In these dark days for the peace movement, last Sunday morning brought a ray of sunshine. “Military sees big decline in black enlistees; Iraq war cited in 58% drop since 2000” ran the headline atop page one of the Boston Globe (10/7). To be precise, from 2000 to 2005, the last year for which the Pentagon provides data, Black enlistees have dropped from 41,185 to 17,399 a year. The biggest declines came in the army and marines as opposed to navy and air force enlistments; in other words the declines were in the services most likely to return you home in a box in the dead of night.
This development is very bad news for the masters of empire who, for a century, have relied heavily on scarce economic opportunities for Black youth to drive them into the armed forces. Michael O’Hanlon, military analyst at the liberal Democrat Brookings Institution laments this unsettling development: “African-Americans have been a key part of the modern military. There’s obviously been a degree where the black community in the United States has seen [military service] as culturally valuable and promoted it. That whole culture and value system (sic) is at risk in the black community. That is a big, big change. To me it portends a longer term loss of interest. It can be tough to get it back.” Mr. O’Hanlon does not seem to be rejoicing at the demise of this imperial “value system”; the rest of us should leap for joy.
Young Black men interviewed for the Globe report declared that they do not believe in the war and therefore won’t enlist. They also spoke of Hurricane Katrina, one saying: “Why should we go over there and help them (Iraqis), when the US government can’t help us over here?” Another said that the war is “unnecessary,” the same word used by Jimmy Carter, and continued: “It’s not our war. We got our own war here, just staying alive.” He then reminded the reporter that his hometown, Philadelphia, has suffered more than 200 homicides in 2007, most involving Black youth. But the military are not giving up, redoubling their recruiting effort, pumping more money and more advertising into it. But it is not working.
Key to this Black Resistance are the “influencers.” As the article says, “Adult influencers of all youths, such as parents, sports coaches, or mentors, say Iraq makes them less likely to recommend military service, according to Pentagon surveys. Of all racial groups, African-American influencers are the least likely to suggest enlistment, according to the surveys.” Now there are solid parents, making certain that their kids are not turned over to the merchants of death. As the article puts it, “They (the parents) see it from the aspect of . . . ‘I don’t care about the benefits, I don’t care about the money, I don’t care about nothing. I don’t want my child going to Iraq.'” Other parents have a lot to learn from this.
The Black Resistance to the war is poetic justice, given the racist roots of the neocon movement that spawned the war. Recall Norman Podhoretz’s tenet that a neocon is a liberal “mugged by reality.” Let’s ask ourselves what is the image of a “mugger” in many white minds, and it is all too easy to see what the neocon Podhoretz was getting at. It was not simply racism directed at Muslims and Arabs that informed the neocon project but racism directed at Blacks and Hispanics from the very first.
Much remains to be done since the Black population is still over represented in the military. As the Globe article points out: “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. Nonetheless, recent Pentagon-sponsored surveys suggest that attitudes among military-age African-Americans may have changed for good.” The creation of non-military economic and educational opportunities for Black and other minority youth must be an essential part of the antiwar movement.
At UFPJ (United for Peace and Justice) and related antiwar meetings the lament routinely goes up that there are few (or more often zero) African Americans in attendance. And no wonder. Beneath the surface these meetings have as their agenda keeping the other war party (the Dems) in power. Do the “leaders” of UFPJ not understand that Blacks readily see through this ploy? Are these “leaders” so contemptuous of the Black community? They ask where are the African-Americans. The answer is easy. They are busy. They are working long and hard to keep their kids out of the death machine peddled by Dems as well as Republicans. They are striking at the heart of the military machine whereas the UFPJers are protecting the left wing of the bird of prey, the Democratic Party. Who are the leaders of the peace movement anyway? The attendees at those deadly boring and very PC UFPJ meetings or those Black parents keeping their kids out of the military and thus undermining the imperial machinery of death.
John V. Walsh can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com