THE EMPLOYMENT OF NEGRO TROOPS. By Ulysses Lee. (1966, 1986, 1990; 740 pages, 12 tables, 5 maps, 38 illustrations, bibliographical note, glossary, index, CMH Pub 11 4.)
By the time Japan surrendered in 1945, some 700,000 black Americans, almost 10 percent of the total force, were serving in segregated Army units throughout the world. Yet, as this volume makes clear, segregation presented insurmountable impediments to the efficient training and employment of this significant segment of U.S. strength and its debilitating effect on the morale of black troops constantly threatened their usefulness. A war that began with black Americans demanding that their right to fight included complete integration of black servicemen into the armed forces, a prime aim of the nascent American civil rights movement.
The Employment of Negro Troops examines in detail the Army's prewar planning for the use of black soldiers that was based on its perceptions of segregated troops in World War I. But its plans for the carefully restricted use of a limited number of black soldiers were radically transformed by the great influx of black draftees produced by the nondiscrimination clause of the Selective Service Act of 1940 and by pressures brought to bear on an administration generally disposed to accommodate the growing power of the black voter. Much of this pressure was focused on the War Department through the efforts of the Special Aide to the Secretary of War on Negro Affairs, Judge William H. Hastie. Appropriately in a volume whose subject transcends the usual considerations of military manpower, Hastie's demands are thoroughly evaluated and contrasted with those of his successors.
The volume also analyzes in detail the recruitment of blacks, many unskilled and undereducated, and the challenge of transforming them into soldiers for an Army that for the most part resisted their presence, questioned their competence, and clearly intended to use almost all of them as unskilled laborers and service troops. It also examines the Army's continuing problem in developing suitable leaders for segregated units. Commanders were most often assigned because of their supposed understanding of blacks (southerners) or because they had failed to make the grade elsewhere. Black officers, on the other hand, were given only limited command responsibility. Prejudice and racial stereotyping tended to destroy their morale and kept many from achieving their leadership potential. By midwar, poor leadership, underutilization, and low morale had combined with the severe discrimination suffered by black soldiers both in the military and civilian community to spark widespread racial violence, what the author calls the "Harvest of Disorder."
The task of bringing the Army more closely into line with its announced policy of separate-but-equal treatment fell to Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, operating through the Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies. Working closely with Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, McCloy and his committee succeeded in winning assignments for black units in the overseas theaters. Eventually two black infantry divisions as well as a number of separate tank, tank destroyer, and artillery battalions and combat support units saw action. At the same time the highly publicized "Tuskegee Airmen," and other black air units were trained and deployed in the war against the Germans. The majority of black soldiers, however, continued
to be employed in service units around the world, performing important duties but ones that tended to reinforce old stereotypes about blacks as soldiers.
The integration of black infantry platoons in the divisions along the European battlefront was important as a sign of future change and merits special attention in this volume. Smashing a favorite segregationist argument, the performance of these units was free of any racial problems. Their competence, along with that of thousands of other black soldiers, portended the racial transformation of the Army into a fully integrated force just six years later.
1. Army racial policies, 1920-45 (Chs. I, II).
2. Organization and training of black troops (Chs. V, IX).
3. Racial violence in the Army (Chs. IV, VIII, XII, XV).
4. Black women in the Army (Ch. XIV).
5. The deployment and operations of black air units (Ch. XVI).
6. Physical fitness of minority soldiers (Ch. X).
7. Effect of morale on military performance (Ch. XI).
8. Selective Service and military manpower policy (Ch. XIV).
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