is hard to wrap the brain around. Before G.W. Bush took office, African Americans joined the military at a rate approaching double their presence in the US population (about 14% according to the census). In seven short years, that has fallen to an enlistment rate less than 2/3 of what might be expected given population figures, less than forty percent of what it had been historically!

Three points need to be made here.

First, this is the most significant contribution to ending the unjust and unjustifiable occupation of Iraq that any large subsection of the US population has made. The stunning and sudden loss of African American cannon fodder has contributed big time to all the problems the Pentagon is having recruiting and maintaining the occupation force—Stop Loss, extended deployments, IRR call-ups, loosened recruiting standards around age, health, IQ and criminal records, etc.

The fear that the Armed Forces are being “broken” (to say nothing of the National Guard) is the major cause of the growing Bring Them Home Now! sentiment in the officer corps, channeled to the public though retired officers like General Batiste and especially Representative John Murtha.

Second, this represents a collective decision on the part of the Black Nation (or African America or the Black community or whatever formulation you prefer), and not one arrived at entirely unconsciously either. Consider that since WW2, parents and grandparents had told generations of young men and, more recently, women, “Since you got out of high school, you’ve been hanging out on the corner and getting in trouble, and I’m not having it. We’re going down to the recruitment office.”

Today, that has been reversed. A young person who says “I’ve been talking to the recruiter,” gets told, “Oh, no, honey, that’s not happening!”

The brass recognize this, as Jackson reports:

Pentagon officials largely attribute the drop in African-American interest in the armed forces to "influencers," parents, coaches, ministers, and school counselors who urge youth not to enlist.

(I had a conversation on the A train last fall with a Sergeant, in uniform, who works with JROTC programs in New York and he said he tells his charges to use the program for what they need—discipline, scholarships--but absolutely not to enlist until the war is over.)

Third, that collective decision is based on a political calculus embraced by elders and the youth themselves. Gregory Black, a retired Navy diver and commentator, calls it “an oilman’s war” and says:
African-Americans detest this war. Everybody kind of knows the truth behind this war. It's a cash cow for the military defense industry, when you look at the money these contractors are making. African-Americans saw this at the beginning of the war and now the rest of the country has figured it out. It's not benefiting us in the least.

As for young folks, Black says:
I taught ROTC in high school, and the kids themselves are a lot smarter about this stuff. They see the news and they can't justify going into a fight for something they have no faith in.

Looking at the ongoing Congressional dithering about funding the occupation, you can only wish that these high school students were sitting in the Capitol instead.


While the general trends hold and I think my three conclusions are valid, a contributer at the left liberal DailyKos, where this article was also posted, has cast doubt on that 9% figure. (Read through the comments thread here.) Instead of stunned, I am now skeptical.

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