Racism in the Ranks: Discrimination in the Armed Forces

Toni Morrison in her novel Home, tells the story of Frank Money, an African-American Korean War veteran who returns home and is forced to battle racism.  Frank, like so many other veterans, suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The men who fought in the Korean War witnessed countless acts of violence and returned home severely emotionally damaged. Frank as an African American was not only forced to endure battle and the loss of his best friends in Korea but racism as well. 

According to the Korean War Legacy Foundation, racism towards African Americans servicemen remained a concern during the Korean War. Just two years before the United States became involved in the conflict in Korea, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 officially ending segregation in the armed forces. Truman believed that African-American troops were honorably risking their lives and deserved to be treated with the upmost respect. Unfortunately, many high-ranking military leaders simply ignored the President’s new legislation, as many units remained segregated.

Although this was a major step for African-American civil rights, acts of racism towards black soldiers did not cease.  In an article titled Black and White in Vietnam, Gerald F. Goodwin of the New York Times wrote of time he spent with soldiers during the Vietnam War, which took place years after the conflict in Korea. Goodwin explains that African-American soldiers were frequently denied promotions and were more severely punished than their white counterparts. For only making up 11 percent of the total servicemen in Vietnam, African-Americans accounted for 34.3 percent of court-martial punishments.  Not only were black soldiers unfairly punished, but also assigned to more dangerous posts. This inequality resulted in African-American deaths representing 25 percent of all of the American deaths in Vietnam. In light of the discrimination that took place in Vietnam, one can estimate the magnitude of inequality that took place during the Korean War.

Soldiers willing to lay down their lives in service of their country should be hailed as heroes, regardless of their ethnicity.  The acts of courage displayed of African-American servicemen often went unnoticed and unrewarded.  However, African American soldiers returning home from World War II were treated with far less hospitality than they truly deserved.  Isaac Woodard Jr. fought bravely in the United States Army in World War II and was honorably discharged and returned home to the United States. Only hours after being discharged, Woodard was pulled off of a bus by police and was beaten, resulting in the loss of his eyesight (Korean War Legacy Foundation).  Woodard’s story was not the only heartbreaking atrocity that took place. However, his story is noted as a major reason that Truman signed Executive Order 9981 into law. 

Frank’s PTSD in Home is attributed to the loss of his fellow soldiers in battle and the killing of a defenseless Korean girl. It is without question that Frank is an imperfect man. He committed an unforgivable act of violence that clearly haunts him and is a main cause for his alcohol abuse. However, Frank is also a victim. He witnessed the deaths of some of his best friends and was forced to deal with the added stress of being an African-American in the armed forces. I possess a great deal of sympathy for Frank. I believe him to be a good person who was unfortunately jaded by racist beliefs of the time.  He protected his sister since he was just a boy and felt a great deal of guilt for leaving Lotus and enlisting in the military. A man who feels guilt by engaging in a selfless and honorable act cannot be bad person by nature. His environment and experiences twisted him into a man capable of killing an innocent girl. I believe that Frank is a complicated character who was coerced by racist institutions into becoming a man of sin.

After all Frank Money is a fictional character, but he represents a generation of African-American veterans. He is an analogue for veterans who chose to fight for their country even though their country treated them as less than human. I consider this act of the highest honor. As a descendent of veterans, I understand the sacrifice and selflessness of fighting for a country. Racism and discrimination is unacceptable, especially when it occurs to brave men that are willing to leave their lives and families to protect their nation. The military owes these men immense gratitude and reform. President Harry Truman realized the sacrifice of black servicemen and began to repair a broken system with the signing of Executive Order 9981.  In modern times, discrimination remains present in the armed forces, as Carla Herreria reports that black soldiers are currently two and a half more times as likely to be punished through a court-martial or nonjudicial means than their white counterparts. Even though discrimination remains prevalent in the military today, efforts should continue in order to make sure that African American heroes are being treated as they rightfully deserve.

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