Front-line troops disproportionately white
January 22, 2003 4:34 AM   Subscribe

Front-line troops disproportionately white, not black. While blacks are 20% of the military -- compared with 12% of the U.S. population -- they make up a far smaller percentage of troops in combat jobs on the front line. In a host of high-risk slots -- from Army commandos to Navy and Air Force fighter pilots -- blacks constitute less than 5% of the force, statistics show. Blacks, especially in the enlisted ranks, tend to be disproportionately drawn to non-combat fields such as unit administration and communications. ''If anybody should be complaining about battlefield deaths, it is poor, rural whites,'' says Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University in Illinois.
posted by dagny (47 comments total)
That meshes with my experience as a 37F.

Supporting units were always "integrated," which is to say mixed; aside from the group chaplain, ours was almost exclusively populated with whites, Filipinos, and people of East Asian descent.

Folks sympathetic to a "Bell Curve" interpretation always used to point at the minimum ASVAB-score threshold for special operations units, and mutter darkly about intelligence.

Those of us who were not, on the other hand, reminded them of the strong influence your recruiting sergeant had on your MOS upon entry: enlistees definitely get tracked, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. (After one look at me, my recruiter had me pegged as a pencil-necked admin geek. He was surprised to hear I SOF qualified.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:52 AM on January 22, 2003


Care to elaborate for us non-US, non-military people?
posted by sebas at 4:56 AM on January 22, 2003

From Google:

ASVAB = Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery
MOS = Military Occupational Specialty
SOF = Special Operations Forces
37F = a job code for a "Psychological Operations Specialist"

I may be wrong though.
posted by ralawrence at 5:10 AM on January 22, 2003

They're saving them up for Operation Human Shield.

</south park>
posted by Space Coyote at 5:17 AM on January 22, 2003

dontcha just love TLAs?
posted by Vidiot at 5:17 AM on January 22, 2003

There's a full dictionary of US Military acronyms here. I think military personnel (and military wannabees) tend to use acrynoms 1) to confuse the enemy and 2) to confuse the civilian population hence creating a closed group for themselves (this promotes the team ethic I would guess).
posted by andyHollister at 5:22 AM on January 22, 2003

good point (and cool link), andyHollister. The Dep't of Defense is in love with acronyms (yah, I know that they're not usually acronyms per se) -- my stepfather is a civilian employee of the DOD (works for the MTMC-EA HQ in the DOA) and I get a kick out of reading his travel orders and the like.

The rest of the federal government isn't too much better.
posted by Vidiot at 5:50 AM on January 22, 2003

If anybody should be complaining about battlefield deaths, it is poor, rural whites

The reasons for the racial divide are unclear, but several theories have emerged, including lingering racism in some quarters of the military and a tendency among black recruits to choose jobs that help them find work in the civilian sector.

Complain about exactly what?
posted by magullo at 5:56 AM on January 22, 2003

I have this sort of vision, of an army official reassuring the mother of a deceased soldier that they were a statistical anomaly.
posted by chrisgregory at 6:20 AM on January 22, 2003

What about Hispanics? They no outnumber blacks in the U.S..
posted by tomplus2 at 6:23 AM on January 22, 2003

They're saving them up for Operation Human Shield

Goddam Coyote! You made me laugh outloud, loudly. I am still laughing at that. Must be my wry sense of humor.

I will go on record here as fully understanding adamgreenfields post. I was J1C251 CCT in the USAF 352 SOG, 321 STS.

It was my impression that" Blacks, especially in the enlisted ranks, tend to be disproportionately drawn to non-combat fields such as unit administration and communications " is a very true statement. What makes it that way I cannot say. Do their ASVAB's push them into those fields, do they choose to go into them? I don't know.
The US fields an all volunteer force, some people volunteer for more, as is the case with Spec Ops forces.
This is a non issue, and this thread should not turn into a debate over race in the military.
posted by a3matrix at 6:26 AM on January 22, 2003

Seems to me the focus instead of being on race, should be on those who choose to send young men and women into harms way. I would be especially interested to see not only how many members had children in the military, but active combat units as well.
posted by CoolHandPuke at 6:35 AM on January 22, 2003

i took a college night class on a military base once many moons ago, the teacher was a military wife, and everyone but me came to class sporting fatigues.

i still have bullet holes in my bookbag, from all the rapid-fire acronyms flying around the classroom

"well we wanted to go TDY but the H3 got the VSSKE and the ASDF made me HKLJ IIW for the whole QPW"
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 6:50 AM on January 22, 2003

Black, white, cerilleon blue, people are gonna die. Many who don't wear uniforms at all. Anyone got those stats?
posted by LouReedsSon at 7:33 AM on January 22, 2003

a3matrix - might it have something to do with the historical use, by the US military, of black soldiers as cannon fodder? I'd guess most American blacks in the military are there because it's a reliable job with decent benefits and the possibility of advancement in a system which has gone further than most sectors of US society in terms of combating overt racism.

American black culture has, I would venture, a much more developed (and healthier, to my mind) sense of skepticism about the motives of the US government and of the "just" nature of many US military operations. Not to impugn American black patriotism - I'd just say that it's a bit more discriminating than that of the poor whites, - or of the Latinos who are still trying to be "good Americans" by fighting and dying in the front lines (as did American blacks - disproportionately, I believe - in past wars).
posted by troutfishing at 7:45 AM on January 22, 2003

i would have to venture a guess toward troutfishing's post being more correctly aligned than any sort of " non promotion of blacks". while the latter is probably an issue in general, not necessarily in this situation.

posted by das_2099 at 8:13 AM on January 22, 2003

> MOS =
> SOF =
> 37F =
> The Dep't of Defense is in love with acronyms

Any system that gave us FUBAR can't be all bad.
posted by jfuller at 8:15 AM on January 22, 2003

Black, white, cerilleon blue, people are gonna die. Many who don't wear uniforms at all. Anyone got those stats?

I do not have a link, but I imagine the number approaches 100%.
posted by thirteen at 8:16 AM on January 22, 2003

I'm starting to think that the anti-war movement is a religion. In some religions, once the Truth comes down from heaven, actual facts must be ignored.

I can't allow Troutfishing "connon fodder" remark to pass unchallenged, although I'm sure facts won't get in the way the Truth.

Even the slightest, tinniest study of US history will reveal the plaintive cries of generation after generation of black leaders from the Civil War thru WW2 to "let our boys fight too". Blacks were mostly assigned to labor battalions or mess positions. If you can't be bothered to study history, at least rent the movie "Glory", which is historically accurate in depicting the enourmous struggle blacks fought to get into combat. It was same story from then to WW2.

Case in point - the hero of Pearl harbor, Dorrie Miller, was a black messman on the Arizona who shot rqn from the mess to releive a dying white sailor at an AA machine gun and down 4 Zeros before his ship sank. For his heroism, he was promoted to messman third-class, and was went down with his ship when it was torpedoed in 1943.

The research in the link shows that blacks died in about their 'fair share' if there can be such a thing, in Vietnam, and later.

The 'cannon fodder' remark is jsut palin wrong, and ignores the 100 year struggle of blacks to win equality and to serve and fight in the military.

But these are just facts - don't let them get in the way of the Truth and it's historical ignorance.
posted by Jos Bleau at 8:43 AM on January 22, 2003

I'm just guessing here, but couldn't it be that the reason that (proportionally) more blacks than whites join the military is because blacks have less career opportunities in civilian life, and so within the military choose paths that substitute for those missing civilian opportunities?
posted by pascal at 8:46 AM on January 22, 2003

I think the operative word from Rangel's speech is poor. Can't recall to whom I should attribute this quote to:

"The wealthy have never sacrificed at the altar of patriotism."

It's a class warfare thing. :-)
posted by nofundy at 8:49 AM on January 22, 2003

Operation Human Shield
posted by teenydreams at 8:54 AM on January 22, 2003

I'm sorry, how are these findings in any way a counter to Rangel's statement that "a disproportionate number of the poor and minorities make up the enlisted ranks..."?

1) "Poor" must be understood here to refer to poor people of all ethnic backgrounds.
2) "Minorities," in common US parlance, includes members of all ethnic and linguistic groups defined by the Census Bureau except for those in the white, non-Hispanic majority.

So the fact that the percentage of people in combat positions who identify themselves as "Black" on their census forms is lower than the percentage of that group in the general population, though perhaps interesting as a sociological observation, is nonetheless completely orthogonal to Rangel's comment.

Yes? Or am I missing something?
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:11 AM on January 22, 2003

I doubt USA Today had Rangel in mind when they published this article. Lots of people have made similar, and more relevant, suggestions. I was listening to the Tavis Smiley(?) radio show just a couple of weeks ago when Cornel West was on. Smiley asked West what he thought the single most important issue for blacks to be concerned with today (or something along those lines). West's answer was that blacks have to be aware of how they are overrepresented in the military and how willing the US government is to have blacks fighting and dying for the country. Maybe the US Today people had this exchange in mind?
posted by shoos at 9:17 AM on January 22, 2003

I also can confirm this from my experience. As a 13P (Multiple Launch Rocket System Fire Direction Specialist), there is only one African-American in my Battery. Were-as the Service Battery, the guys who keep all of out equipment running, is about 80% African-American.

On preview: Sidhedevil, Rangel's comment was that a disproportionate number of the poor and minorities serve on the front lines in combat-arms roles, and that a disproportionate number of blacks to whites would die in combat, i.e. lots of black man getting killed in a white man's war.

On another note, not one from DoD has said that a draft is needed. I personally think that this move for a draft is a scare tactic by Rangel and others to spook the American public and to recreate images of Vietnam in people's minds....
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 9:18 AM on January 22, 2003

dontcha just love TLAs?

Almost as much as ETLAs.
posted by NortonDC at 9:41 AM on January 22, 2003

Jos_Bleau - I think you're so mad at me from our last clash that it's coloring your perception. If you read what I wrote a bit closer, you'll find nothing that denies that American blacks clamoured for the right to serve in the US military. I assumed that chapter of history was well known. I suspect that if you go back prior to the Vietnam War, you will find that my "cannon fodder" comment has at least a bit more than a grain, and even a modicum, of truth to it.

For example, here's an historical chapter from WW2 which shows the climate Black American soldiers faced in WW2: From the Port Chicago Mutiny "Everyone on the pier and aboard the two ships were killed instantly: 320 men, 202 of whom were black. Another 390 military personnel and civilians were injured, including 202 black enlisted men. It was the biggest homefront disaster of World War II and resulted in an amazing 15% of all black casualties sustained during the war....The carnage was indescribable. Shortly after the disaster, a Navy Court of Inquiry cleared all white officers of responsibility in the disaster. The court did place blame on the black loaders, saying "rough handling [of munitions] by individual or individuals" may have caused the explosion. This conclusion did not take into account the lack of training the loaders had been provided by their officers. Traumatized by the horrible explosion and the grisly aftermath, 258 ammunition loaders - all of whom were black - refused to return to work considered too dangerous for white sailors. The Navy responded to the work stoppage by imprisoning the men on barge for three days. Eventually, all but 50 black sailors returned to loading ships.....The 50 seamen who refused to return to work were court-martialed, convicted of mutiny, and imprisoned until the end of the war."
posted by troutfishing at 9:43 AM on January 22, 2003

Steve_at_Linnwood - You may be right. I've also heard that none of the members of the US Congress or the Senate have sons or daughters currently enlisted in any branch of the US military (this may have changed a wee bit since the 2002 elections, but I doubt it's changed significantly). I think part of Rangel's motivation (and your point may play another significant part) lies in a desire to reinvolve what some would charactorize as an emergent US aristocratic class in the actual business end of war fighting.
posted by troutfishing at 9:49 AM on January 22, 2003

Yes troutfishing, I also have seen that angle about the politicians and their kids in the military, and I agree with you completely. I think there is a real effort by some to 'recreate Vietnam' for political reasons... I am not sure how well it will play out though...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 9:59 AM on January 22, 2003

Steve - the question is: was Rumsfeld serious (did he actually believe that volunteer soldiers perform better? It could be true, if controversial, for all I know) or if not, what were his motives? (than again, we all say politically dumb things occaisonally...)
posted by troutfishing at 10:04 AM on January 22, 2003

I think Rangel is absolutely frustrated with the American public's general support for President Bush and America's intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, and will do anything to torpedo it. Face it folks, there is scant outrage in the United States over the Bush foreign policy, protest marches notwithstanding.

Rangel's motives are political, as usual. If a draft had been proposed by the administration or the military, I would bet any amount of money that Charles Rangel would be one of the loudest voices opposing it.
posted by Durwood at 10:06 AM on January 22, 2003

Troutfishing, I just deleted an enormous rant that almost got posted.
Until you serve, and see, you don't know.
And that is all I have to say about that.
posted by a3matrix at 10:09 AM on January 22, 2003

This article from actually talks a bit towards the end about why poor whites make up the bulk of infantry troops in the American army. Essentially, the descendants of poor Irish-Scotch settlers in the south and west espouse a value system that lauds military service, because their forefathers found it the only route to social advancement. The first thing my matrilineal antecedents, who were exiled to North America for teaching Catholics to read in the late 18th century, did when they arrived was sign up with the British Army to get jobs, because no one else would hire an Irishman (even a literate middle-class one, such as my ancestor). This Thomas Nast cartoon gives you a good idea about where the Anglo-Saxon majority put the Irish on the social scale.

So basically, a group that felt that the only means of upward mobility for it was through the military encouraged their children to go into it, who encouraged _their_ children to go into it, and those children now form a disproportionate bulk of the military.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 10:16 AM on January 22, 2003

Well troutfishing, I don't have any numbers or data to prove that an all volunteer army fights better but it seems to make sense to me. Every one who joins knows what they are possibly getting into... And they all want to be there. From my experience you would be hard pressed to find a solider that is not proud to serve and wants to be there. With out the draft you remove the recruits who fall into the segment of society that hate the military and don't want to be there so bad that they will cause havoc...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 10:19 AM on January 22, 2003

Steve - I suspected that it was true - I just thought that it was politically clumsy of Rumsfeld to say it, because liberals seized it as a political "patriotism" cudgel with which to beat at the Bush Adm.

a3matrix - well, if I spoke out my ass, my congratulations to you for reigning in your anger.
posted by troutfishing at 10:41 AM on January 22, 2003

I think Rangel is absolutely frustrated with the American public's general support for President Bush and America's intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, and will do anything to torpedo it. Face it folks, there is scant outrage in the United States over the Bush foreign policy, protest marches notwithstanding.

Can you provide evidence? All the polls I've read lately indicate the American public does NOT support Duhbya's idea of unilateral pre-emptive war on Iraq.
posted by nofundy at 11:21 AM on January 22, 2003

Trout, racial discrimination and callousness towards the safety and lives of workers is not the same thing as treating troops as cannon fodder.

The example you cited was certainly a horrible incident, but it not relatable to your prior statement.

And sadly, you can find many more and even worse examples of bad murderously poor leadership on the part of military brass that was directed towards white troops. Example, the failure to search for sinking of the Indianapolis.

As for Rangle, I've met him a couple of times, once socially and once on business, and I believe that any concern on his part for "poor people" who are not of color is about as heartfelt and honest as Trent Lott's assertion on BET that he had always supported affirmative action.
posted by Jos Bleau at 12:19 PM on January 22, 2003

Well considering that the UK, Austrialia, Italy, Turkey and other are with us... It isn't really unilateral anymore... so that is a moot point....

ABC News/Washington Post Poll. Latest: Jan. 16-20, 2003
"Would you favor or oppose having U.S. forces take military action against Iraq to force Saddam Hussein from power?"

Favor: 57% Oppose: 41%

Newsweek Poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates. Latest: Jan. 16-17, 2003
".. . Do you approve or disapprove of the way Bush is handling policies to deal with the threat posed by Iraq and its leader Saddam Hussein?"

Approve : 53% Disapprove: 38%

"In the fight against terrorism, the Bush Administration has talked about using military force against Saddam Hussein and his military in Iraq. Would you support using military force against Iraq, or not?"

Would Support: 63% Would Not: 31%
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:24 PM on January 22, 2003

Notwithstanding the selective statistics used in the linked article, and the statistically insignificant, irrelevant, and absolutely useless personal anecdotes of those above, the Department of Defense asserts that African Americans currently make up 15% of the combat arms, while comprising 13% of the young adult population at large.

But exactly how did this turn into a little drama about African Americans in the service? Rangel rightly pointed out that it sure as hell ain't the rich or well-connected who will pay the price in Iraq (and everywhere else the chickenhawks plan to lead America.)

How many members of Congress (who voted to authorize this latest bullshit war) have sons or daughters in the military?

Wait for it....exactly FOUR...with only ONE child who is not an officer.

When are the Bush twins enlisting, or is that urine/physical exam thing too much of a hurdle (like it was for daddy)? Does Cheney have children in the military? How about Rumsfeld? I mean, with the supposed importance and moral imperative of this war, and the chance to go kill some EvilDoers and all, and all this crowing about polls showing how many Americans think the Iraqi war is a good thing, what right-thinking parent wouldn't want their kids out killing a commie for mommy?

The rich stay home as usual, and get others to fight and die for them. In times past, a class of Americans avoided danger through deferment by class, and by getting cushy little weekend-warrior jobs in the National Guard.

So what's new?

Face it folks, there is scant outrage in the United States over the Bush foreign policy, protest marches notwithstanding.

Gee, that's funny. I had no idea that 30-60% of Americans (depending on the poll and the question...and those numbers of opposed are increasing all the time) who disagree with invading Iraq constitute a "scantity". I mean, 41% of Americans (noted in post above) absolutely opposing the war makes up "scant" dissent?

Check me on this (I do so hate to get these novel quantifiers wrong, you know!), but by your measure couldn't we say that only a "scant" few Americans elected the cowardly idiot goading us into this wretched little war?

But oh, those polls do tell tales, don't they:

"60 percent to 35 percent, people in the Newsweek poll released yesterday they would prefer that the Bush administration allow more time to find an alternative to war....A majority would be opposed should the U.S. act without the support of the United Nations and had no more than one or two allies....The president's job approval was at 56 percent in the Newsweek poll and 53 percent in a CNN-Time poll released over the weekend. His approval rate was in the 60s in both polls in November.... Half in the CNN-Time poll, 50 percent, said they approve Bush's handling of foreign policy, while 42 percent disapprove. In July, before the administration began its public campaign about Iraq, 64 percent approved his handling of foreign policy."
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:53 PM on January 22, 2003

Isn't the demand that the public polls support a particular policy somewhat disingenious, though? If 56% of the populace opposing a war in Iraq mean that we shouldn't go to war in Iraq, does another 56% (these are fictitious numbers) of the population opposing integrated schools mean we shouldn't have them?

I don't think anyone would agree with that statement, yet it illustrates an important point - the policies pursued by the Bush Administration must be judged on moral and rational grounds with an eye to the consequences they will have, not by appeal to what a "random" sampling of the populace thinks about them.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 2:07 PM on January 22, 2003

Yes, Pseudoephedrine, you are right - what is morally right is right no matter how many people marched at your rally or answered a poll one way or another.

I've spoken often about the current dilema with several African-American Vietnam War vets whom I'm close to. None like Bush at all, and all are opposed to war with Iraq.

But the can all articulate their war opposition without ad-hominem attacks on Bush or his family (which few anti-war posters on MeFi seem to be able to do), and, surprisingly, without referencing the considerable discrimination they themselves have received for 50-plus years, both in the military and elsewhere in America.

Their arguments are based on moral reasoning and on their judgements of risk and reward - and not because their country is 'bad' (even though they say it must be better). They've almost got me convinced, but not quite.

But let me reiterate: their arguments carry authority not just for who they are, but due to their quality and lack of enmity towards anyone, despite their frustrations.
posted by Jos Bleau at 3:01 PM on January 22, 2003

The military is a volunteer force -- everyone is there because they want to be. Most everyone in a combat role is a double volunteer -- volunteered once for the service, volunteered again to be a combat soldier/airman/etc. Any argument based upon oppression or underrepresentation simply fails out of the box against those facts of volunteerism. Those who are most likely to get shot at in modern combat (pilots, special forces) have spent YEARS struggling to succeed in a system which is designed to disqualify them at the drop of a hat and return them to "safer" jobs.

All of these analyses of the children of politicians are statistically flawed. Politicians are college graduates with college graduate children. People in that demographic become officers, they don't enlist anymore than they choose any other career designed for high school graduates, nor would it make any sense for them to do so. Active duty officers are far less than 1% of the college graduates in the same age cohort. With 3 out 535 (or over 1/2 of 1%) of members of congress having officer children, I'd guess that is significantly above the general population percentage of college graduates with college graduate children who are active-duty officers.
posted by MattD at 4:03 PM on January 22, 2003

So politicians are part of an educated upper class, and upper-class people are not very common in the military. Which is the flipside of Rangel's point. I don't think anyone has argued that politicians are more likely than anyone else in the upper classes to steer their kids out of the military, but rather that that lack of personal investment in present-day military operations makes it easier for them to advocate the risking of (poorer, less well-educated) American soldiers' lives in foreign adventures. Maybe it makes it easier for other college graduates with college-graduate children to advocate war as well, who knows?
posted by skoosh at 4:45 PM on January 22, 2003

Poll this! The only poll (pole) that matters is the one with the "pair" attached to it that we should all be using to stand up to this idiot who probably strokes his pole at the thought of invading with with the sons of people he wouldn't know if he tripped over them. Them being us, and myself having two sons of military age (thankfully in college at the moment), should carefully consider sending ours to defend a clearly undefined cause. I know, there are at least two or three definitions.... How about that.
posted by LouReedsSon at 5:49 PM on January 22, 2003

MattD - analyses aside, notice that the Congress and Senate are replete with war heroes, but these war heroes have no children enlisted - I suppose this indicates that the elimination of the draft also eliminated the participation of the US elite (in the military).

Jos Bleau - well, my anecdote about the Port Chicago mutiny is merely anecdotal (and so proves nothing, unless I want to take quite a bit of time building a wider case...) , but I do take issue with your statement that: "racial discrimination and callousness towards the safety and lives of workers is not the same thing as treating troops as cannon fodder." - technically true yes, but....................
posted by troutfishing at 6:35 PM on January 22, 2003

Does Cheney have children in the military? How about Rumsfeld
I don't know, but at least Rumsfeld did serve in the military, the only major WH player -- besides Powell, of course -- who didn't dodge the draft
posted by matteo at 12:48 PM on January 23, 2003

at least Rumsfeld did serve in the military

Although he served between Korea and Vietnam, and IIRC, didn't actually see any action.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 4:49 PM on January 23, 2003

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