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James M. Fenwick

Army Jim Crow

Brass Hats Stall, But Needs of Cold War Will Mean Change

(8 August 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 32, 8 August 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Under the Forrestal regime important token steps were taken to break down the Jim Crow system in the armed forces. During this period, for instance, Negroes were admitted into the marine corps, whose unit pride is notorious.

Foilowing the Truman victory the Fahy Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services was established to implement some of the election promises which Truman had made to the Negro people. As a result of its work both the air corps and the navy submitted programs attacking some of the outstanding inequities of the Jim Crow system. These programs were found acceptable by Defense Secretary Louis Johnson.

To date, however, the army has not submitted a program which could be acceptable. Its attitude was defined a year ago when Chief of Staff Omar Bradley stated with normal rudeness and even a little truth: “The army is not out to make any social reforms. The army will put men of different races in different companies. It will change that policy when the nation as a whole changes it.” Nevertheless, it is safe to predict that changes will be made.

Little Moral Fervor Involved

That the army is proving more stubborn than either the navy or air corps cannot be ascribed solely to the disproportionate number of Southern officers who infest it. The same condition holds for the navy and the air corps. One factor is certainly the greater proportion of Negroes in the army. They constitute more of a “problem.”

The numerical importance of the Negroes is, however, causing a more socially literate section of the officer caste to adopt another attitude. These are the days of the great sobering up in the army. Creeping info the military journals is a growing recognition of the political and military problems involved in conducting a war against Russia. One of the first problems encountered is that of manpower. The plain fact is that the active support of the Negroes is vitally important for the defeat of Russia.

Hence elements in the lower and more intelligent echelons of the army are talking about the necessity of raising the material and cultural level of Negroes in civil life so that more of them will get into the army in the first instance. Similarly, this school wishes to eliminate some of the worst features of Jim Crow so that the Negroes will more actively support the war effort both within and without the army. Likewise, the more informed officers realize that disaffected Negroes are receptive to Communist propaganda.

Very little moral fervor is involved. It is largely a matter of cold statistics. The example of the other forces added to this logical necessity will cause changes in army procedure – just as necessity compelled the integration of Negro platoons into white rifle companies during the hard-pressed days of late 1944 in Europe.

“Grand Conspiracy” or Capitalist Trend?

None of this is understood by the Militant, organ of the Socialist Workers Party, which operates on the unclearly formulated basis that as time passes the Negro is inevitably destined to find his status worsened. For it the recent events are merely part of the carefully staged Grand Conspiracy which a homogeneous capitalist class is constantly waging against the working class.

Albert Parker, its agile expert on the Negro question, recently stated “that the whole ‘racial equality’ program, including the executive orders and the memorandums, is a fraud from top to bottom. If the brass hats act this way, it is because they know that the program was never seriously conceived or intended.” If all that Agile Albert says is true, we would like to hear an explanation from him on just how he construes the recent dissolution of Negro air units and their incorporation into white outfits. Just a minor act in the Grand Conspiracy, we suppose.

“All that Truman or Johnson has to do is give a ‘direct order’ to the brass hats, and they will either have to carry it out or resign from their soft jobs,” says Parker. Unfortunately, a considerable number of direct orders have been issued. But the army, as all Marxists used to know, is controlled by a bureaucracy which has considerable independent power. Even Hitler, who headed a totalitarian order, could not quite get the Junkers to obey ANY order.

And just how powerful these military bureaucracies are has been clearly demonstrated over the last two years in the succession of efforts and personalities who have fallen victim to the desire merely to UNIFY the armed forces. It ran the whole gamut up to and including a defense secretary who jumped out of a hospital window. We doubt if a direct order would have restrained him.

Changes in Jim Crow policy will continue to be made. That they will be limited, initially, and that they will be circumvented in some cases goes without saying. But they will represent a step forward for the Negroes and the Negroes will know how to take advantage of the opportunity which U.S. capitalism, entangled in its contradictions, offers them.

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