Black resistance to racist war

By Monica Moorehead, Workers World, 10 April 2003

Thirty-six years ago, on April 3, 1967, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a powerful speech against the U.S. war in Vietnam at Riverside Church in New York City.

King raised the inseparable links between racist injustice at home and U.S. military escalation against the Vietnamese.

He said, The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.

Today, millions upon millions of people around the world are expressing a similar view in words and actions as the U.S. leads a brutal aggression against the people of Iraq and intensifies the violation of their sovereignty.

Inside the U.S., anti-war activities are being organized by African Americans and other activists of color in Harlem, Baltimore and elsewhere to coincide with the 35th anniversary of King's assassination on April 4. These events will include King's anti-war stance, which many believe led to his government-sponsored assassination.

These protests reflect the fact that the overwhelming majority of Black people across the United States are against this war.

Sixty-four percent of African Americans voiced opposition to the war in one sample poll conducted by the New York Times on March 26. A New York City poll cited 78 percent against the war. Some stated that they felt a strong sense of solidarity with the Iraqi people because, like Black people here, the Iraqis are victims of a racist war by the U.S. government.

There are many oppressed people in the United States who view the police as unwanted armed occupiers in their communities, similar to the armed occupation by the U.S. and British imperialist military in Iraq.

And a number of those polled noted that the Bush administration blatantly hijacked the 2000 elections from African Americans and other working-class voters in Florida .

Who's on front line of imperialist wars?

Fighting the racist character of the U.S. military has always been a component of the struggle for social equality for African Americans.

During World War I, many Black soldiers joined the military and faced racism in every aspect of military life.

Black labor leader A. Philip Randolph threatened a march by hundreds of thousands of Black workers in 1941 against racism in the defense industries and the military. This threat forced President Franklin Roosevelt to issue an executive order reaffirming the desegregation of these institutions on the eve of the U.S. entering World War II.

On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued an executive order calling for the full integration of the U.S. military. Once the Korean War broke out in 1950, Black soldiers constituted 13 percent of the U.S. military. Forty percent of them were placed in combat units—meaning they faced a significantly disproportionate casualty rate.

Like Black soldiers in World War I and II, soldiers involved in the Korean War consciously hoped that by proving to be some of the best fighters in the military, they would be seen as equal in the eyes of whites after the war and that this would result in either the reduction or eradication of racism. This proved to be a pipe dream.

During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, Black people were drafted into the military and were once again placed in combat units in disproportionately high numbers.

Between 1961 and 1965, Black soldiers accounted for one out of every five combat-related deaths in Vietnam. In 1965 alone, Black soldiers accounted for one of every four combat-related deaths. The overall U.S. Black population was about 13 percent during this period.

The emerging anti-Vietnam War movement and national liberation movements encouraged young people—Black and white—to avoid the draft by fleeing to Canada and elsewhere.

Although the leadership of the anti-war movement was predominantly white and middle-class, the anti-war views of Dr. King and former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali had a great impact, especially on the campuses.

Many soldiers became anti-war while in Vietnam. Some even carried out acts called fragging. This means they refused orders and turned their guns on their superior officers, instead of the Vietnam ese. The spread of fragging played a strategic role in the defeat of the U.S. military in Southeast Asia.

In the early days of the new U.S. war against Iraq, fragging has already appeared. Sgt. Asan Akbar, a young Black Muslim, is accused of shooting at the top officers of the 101st Airborne and throwing grenades into their command center.

Economic draft a means to escape poverty

Today, there are an estimated 1.4 million U.S. military personnel. No matter what their nationality, the overwhelming majority come from the working class.

The soaring cost of tuition means fewer families can afford to send these youths to college. So many see the military as a means to get a job skill, education and other benefits. Hardly any youths from families of great wealth and privilege join the ranks of the military.

Black people make up close to 13 percent of the overall U.S. population in 2003, but comprise 22 percent of the enlisted personnel. Half the enlisted women in the Army are Black.

Today a large number of Black women who join the military are working-class single mothers like Shoshana Johnson, the Army cook who is reportedly a prisoner of war in Iraq.

Dr. King's words still ring true today. The pursuit of this widened war has narrowed domestic welfare programs, making the poor, white and Negro, bear the heaviest burdens both at the front and at home, he stated in a Feb. 25, 1967, speech entitled The Casualties of the War in Vietnam.

He continued, While the anti-poverty program is cautiously initiated, zealously supervised and evaluated for immediate results, billions are liberally expended for this ill-considered war. The recently revealed mis-estimate of the war budget amounts to ten billions of dollars for a single year.

The security we profess to seek in foreign adventures we will lose in our decaying cities. The bombs in Vietnam explode at home: they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America. ... Poverty, urban problems and social progress generally are ignored when the guns of war become a national obsession.

The disproportionate numbers of Black and other oppressed peoples in the ranks of today's Pentagon military are not a sign that they wanted to fight wars abroad.

It is economic factors that force many people of color to join the armed forces.

Three million jobs have disappeared so far during the Bush regime. There was the destruction of welfare under the Clinton regime, along with the erosion of health care and other social programs.

Two million people are in U.S. prisons, a hugely disproportionate number of them Black and Latino, due to drug-related convictions.

Half of African American children are still born into poverty.

Organizing against racist wars of capitalist expansion abroad and for money for jobs at home are important messages that must reach oppressed and working-class youths—inside and outside the military.