In­clu­sive­ness cre­ates a bet­ter fight­ing force

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Dou­glas Bris­tol Jr.

On Aug. 25, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump signed a memo ban­ning trans­gen­der peo­ple from en­list­ing in the mil­i­tary.

On Aug. 25, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump signed a memo ban­ning trans­gen­der peo­ple from en­list­ing in the mil­i­tary. He jus­ti­fied his de­ci­sion by cit­ing con­cerns about mil­i­tary ef­fec­tive­ness, the dis­rup­tion of unit co­he­sion and the cost of med­i­cal treat­ment. Yes, it is step back­ward in terms of civil rights, as LGBTQ ac­tivists have pointed out. But both trans­gen­der vet­er­ans and mil­i­tary lead­ers have chal­lenged Trump’s ra­tio­nale for dif­fer­ent rea­sons: It ob­scures the re­al­ity of mil­i­tary ser­vice. ex­pe­ri­ences of the troops who serve un­der him. In com­bat, troops’ lives de­pend on the ac­tions of their com­rades. Whether that per­son is black, fe­male, gay or trans­gen­der does not

Trump’s pol­icy re­veals a trou­bling dis­con­nect be­tween the com­man­der in chief and the mat­ter so long as he or she is a good sol­dier.

Since World War II, the mil­i­tary has suc­ceeded in part be­cause of its abil­ity to pri­or­i­tize merit over so­cial as­sump­tions about racial in­fe­ri­or­ity or sexual de­viance. And th­ese chang­ing out­looks came not from mil­i­tary or po­lit­i­cal lead­ers - they came from the bat­tle­field ex­pe­ri­ences of en­listed per­son­nel. By ar­gu­ing that mil­i­tary suc­cess de­pends on per­for­mance rather than racial or sexual iden­tity, or­di­nary soldiers have tipped the bal­ance in fa­vor of in­te­gra­tion and equal­ity.

African Amer­i­cans have a long tra­di­tion of seek­ing to prove their equal­ity and merit on the bat­tle­field, serv­ing in ev­ery war since the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. When the United States en­tered World War I, most African Amer­i­cans en­thu­si­as­ti­cally sup­ported Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son’s ef­fort to “make the world safe for democ­racy.” How­ever, mil­i­tary lead­ers, con­form­ing to so­cial ideas about racial in­fe­ri­or­ity, lim­ited their ef­forts to serve. In World War I, black troops made up only 3 per­cent of Amer­i­can com­bat forces.

Out of mil­i­tary ne­ces­sity, World War II re­cast who was fit to serve, al­beit un­equally. Be­cause the United States fought the war on two fronts, the num­ber of peo­ple mo­bi­lized dwarfed ear­lier wars. Six­teen mil­lion Amer­i­cans served in the armed forces, in­clud­ing one-sixth of the male pop­u­la­tion. The scope of the war was so big that the mil­i­tary re­cruited 350,000 women, as well.

Since African Amer­i­cans formed 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, the United States could not mo­bi­lize with­out them, and 1 mil­lion black men and women served in the mil­i­tary dur­ing World War II. Mil­i­tary lead­ers, how­ever, sought to pre­serve race and gen­der re­la­tions through seg­re­ga­tion. And even though the all-black 92nd and 93rd In­fantry Di­vi­sions, along with the Tuskegee Air­men, fought the en­emy in bat­tle, only 20 per­cent of black troops were in com­bat units, and mil­i­tary lead­ers were re­luc­tant to send them to the front. Com­bat was still pri­mar­ily re­served for white men, at least un­til the Bat­tle of the Bulge.

Af­ter suf­fer­ing 125,000 ca­su­al­ties in the first month of Euro­pean com­bat in 1944, Lt. Gen. John C.H. Lee, com­man­der of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Zone of the Euro­pean Theater, per­suaded Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower to let black ser­vice troops vol­un­teer as in­fantry re­place­ments. Forty-five hun­dred black soldiers stepped for­ward. The Army sent 2,500 of th­ese vol­un­teers to com­bat train­ing and then as­signed them to var­i­ous white units in­vad­ing Ger­many in 1945.

Ini­tially, Amer­i­can mil­i­tary lead­ers had jus­ti­fied seg­re­ga­tion be­cause they said adding black soldiers to white units would hurt morale. But the re­al­i­ties of the bat­tle­field chal­lenged and then changed this as­sump­tion. Army Re­search Bu­reau sur­veys re­vealed that the ex­pe­ri­ence of fight­ing along­side black troops in Ger­many changed the at­ti­tudes of white troops. Be­fore the ex­per­i­ment with in­te­gra­tion, only 33 per­cent of the white soldiers had a pos­i­tive opin­ion about hav­ing black soldiers in their com­pa­nies. Af­ter the ex­per­i­ment, 77 per­cent of the white soldiers said their opin­ion of serv­ing with African Amer­i­cans had be­come more fa­vor­able.

What had changed? En­listed men saw how well black troops per­formed in com­bat.

This record of the at­ti­tudes of or­di­nary soldiers to­ward in­te­gra­tion had a di­rect ef­fect on de­seg­re­gat­ing the mil­i­tary. In 1947, the Pres­i­dent’s Com­mit­tee on Civil Rights issued a land­mark re­port, “To Se­cure Th­ese Rights,” which called for de­seg­re­gat­ing all fed­eral agen­cies and fa­cil­i­ties. It pub­li­cized the sur­vey re­sults, which had been sup­pressed by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ge­orge Mar­shall, to jus­tify call­ing for the end of seg­re­ga­tion in the mil­i­tary. Pres­i­dent Harry S. Tru­man re­sponded to the re­port by an­nounc­ing that he in­tended to issue an ex­ec­u­tive order de­seg­re­gat­ing the U.S. mil­i­tary in 1948.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. mil­i­tary has been en­gaged in com­bat with a vol­un­teer force, and its di­ver­sity has con­tin­ued to be its strength. In fact, the need to re­cruit soldiers in wartime for of­ten highly tech­ni­cal du­ties has fur­ther mo­ti­vated mil­i­tary lead­ers to adopt the sol­dier’s fo­cus on per­for- mance and ex­pand who can serve. In 2010, the De­fense Depart­ment re­leased its own study of how re­peal­ing the ban on openly gay men and women might af­fect the mil­i­tary, with the con­clu­sion that “the risk of re­peal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to over­all mil­i­tary ef­fec­tive­ness is low.”

Again, sur­veys of en­listed men and women pro­vided the key ev­i­dence. When troops with com­bat ex­pe­ri­ence were asked about the ef­fect that re­peal­ing the gay ban would have in “in­tense com­bat sit­u­a­tions” or “when a cri­sis or neg­a­tive event hap­pens that af­fects your unit,” about 70 per­cent said it would have a pos­i­tive, a mixed or no ef­fect on their unit’s ef­fec­tive­ness. As had been the case with en­listed white men sup­port­ing racial in­te­gra­tion, a pos­i­tive as­sess­ment of com­bat per­for­mance gen­er­ated sup­port in the ranks for al­low­ing gay men and les­bians to serve openly in the mil­i­tary.

For over 70 years, troops have re­peat­edly ar­gued that merit, not iden­tity, mat­ters most on the bat­tle­field. Re­cent in­ter­views with trans­gen­der vet­er­ans who served hon­or­ably show that they are ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing their du­ties well. In ad­di­tion, there is ev­i­dence that al­low­ing trans­gen­der soldiers to serve openly would im­prove the over­all ef­fec­tive­ness of mil­i­tary units. In a Rand Corp. study ex­am­in­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple in for­eign mil­i­taries, Cana­dian com­man­ders said in­creased di­ver­sity gave “units the tools to ad­dress a wider va­ri­ety of sit­u­a­tions and chal­lenges.”

In­clu­sive­ness, there­fore, makes a bet­ter fight­ing force. That is a sol­dier’s per­spec­tive. The com­man­der in chief should lis­ten to it.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.