Winning Black soldiers to the antiwar movement

January 11, 2008

Margaret Stevens is national treasurer of Iraq Veterans Against the War and a member of the New Jersey chapter. We print excerpts of this article, with her permission.

RACISM IS at the root of the current conflict in Iraq. U.S. rulers continue to justify the invasion of Iraq with a false, racist idea that the Iraqi people need American forces to bring "democracy" to the region in order save the people from the so-called Islamic terrorists.

Of course, the real reason behind the invasion is the need to control Iraq's oil supplies so that other competing imperialists--such as China and Russia--cannot gain access to this oil, the most important resource in the global economy. But Iranian and even Saudi Arabian rulers are increasingly thumbing their noses at the U.S. by making trade deals with the Chinese and Russians.

So the U.S. military must prepare for even wider wars to prevent the declining influence of American bosses in the global market. To do so, the U.S. military needs to expand its number of soldiers to include as many Black, Latin, Asian and white soldiers as possible who can willingly die for U.S. imperialism.

The recent movie The Kingdom, starring African American pop icon Jamie Foxx, is a classic example of how the U.S. rulers are trying to win more Black workers to a racist American patriotism that promotes war with Saudi Arabia in order to defend America from "terrorists."

Many Black workers have family members who are dying in Iraq fighting in the U.S. military, and the war is not tremendously popular among Black workers. Yet like most other Americans, Black workers are also being brainwashed to buy the racist notion that Muslim people are a threat to the "national security" of the United States.

The irony, of course, is that Black workers remain the most socially, economically and politically oppressed members of the U.S. capitalist system--even as they are being asked to fight and die for the U.S. capitalist's oil profits.

But this contradiction is nothing new. The fact of the matter is that Black workers have a long history of fighting and dying for the racist United States--dating back, in fact, to the American Revolution.

In both the American Revolution and the Civil War, Black slaves and freedmen fought with the belief that their sacrifices would result in the social and political freedom of Black people. The contradiction, however, is that the U.S. military has also been historically one of the first major government institutions to grant certain social and political rights to Black workers when the "civilian" world of Jim Crow racism was unrelenting in its super-exploitation.

During the Civil War, Black slaves escaped to Union military camps and served as not only soldiers who could take up arms against their former masters, but also as workers, where many of them received their first wages as paid laborers. Upon defeating the southern plantation masters, however, Radical Reconstruction was all but destroyed by 1877, and the most vicious system of Jim Crow super-exploitation of Black sharecroppers was to follow.

Decades later, during the Spanish-American war, Black "Buffalo soldiers" were used to put down the rebellions of the Filipino people against U.S. imperialists, but some Black officers found their first opportunities for promotion during these conflicts, and there were even cases of Black soldiers joining with the Filipinos and refusing not to fight one another for the benefit of the U.S. rulers.

The First and Second World Wars were the two most important steps forward for Black soldiers in the military--socially and politically. For the first time, many Black workers fighting in the U.S. military during the First World War in Europe were introduced to "white" Europeans who did not necessarily treat them with the same racist, dehumanizing disregard as U.S. white soldiers and officers.

Moreover, when the Bolsheviks under Lenin's leadership took up arms and declared "All power to the Soviets" and the self-determination of colonial minorities against the world's imperialists, Black soldiers also had a concrete example of "white" Reds who were not necessarily their enemy. Accordingly, many Black soldiers returning from the First World War were some of the first Black workers to respond to the racist and anti-socialist attacks on Blacks and white radicals in the United States that took place after the war.

But the fight "at home" continued. While the U.S. government was declaring its opposition to Hitler's Nazi Germany and racist persecution of Jewish people during the Second World War, the U.S. military itself was waging war against the rights and freedoms of Black soldiers. At Fort Huachuca in Arizona, Black soldiers took up arms and fought the military police after Black soldiers were arrested for defending Black civilians on post from the racist brutality committed by the white military police.

Perhaps in order to maintain the morale of Black soldiers that was necessary for carrying out the massive Second World War, the military began to desegregate some of its living and dining facilities and begin the process of integrating the Black and white ranks of service. This was all many years before the civil rights movement began desegregating public facilities in the Jim Crow southern United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

"No Viet Cong ever called me 'nigger,'!" is the famous slogan of Black soldiers' resistance during the invasion of Vietnam. Even though it is true that many Black soldiers--indeed white soldiers as well--understood that the Vietnamese guerillas and people were not their enemy, the fact is also that many Black soldiers unquestioningly carried out the genocidal orders of the U.S. imperialists during the conflict.

Ironically, many of these Black GIs returned to the U.S. and were either too mentally destroyed by post-traumatic stress disorder or hooked on heroin to enjoy the hard-won gains of the civil rights movement. Many more returned to the states during the mid-1970s recession, when industrial jobs across the Black-dominated urban centers were fast being outsourced to foreign countries.

Today, the plight of Black workers in America remains more oppressive than ever. The disproportionate numbers of Black men populating U.S. prisons, the federal attacks on the public education system through "No Child Left Behind" and the criminal sanctions imposed on single mothers in the so-called system of welfare "reform" all leave Black workers--especially the youth--with very few options for a bright future.

Enter the U.S. military to save the day! Now young people don't even need a high school diploma to qualify for enlistment. So while the educational system is tightening standards of education and punishing the students by removing funding from their schools, the military is lowering educational standards and welcoming many of these alienated youth, especially Black and Latino, into its ranks with open arms.

Therefore, the antiwar movement must make a special point to win Black soldiers to understand why they have no interest in fighting for the U.S. capitalist system.

Recently, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War at the annual convention in St. Louis attended a Black job expo where the military recruiter hounds were enticing Black youth through their hi-tech videogame-style Army equipment.

This largely white contingent of IVAW members surrounded the military recruiting station chanting, "War is not a game," and dealt a blow to the U.S. war machine and its attempt to recruit Black working class youth.

More of these types of actions need to occur. On October 27, a group of IVAW members in New York City marched in the antiwar protest holding a banner that read "Stop Racist Terror," linking the racist occupation of Iraq with the nooses found in Jena, La., and also most recently at a Coast Guard base in New London, Conn. The struggle continues.

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