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Blacks and the Military

By Martin Binkin

For much of the nation’s history, the participation of blacks in the armed forces was approximately in line with their proportion in the total population. This changed during the 1970s: by 1980 one of every three Army GIs and one of every five marines were black. The reaction has been mixed. Many Americans look with approval on the growth of black participation in military service, since it often affords young blacks educational, social, and financial opportunities that constitute a bridge to a better life not otherwise available to them. But for other Americans, the opportunities are outweighed by the disproportionate imposition of the burden of defense on a segment of the population that has not enjoyed a fair share of the benefits that society confers. From this perspective, the likelihood that blacks would suffer at least a third—and perhaps a half—of the combat fatalities in the initial stages of conflict is considered immoral, unethical, or otherwise contrary to the percepts of democratic institutions. Some also worry that military forces with such a high fraction of blacks entail risks to U.S. national security, A socially unrepresentative force, it is argued, may lack the cohesion considered vital to combat effectiveness. Others fear that such a force would be unreliable if it were deployed in situations that would test the alliance of its minority members. And some have even expressed concern that a large proportion of blacks may raise questions about the status of U.S. fighting forces, as judged by the American public, that nation’s allies, and its adversaries. The authors of this book examine evidence on both sides of the issue in an effort to bring objective scrutiny to bear on questions that for many years have been loaded with emotion and subjective reactions. They also discuss the implications for the military’s racial composition of demographic, economic, and technological trends and the possible effects of returning to some form of conscription. Brookings Studies in Defense Policy

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