Thoughts on the military and military activities of a diverse nature. Free-ranging and eclectic.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Racial II.


This is coolbert:

"The army is a copy of society and suffers from all its diseases, usually at a higher temperature." - - Leon Trotsky.


[I base this blog upon my own personal experiences and observations while on active duty in the Pacific Theatre from 1966-1969.]

In the movie "Bataan", Robert Taylor commands a squad a motley squad of American soldiers. Given the mission of defending a bridge from the Japanese. This squad is supposed to be representative of American society as a whole. You have Taylor and his immediate subordinate, the criminal Corporal. You have the hillbilly, the Pole, the Jew, the black man, and even the Filipino [played by Desi Arnaz]. One soldier representing all the various groups of people that make up the American populace. White-black, north-south, good-bad, etc.

The message is that we all fight the common enemy and must put aside our differences for the "cause". Fight together in the military as ONE [unit-uniform-uno-one!!].

"Its Alamo-esque storyline emphasized the value of such sacrifice and its diverse group of soldiers --compiled of all ranks, races, classes, ages, and creeds -- portrayed this effort as the duty of all men. It is a depiction of altruism and national unity."

Not in all quarters however:

"The presence of a racially integrated fighting force prevented the film's showing in the United States' South."

This is the positive "image" the American people like to think exists in the military. Troops from all the different groups of people that make up the "melting pot" or the "salad bowl". Working together in harmony for the common good. NOT having problems and "getting along just fine"!!

This IS NOT always the case.

During my active duty stint in the U.S. Army, from 1966-1969, I served two overseas tours. One in the Philippines [Clark AFB], and the second tour in Korea.

In both places you had a similar situation. A situation that did not bode well for racial relations as it EXISTED AT THE TIME!!

There WAS significant tension and dislike between the black and white troops.

Our military IS a microcosm of American society as a whole. Tension, resentment, anger, dislike, and hatred of a racial nature WAS THEN the rule in the military as it was in the society at large. That this is so should not be a surprise to anyone.

I did not see, of ever hear about, any instances of mutiny or rioting on the scale of what occurred on the Kitty Hawk. But, nonetheless, there WAS a palpable tension among the white and black troops.

Based upon my observations, American troops of the time could be divided into three groupings. These were:

* Whites from northern states. Drank mostly beer and listened to rock music.

* Whites from southern states. Drank mostly beer but also liked hard stuff. Listened to country and western music.

* Blacks who like to drink sophisticated mixed drinks and expensive liquor such as brandy and cognac. Liked to listen to rhythm and blues [R & B] or "soul" music.

A lot of disputes occurring ON BASE between the three groups centered upon the enlisted mens club. WHAT MUSIC TO BE PLAYED WHAT THE PRIMARY POINT ON CONTENTION. Obviously, you cannot satisfy all three groups at the same time.

This sort of stuff may sound trivial to some, but if, you want to sit the whole evening in the enlisted mens club and "chill", you don't want to do so listening to some form of music you DO NOT LIKE!!

All sorts of methods WERE TRIED to ameliorate the situation, but they seemed to be only band-aid. NOT really successful. I guess just the gesture was what counted.

Let me digress here and mention the enlisted mens club at Clark AFB.

Called Coconut Grove [yes, named after the famous night club]. An impressive facility. Had two or three restaurants, two or three lounges, a barbershop with twenty barbers on duty 24 hours a day, a phone bank for making calls state-side, a check cashing facility, etc. Five evenings a week had entertainment featuring "name" stateside acts accompanied by a twenty piece orchestra. Also allowed Filipina young women on base who acted as "hostesses". Sitting with, dancing, and making small talk with the GI [but not prostitutes].

A group of enlisted elected representatives would decide on what acts to highlight and what music to play at the Coconut Grove. This group of representatives WAS KEENLY AWARE of the music likes and dislikes of the troops. Tried to accommodate everyone by doing a yearly survey of USERS of the club. Persons that frequented the club on a regular basis were surveyed to find out what music THEY WANTED to hear. And the # 1 pick year after year was country music. MUCH TO THE DISGUST OF OTHER TROOPS, especially the black airmen. THERE WAS RESENTMENT OVER THIS. A LOT OF RESENTMENT.

Off base was a somewhat different situation.

You must of course understand that at the time, in the Pacific Theatre, where ever there was a large American military base, there was also a large town of local nationals that catered to the GI.

This was true in the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Thailand, Vietnam, etc.

A town consisting almost exclusively of bars, restaurants, tailor shops, brothels, "night clubs". For those GI's that desired more adventuresome "entertainment", there were gambling dens and drug houses [drug use was only then becoming widespread and pervasive].

There WAS a strict degree of racial segregation OFF BASE. Each group tended to stay in THEIR OWN BARS, LISTEN TO THEIR OWN MUSIC, CONGREGATE WITH THEIR OWN KIND, TO THE EXCLUSION OF OTHERS!!

In the Philippines, the town just outside of Clark AFB was Angeles City. Had a very large area devoted to the "entertaining" the GI. Within that area was the "block". An area that was exclusively for the black troop.

Exclusively for??!! "How is that so", you may ask!!??

This was an area of Angeles City where blacks knew they could sit in their own bars, drink their own liquor, listen to their own music, and NOT suffer any interference by whites.

And jealously and assiduously guarded as well.

IT WAS MORTALLY PHYSICALLY DANGEROUS FOR WHITES TO EVEN WALK THROUGH THE AREA KNOWN AS THE "BLOCK". YOU WERE INVITING ATTACK, A SEVERE BEATING, MAYBE EVEN BEING KILLED!! AND TO ENTER INTO ONE OF THOSE BARS THAT CATERED TO A BLACK CLIENTELE, WELL, THAT WAS TOTALLY OUT OF THE QUESTION!!

It is troubling that during this time, leadership DID NOT SEEM TO CARE TO IN EVEN THE SLIGHTEST WHIT. THEY DID NOT WANT TO GET INVOLVED. Even more troubling is that the commander of Clark AFB at the time I was there was General Benjamin O. Davis. For a long time, the ONLY black General in the military. A man that was treated in the most deplorable manner during his time at West Point. Was given the silent treatment for four years and then some even after graduation. If anyone would have had an interest in creating a harmonious relationship between white and black troops, you would have thought it was this man. But I did not see one indication that this was so. I guess the mentality was - - "let the troops sort things out for themselves". Something that never happened.

A similar situation also existed in Korea, but not exactly to the same extent. On a smaller scale. But the unwritten law that was common knowledge persisted, "DON'T WALK THROUGH A CERTAIN AREA, WHERE THE BLACK BARS ARE, YOU WILL BE ATTACKED!!"

We did have a situation in Korea where some black soldiers stole a case of live hand grenades. For sabotage purposes. The handle of the grenades would be held tight with a strong rubber band, the pin would then be pulled, and the grenade put in the gas tank of a jeep. Gasoline would slowly erode the rubber band, weaken it, the rubber band breaking, releasing the handle, causing the grenade to explode. A jeep load or KOREANS working for the U.S. Army WERE injured in this manner. This tactic backfired on the black troops, many of which were beaten up by enraged mobs of Koreans.

A sorry situation that NO ONE ever seemed to try to remedy.

We were told to remove any symbols of racism that might antagonize our fellow soldiers. White soldiers from the south could not fly Confederate flags, and black soldiers could not wear jackets with an emblem on the back of a pair of hands bound by chains.

And that was about it.

Leadership and resolve were lacking. But then, I often ask myself, "what more could be done without absolutely destroying any sense of unit cohesion??" I don't know.

coolbert.

1 Comments:

Anonymous JSBolton said...

The military is where the natural brotherhood and equality of man should have a chance to show up, if it can do so.
They have the particulars so much more controlled there, trying to de-indivuate and de-ethnicize to an extent so far beyond what is even contemplated by actually powerful figures for civilian society, at least in the US.
If brotherhood cannot be commanded even with extreme measures, is it a defective ideal?
It seems you could have too much brotherhood and equality for the furtherance of national security.
Anticipating objections; is it known that we have a strict dilemma, in which one makes an ideal of brotherhood regardless, or must choose instead to incite hatred and lasting hostility?
I would not want to be commanded to call the moslem my brother when he is my enemy.
A military service which wants brotherhood with enemies sounds like a contradiction-in-terms.
The nature of the military would seem to require that they be not ignorant on the presence of the various degrees of hostility within and without.

3:04 AM

 

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