And if the American people don't benefit from these endless losing wars, why do we keep fighting them?
War is an economy. Anybody who tells you otherwise is either in on it or stupid" – War Dogs, the movie
by Miles Mogulescu, entertainment attorney/business affairs executive, producer, political activist, and writer.
The United States emerged from its victory in World War II as the world's preeminent superpower. Its annual military budget—about three-quarters of a trillion dollars a year—exceeds the aggregate of the next ten countries in the world.
Yet despite America's apparent global military supremacy, of the approximately dozen wars the U.S. has fought since 1945 (depending on how you're counting) the U.S. has lost every real war it has fought. (Its only "victories" have been minor military incursions to overthrow unfriendly governments in Grenada, population approximately 120,000, and Panama, population approximately 4.2 million.)
After millions of deaths of Americans and foreigners and trillions of dollars lost in places like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, is the U.S. any safer and secure because it fought these losing wars in far-off lands? No.
Have the American people benefited from these wars? No. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers have been killed or wounded and trillions of dollars have been spent.
So if the American people don't benefit from these endless losing wars, why do we keep fighting them? The short answer is that there are powerful forces in America that get rich from endless wars: The military-industrial complex and its political and economic servants and enablers.
As CodePink tweeted last week:
In 2021, OVER HALF of our entire $741 billion Pentagon budget will go directly to private military contractors that profit from war.
President (and former General) Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in his 1961 Farewell Address to the nation, "We must never let the weight of this [the military-industrial complex] endanger our liberties or democratic processes. […] Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals."
Drive around the wealthy suburbs around the nation's capitol and look at the multi-million dollar McMansions owned by corporate executives and lobbyists who are the real beneficiaries of America’s forever wars. During the Afghanistan War, the stocks of the five largest defense contractors outperformed the S&P 500 by 58%. Fortunes end up in the pockets of corporate executives. They and their companies spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying Congress and contributing to Republican and Democratic politicians alike to buy their support for forever war and defense budgets totaling 60% of the Federal government's discretionary spending.
That's why, even as the Afghanistan War is ending, much of the corporate elite and the corporate media is ginning up a new cold war with China, to justify continued overspending on the military.
The main danger to U.S. security is not a military invasion by a heavily. armed superpower enemy. Bigger national security threats today are climate change, cybersecurity, and global pandemics. These will not be addressed by spending more on the traditional military and fighting more losing forever wars. They require popular resistance to the military-industrial complex, the defeat of politicians on their payroll, and the transformation of American priorities from preparing for and fighting useless wars to addressing the climate, economic inequality, and equal justice.
As Warren Gunnels, staff director of the Senate Budget Committee, put it, "The only thing that we 'accomplished' by going into Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan was to put trillions of dollars into the military-industrial complex and destroy millions of lives—period, full stop. It's time to stop repeating the same mistakes over and over again."
Until the 21st century, the contributions of African-American soldiers in World War II barely registered in America’s collective memory of that war.
The “tan soldiers,” as the black press affectionately called them, were also for the most part left out of the triumphant narrative of America’s “Greatest Generation.” In order to tell their story of helping defeat Nazi Germany in my 2010 book, “Breath of Freedom,” I had to conduct research in more than 40 different archives in the U.S. and Germany.
When a German TV production company, together with Smithsonian TV, turned that book into a documentary, the filmmakers searched U.S. media and military archives for two years for footage of black GIs in the final push into Germany and during the occupation of post-war Germany.
They watched hundreds of hours of film and discovered less than 10 minutes of footage. This despite the fact that among the 16 million U.S. soldiers who fought in World War II, there were about one million African-American soldiers.
They fought in the Pacific, and they were part of the victorious army that liberated Europe from Nazi rule. Black soldiers were also part of the U.S. Army of occupation in Germany after the war. Still serving in strictly segregated units, they were sent to democratize the Germans and expunge all forms of racism.
It was that experience that convinced many of these veterans to continue their struggle for equality when they returned home to the U.S. They were to become the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement – a movement that changed the face of our nation and inspired millions of repressed people across the globe.
As a scholar of German history and of the more than 70-year U.S. military presence in Germany, I have marveled at the men and women of that generation. They were willing to fight for democracy abroad, while being denied democratic rights at home in the U.S. Because of their belief in America’s “democratic promise” and their sacrifices on behalf of those ideals, I was born into a free and democratic West Germany, just 10 years after that horrific war.
Fighting racism at home and abroad
By deploying troops abroad as warriors for and emissaries of American democracy, the military literally exported the African-American freedom struggle.
Beginning in 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power, African-American activists and the black press used white America’s condemnation of Nazi racism to expose and indict the abuses of Jim Crow at home. America’s entry into the war and the struggle against Nazi Germany allowed civil rights activists to significantly step up their rhetoric.
“You jim crowed me / Before hitler rose to power- / And you are still jim crowing me- / Right now this very hour.”
Believing that fighting for American democracy abroad would finally grant African-Americans full citizenship at home, civil rights activists put pressure on the U.S. government to allow African-American soldiers to “fight like men,” side by side with white troops.
The military brass, disproportionately dominated by white Southern officers, refused. They argued that such a step would undermine military efficiency and negatively impact the morale of white soldiers. In an integrated military, black officers or NCOs might also end up commanding white troops. Such a challenge to the Jim Crow racial order based on white supremacy was seen as unacceptable.
The manpower of black soldiers was needed in order to win the war, but the military brass got its way; America’s Jim Crow order was to be upheld. African-Americans were allowed to train as pilots in the segregated Tuskeegee Airmen. The 92nd Buffalo Soldiers and 93rd Blue Helmets all-black divisions were activated and sent abroad under the command of white officers.
Despite these concessions, 90 percent of black troops were forced to serve in labor and supply units, rather than the more prestigious combat units. Except for a few short weeks during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944 when commanders were desperate for manpower, all U.S. soldiers served in strictly segregated units. Even the blood banks were segregated.
‘A Breath of Freedom’
After the defeat of the Nazi regime, an Army manual instructed U.S. occupation soldiers that America was the “living denial of Hitler’s absurd theories of a superior race,” and that it was up to them to teach the Germans “that the whole concept of superiority and intolerance of others is evil.” There was an obvious, deep gulf between this soaring rhetoric of democracy and racial harmony, and the stark reality of the Jim Crow army of occupation. It was also not lost on the black soldiers.
Post-Nazi Germany was hardly a country free of racism. But for the black soldiers, it was their first experience of a society without a formal Jim Crow color line. Their uniform identified them as victorious warriors and as Americans, rather than “Negroes.”
Serving in labor and supply units, they had access to all the goods and provisions starving Germans living in the ruins of their country yearned for. African-American cultural expressions such as jazz, defamed and banned by the Nazis, were another reason so many Germans were drawn to their black liberators. White America was stunned to see how much black GIs enjoyed their time abroad, and how much they dreaded their return home to the U.S.
By 1947, when the Cold War was heating up, the reality of the segregated Jim Crow Army in Germany was becoming a major embarrassment for the U.S. government. The Soviet Union and East German communist propaganda relentlessly attacked the U.S. and challenged its claim to be the leader of the “free world.” Again and again, they would point to the segregated military in West Germany, and to Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. to make their case.
Newly returned veterans, civil rights advocates and the black press took advantage of that Cold War constellation. They evoked America’s mission of democracy in Germany to push for change at home. Responding to that pressure, the first institution of the U.S. to integrate was the U.S. military, made possible by Truman’s 1948 Executive Order 9981. That monumental step, in turn, paved the way for the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
The veterans who had been abroad electrified and energized the larger struggle to make America live up to its promise of democracy and justice. They joined the NAACP in record numbers and founded new chapters of that organization in the South, despite a wave of violence against returning veterans. The veterans of World War II and the Korean War became the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Medgar Evers, Amzie Moore, Hosea Williams and Aaron Henry are some of the better-known names, but countless others helped advance the struggle.
About one-third of the leaders in the civil rights movement were veterans of World War II.
They fought for a better America in the streets of the South, at their workplaces in the North, as leaders in the NAACP, as plaintiffs before the Supreme Court and also within the U.S. military to make it a more inclusive institution. They were also the men of the hour at the 1963 March on Washington, when their military training and expertise was crucial to ensure that the day would not be marred by agitators opposed to civil rights.
“We structured the March on Washington like an army formation,” recalled veteran Joe Hairston.
For these veterans, the 2009 and 2013 inaugurations of President Barack Obama were triumphant moments in their long struggle for a better America and a more just world. Many never thought they would live to see the day that an African-American would lead their country.
"Trump is rejecting the rule of law and proposing military action that is antithetical to basic premises of the American experiment."
by Eoin Higgins
President Donald Trump on Monday evening threatened to use the Insurrection Act of 1807 to deploy the U.S. military to the nation's city streets if unrest over the killing of George Floyd did not calm.
"Trump is rejecting the rule of law and proposing military action that is antithetical to basic premises of the American experiment," tweetedThe Nation's John Nichols. "He thinks he is playing a political game. This is no game."
The president, who spent part of the weekend hidden in a bunker at the White House as protests raged outside the building, announced during a speech at the Rose Garden Monday that he was preparing to send military troops to cities around the nation.
President Donald Trump walks from the White House to St. John's Episcopal Church after a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday, June 1, 2020. (Photo: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
"If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them," said Trump.
The president also announced he was immediately deploying "thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers" to Washington—the only place in the country the president can legally deploy the army without restriction.
As NBC News reported:
To activate the military to operate in the U.S., Trump would have to invoke the 213-year-old Insurrection Act, which four people familiar with the decision had told NBC News he planned to do.
Trump’s decision on whether to invoke the act, adopted in 1807, to deploy troops has come as his frustrations mount over the protests that have followed the death of Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody last week in Minneapolis. The people familiar with his decision said Trump was angry Sunday night at the destruction some protestors caused in Washington, particularly the vandalization of national monuments.
After his speech, Trump walked to St. John's Church. Police cleared the way for the president to walk to the photo-op with force, using batons, tear gas, and pepper spray against peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Square on the way to the church.
The national protest movement that erupted after Floyd's killing by Minneapolis police officers on May 25 has spread across the entire country as long-simmering rage over police brutality, racism, and civilian killings have combined with the economic and social crises of the coronavirus pandemic to propel tens and hundreds of thousands of people into the nation's city streets night after night.
"Abuse of power and systemic racism are a deadly combination, particularly for people of color and Indigenous Peoples, who are disproportionately criminalized and targeted by weaponized policing around the world—destroying lives, families, and communities, denying people their basic humanity and dignity, and violating their rights," the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) said in a statement of solidarity with the protest movement.
As Common Dreams reported, police around the country have constantly attacked protesters, escalating the demonstrations into violence and injuring and arresting hundreds of people. At least two people have died.
"People are angry," Amnesty International USA End Gun Violence campaign manager Ernest Coverson said in a statement. "People are exhausted."
"They have a right to take to the streets and peacefully protest—everyone has that right," Coverson continued. "The rights of the many to take to the streets and demand justice and comprehensive police reform cannot be trampled upon, for any reason."
The White House has been a regular target of Washington protesters, who have gathered at or near it nightly, at times destroying or damaging property around the building.
The president's response to the protest movement has focused primarily on supporting the police. While Trump has mentioned George Floyd and expressed rare sympathy for a black victim of police abuse, the main focus of the president's remarks over the past week have been on supporting law enforcement as officers beat, pepper spray, and launch tear gas at demonstrators.
"Sending in the military to respond to a peaceful revolution has been the only action this administration has taken," said Coverson.
Republished with permission under license from CommonDreams.
Lemuel Augustus Penn (September 19, 1915 – July 11, 1964) was the Assistant Superintendent of Washington, D.C. public schools, a decorated veteran of World War II, the father of two daughters Linda, 13, Sharon, 11, one son Lemuel Jr., 5. and a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army Reserve, who was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan, nine days after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Lemuel Penn joined the Army Reserve from Howard University and served as an officer in World War II in New Guinea and the Philippines, earning a Bronze Star. Penn was driving home, together with two other black Reserve officers,Major Charles E. Brown and Lieutenant Colonel John D. Howard, had just completed reserve training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and were driving home to Washington, D.C. The veterans had been spotted in Athens by local Ku Klux Klan members who followed them to a nearby bridge and shot at the car, killing Penn at the age of 48.
Their Chevrolet Biscayne was spotted by three white members of the United Klans of America – James Lackey, Cecil Myers, and Howard Sims – who noted its D.C plates. Howard Sims – one of the killers – then said "That must be one of President Johnson's boys", evidently motivated by racial hatred.The Klansmen followed the car with their Chevy II with Sims saying "I'm going to kill me a nigger".
Penn was shot to death on a Broad River bridge on the Georgia State Route 172 in Madison County, Georgia, near Colbert, twenty-two miles north of the city of Athens. Just before the highway reaches the Broad River, the Klansmen's Chevy II pulled alongside the Biscayne. The Klansman, Cecil Myers, raised a shotgun and fired. From the back seat, Howard Sims, also a member of the Ku Klux Klan, did the same.
After authorities arrived at the scene, rural lawmen poking flashlights into the car and shined them on Penn’s body, lying on the floorboard. “What’s been goin’ on here?” one officer drawled suspiciously at Brown and Howard. Then came the long hours of questioning, by local officials first, then state officials, and finally federal officials. There seemed to be a tone in the questioning that somehow Penn, Brown, and Howard had caused trouble, and that this was their retribution.
President Lyndon B. Johnson pledged the full resources of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) toward solving the murder. Over the course of the next several weeks, FBI agents combed for clues in and around Athens, gathering ample evidence of criminal activity conducted by local Klan members. After weeks of investigation, state prosecutors brought first-degree murder charges against two local white men, Cecil Myers and Joseph Howard Sims. Despite considerable evidence indicating their guilt, an all-white jury in Madison County acquitted both men on September 4, 1964.
Slightly more than a year later, Penn’s wife Georgia died at the age of forty-nine. Friends said it was from the grief after her husband’s death.
An army caisson, drawn by six grays, approached the Arlington National Cemetery gravesite to the strains of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” played by the army band. The caisson was the same one that had carried President John E Kennedy’s body to his grave seven months earlier. The music changed to “Abide With Me ” as the casket was lifted over the grave.
Penn's murder was the basis of the Supreme Court case United States v. Guest, 383 US 745 (1966), in which the Court affirmed the ability of the government to apply criminal charges to private conspirators, who with assistance from a state official, deprive a person of rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Federal prosecutors eventually charged both for violating Penn's civil rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On June 27, 1966, criminal proceedings began against Sims, Myers, Lackey, and three other local Klansmen, Herbert Guest, Denver Phillips, and George Hampton Turner. Two weeks later, Sims and Myers were found guilty of conspiracy charges by a federal district court jury; their four co-defendants, however, were acquitted. Sims and Myers were sentenced to ten years each and served about six in federal prison. Howard Sims was killed with a shotgun in 1981 at age 58. James Lackey died at age 66 in 2002. Cecil Myers died in 2018 at the age of 79.
The historical marker erected by the Georgia Historical Society, the Lemuel Penn Memorial Committee, and Colbert Grove Baptist Church at Georgia Highway 172 and Broad River Bridge on the Madison/Elbert County Border states:
On the night of July 11, 1964 three African-American World War II veterans returning home following training at Ft. Benning, Georgia were noticed in Athens by local members of the Ku Klux Klan. The officers were followed to the nearby Broad River Bridge where their pursuers fired into the vehicle, killing Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn. When a local jury failed to convict the suspects of murder, the federal government successfully prosecuted the men for violations under the new Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed just nine days before Penn's murder. The case was instrumental in the creation of a Justice Department task force whose work culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
The Ballad of Lemuel Penn by Edward David Anderson
Formally known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the bill made unprecedented commitments to the nation’s veterans. For instance, it provided federal assistance to veterans in the form of housing and unemployment benefits. But of all the benefits offered through the GI Bill, funding for higher education and job training emerged as the most popular.
When he signed the bill into law, President Roosevelt assured that it would give “servicemen and women the opportunity of resuming their education or technical training … not only without tuition charge … but with the right to receive a monthly living allowance while pursuing their studies.” So long as they had served 90 consecutive days in the U.S. Armed Forces and had not received a dishonorable discharge, veterans could have their tuition waived for the institution of their choice and cover their living expenses as they pursued a college degree.
Black service members had a different kind of experience. The GI Bill’s race-neutral language had filled the 1 million African American veterans with hope that they, too, could take advantage of federal assistance. Integrated universities and historically black colleges and universities – commonly known as HBCUs – welcomed black veterans and their federal dollars, which led to the growth of a new black middle class in the immediate postwar years.
Yet, the underfunding of HBCUs limited opportunities for these large numbers of black veterans. Schools like the Tuskegee Institute and Alcorn State lacked government investment in their infrastructure and simply could not accommodate an influx of so many students, whereas well-funded white institutions were more equipped to take in students. Research has also revealed that a lack of formal secondary education for black soldiers prior to their service inhibited their paths to colleges and universities.
Mississippi’s connection to the GI Bill goes beyond Rankin’s racist maneuvering. From 1966 to 1997, G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery represented the state in Congress and dedicated himself to veterans’ issues. In 1984, he pushed through his signature piece of federal legislation, the Montgomery GI Bill, which recommitted the nation to providing for veterans’ education and extended those funds to reserve units and the National Guard. Congress had discontinued the GI Bill after Vietnam. As historian Jennifer Mittelstadt shows, Montgomery’s bill subsidized education as a way to boost enlistment in the all-volunteer force that lagged in recruitment during the final years of the Cold War.
In August 2017, President Trump signed the Forever GI Bill, which committed $3 billion for 10 more years of education funding. As active duty service members and veterans begin to take advantage of these provisions, history provides good reason to be vigilant for the way racism still impacts who receives the most from those benefits.
This elite club employs and controls millionaires. Billionaire NFL owners are using money in an attempt to control player protest. Similar methods can be used to control politicians through contributions, book deals, speaking engagements, and other perks including high-end employment opportunities after they leave office.
As long as Trump continues to assist billionaires to increase their wealth, it is not in their best interest to have him removed from office. Politicians who don't want billionaires contributing to their opponent's campaigns are held hostage. The five corporations who control the majority of the media are using the ancient Roman philosophy panem et circenses (bread and circuses); a phrase that means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace – a diet of entertainment or political policies on which the masses are fed to keep them happy and docile.
The media creates a circus atmosphere by highlighting the latest buffoonery of Trump, the circus clown, and distracts away from policies that hurt the environment, siphons public money from social programs to provide grants, tax abatements and other incentives to corporations and wealthy individuals.
Jacob Neiheisel, an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo, SUNY answers five questions about how impeachment works.
1. What sort of crime can lead to impeachment?
The U.S. Constitution states that the president can be removed from office after being both impeached and convicted for “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Treason is notoriously difficult to prove. For example, Aaron Burr – a former vice president – was caught stockpiling supplies and gathering a force to take over some of the lands that would eventually be obtained through the Louisiana Purchase. And yet, he still wasn’t convicted of treason.
To date, no president has been charged with bribery.
What exactly constitutes a “high crime” or “misdemeanor” has always been open to interpretation, but it is clear that partisan politics plays a role.
Even Alexander Hamilton expected the process of impeachment to be overtly political. President Gerald Ford put the matter bluntly when he described an impeachable offense as “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”
Next comes a vote on the articles of impeachment by the House Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee can choose to investigate the matter – or opt out, as they did in the case of the Clinton impeachment. The committee can then recommend for or against impeachment. Either way, their recommendation isn’t binding – meaning the House can impeach over their recommendation. The current chair of the committee, Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, is a strong supporter of the president, but he is set to retire in 2019.
Next comes a vote in the full House, with only a simple majority required.
If the House votes to impeach, the case is referred to the Senate for trial. The trial runs much like a criminal case, and witnesses can be called on either side. A supermajority, or two-thirds, of the Senate then has to vote to convict and remove the president from office.
Although two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have been impeached by the House, both avoided a conviction in the Senate and a resulting removal from office.
A common misconception is that the Supreme Court plays a major role in the proceedings. The chief justice does preside over impeachment trials in the Senate, but that is the court’s only role.
3. Republicans have a majority in the House and the Senate. Does that essentially make Trump bulletproof?
More or less.
Although it is possible that Republican members of Congress could join with Democrats in calling for Trump’s removal, as we saw happen in the run-up to Nixon’s resignation over the Watergate scandal, today’s polarized political environment makes such an occurrence unlikely absent clear and convincing evidence of major wrongdoing.
While Nixon’s impeachment was likely inevitable, with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 1974, today substantial Republican defections from Trump would be essential to any movement toward impeachment.
Currently, there are 236 Republican House members. That means 22 Republicans would have to join with all of the Democrats in the House to impeach Trump. However, the 2018 midterm election could change this math if the Democrats pick up seats.
The articles of impeachment against Trump might look remarkably similar to those levied against Nixon and Clinton. The articles of impeachment drawn up by Democrats in November 2017 accuse the president of obstruction of justice related to the firing of FBI director James Comey, undermining the independence of the federal judiciary, accepting emoluments from a foreign government and other charges. Any attempt to accuse him of treason is extremely unlikely, in my opinion.
4. If the president is removed, who takes over? What would happen if the vice president was also implicated in the president’s crime?
If President Trump was removed from office, Vice President Mike Pence would be immediately sworn in. In the unlikely event that both the president and the vice president are impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan would become president.
5. Can officers other than the president be impeached?
Absolutely. In fact, 15 federal judges have been impeached, although only eight have been removed from the bench. The most recent example was in 2010 when federal Judge G. Thomas Porteous was found guilty on multiple articles of impeachment by the U.S. Senate. Porteous was found to have accepted bribes from lawyers with dealings before his court.
The recent decision by the NFL regarding player protests and the national anthem has yet again exposed the fraught relationship between African-Americans and patriotism.
The controversy has taken place nearly a century after another time when African-Americans painfully grappled with questions concerning loyalty to the nation and the struggle for equal rights.
In July 1918, at the height of American participation in World War I, W. E. B. Du Bois, the acclaimed black scholar, activist and civil rights leader, penned arguably the most controversial editorial of his career, “Close Ranks.”
“Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy,” he advised his fellow African-Americans. Du Bois acknowledged that this was “no ordinary sacrifice,” but black people would nevertheless make it “gladly and willingly with our eyes lifted to the hills.”
Pressured from league owners, white fans and the president of the United States, black NFL players are now faced with the dilemma of closing ranks and forgetting their “special grievances,” or continuing to protest against racial injustice.
Last season, during the playing of the national anthem, dozens of NFL players kneeled, locked arms and raised their fists in protest against police and state-sanctioned violence inflicted upon African-Americans. Their actions elicited a fierce backlash, much of it fueled by President Donald Trump, who encouraged his overwhelmingly white base of supporters to boycott the NFL so long as players, in his view, continued to disrespect the flag. Seeking to avoid further controversy, on May 23, Commissioner Roger Goddell announced that for the upcoming season, “All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.” Not following this directive could result in teams being fined and players subject to “appropriate discipline.”
I see the decision by the NFL as an unmistakable attempt to police the actions of its majority black work force, impose what amounts to a loyalty oath, and enforce through intimidation and threat a narrow definition of patriotism. The message is clear: Either demonstrate unqualified devotion to the United States or be punished.
African-Americans and World War I
African-Americans confronted the same stark choice during World War I.
In previous conflicts, African-Americans had sacrificed and shed blood for the nation. But patriotism alone has never been enough to overcome white supremacy. By 1917, as the United States prepared to enter the world war, disfranchisement, Jim Crow segregation, and racial violence had rendered African-Americans citizens in name only.
Black people thus had every reason to question the legitimacy of fighting in a war that President Woodrow Wilson declared would make the world “safe for democracy.” African-Americans immediately exposed the hypocrisy of Wilson’s words, while also seizing the opportunity to hold the United States accountable to its principles. They did this, in part, by serving in the army, as some 380,000 black soldiers labored and fought to not just win the war, but to also make democracy a reality for themselves.
African-Americans also recognized the importance of protest. Discrimination and racial violence continued throughout the war, highlighted by the East St. Louis massacre in July 1917, where white mobs killed as many as 200 black people. In response, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People organized a Silent Protest Parade in New York City, where more than 10,000 black men, women and children peacefully marched down Fifth Avenue carrying signs, one of which read, “Patriotism and loyalty presuppose protection and liberty.”
‘Closing ranks’ and the costs
Just as it does today, protesting racial injustice during the war carried risk. The federal government wielded the repressive power of American nationalism to crush disloyalty to the United States. The Espionage Act (1917) and Sedition Act (1918) severely curtailed civil liberties by criminalizing “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language.”
“100 percent Americanism” entailed the policing of immigrant communities, restricting freedom of the press, jailing anti-war activists, and monitoring African-Americans, including W. E. B. Du Bois, for potential radicalism. This pressure, along with the personal desire to demonstrate his loyalty to the nation, compelled Du Bois to soften his critiques of the government and issue his call for African-Americans to “close ranks.”
“The words were hardly out of my mouth when strong criticism was rained upon it,” Du Bois later remembered. Even during a time of war, most African-Americans refused to set aside the “special grievances” of segregation, lynching and systemic racial abuse. And Du Bois paid a heavy price. William Monroe Trotter, the fiery newspaper editor and civil rights leader from Boston, branded Du Bois “a rank quitter,” adding that his one-time ally had “weakened, compromised, deserted the fight.”
But African-Americans, having fought for democracy, would surely be rewarded for their loyal service and patriotic sacrifices, Du Bois reasoned.
To the contrary, they were greeted with a torrent of racial violence and bloodshed that came to be known as the “Red Summer” of 1919. White people, North and South, were determined to remind black people of their place in the nation’s racial hierarchy. Race riots erupted throughout the country and the number of African-Americans lynched skyrocketed, including several black veterans still in uniform.
The NFL’s decision is essentially an attempt to appease the mob in 2018.
And now, the NFL wants black players to “close ranks” by giving them the false choice between standing for the pledge or hiding their protest in the locker room, conveniently out of sight of fans in the stadium and away from television cameras.
The league ignores any mention of the “special grievances” of police brutality, racial profiling and antiblack harassment that remain alive and well. Ironically, the NFL has been the one to transform the flag into a political weapon to silence black activism, protect its corporate interests and maintain a racial status quo. Displays of patriotism and loyalty to nation are meaningless when not accompanied by the actual freedoms and protections that come with being a citizen.
Like the battlefields of France 100 years ago, the football fields of NFL stadiums are just one place where African-Americans have historically sought to answer these questions. And simply closing ranks has never been sufficient. In this moment of racial repression and moral mendacity, when the ideals of democracy are undermined daily, the debate over national anthem protests reminds us that the fight to affirm the sanctity of black life is much longer and deeper than a Sunday afternoon game.
In July 1943, one month after a race riot shook Detroit, Vice President Henry Wallace spoke to a crowd of union workers and civic groups:
“We cannot fight to crush Nazi brutality abroad and condone race riots at home. Those who fan the fires of racial clashes for the purpose of making political capital here at home are taking the first step toward Nazism.”
The Pittsburgh Courier, a leading African-American newspaper at the time, praised Wallace for endorsing what they called the “Double V” campaign.
The Double Victory campaign, launched by the Courier in 1942, became a rallying cry for black journalists, activists and citizens to secure both victory over fascism abroad during World War II and victory over racism at home.
There is a historical relationship between Nazism and white supremacy in the United States. Yet the recent resurgence of explicit racism, including the attack in Charlottesville, has been greeted by many with surprise. Just look at the #thisisnotwhoweare hashtag.
As a scholar of African-American history, I am troubled by the collective amnesia in U.S. politics and media around racism. It permeates daily interactions in communities across the country. This ignorance has consequences. When Americans celebrate the country’s victory in WWII, but forget that the U.S. armed forces were segregated, that the Red Cross segregated blood donors or that many black WWII veterans returned to the country only to be denied jobs or housing, it becomes all the more difficult to talk honestly about racism today.
Nazis and Jim Crow
As Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime rose to power in the 1930s, black-run newspapers quickly recognized that the Third Reich saw the American system of race law as a model. Describing a plan to segregate Jews on German railways, the New York Amsterdam News wrote that Nazis were “taking a leaf from United States Jim Crow practices.”
The Chicago Defender noted that “the practice of jim-crowism has already been adopted by the Nazis.” A quote from the official newspaper of the SS, the Nazi paramilitary organization, on the origins of the railway ban stated:
“In the freest country in the world, where even the president rages against racial discrimination, no citizen of dark color is permitted to travel next to a white person, even if the white is employed as a sewer digger and the Negro is a world boxing champion or otherwise a national hero…[this] example shows us all how we have to solve the problem of traveling foreign Jews.”
In making connections between Germany and the United States, black journalists and activists cautioned that Nazi racial ideology was not solely a foreign problem. A New York Amsterdam News editorial argued in 1935:
“If the Swastika is an emblem of racial oppression, the Stars and Stripes are equally so. This country has consistently refused to recognize one-tenth of its population as an essential part of humanity…It has systematically encouraged the mass murder of these people through bestial mobs, through denial of economic opportunity, through terrorization.”
Victory at home
When the United States entered WWII, African-Americans joined the fight to defeat fascism abroad. Meanwhile, the decades-long fight on the home front for equal access to employment, housing, education and voting rights continued.
These concerns prompted James G. Thompson, a 26-year-old from Wichita, Kansas, to write to the editors of the Pittsburgh Courier. His letter sparked the Double Victory campaign. Considering his service in the U.S. Army, which was racially segregated during WWII, Thompson wrote:
“Being an American of dark complexion and some 26 years, these questions flash through my mind: ‘Should I sacrifice my life to live half American?’ ‘Will things be better for the next generation in the peace to follow?’…‘Is the kind of America I know worth defending?’”
For Thompson and other African-Americans, defeating Nazi Germany and the Axis powers was only half the battle. Winning the war would be only a partial victory if the United States did not also overturn racial discrimination at home.
These ideals seemed particularly far away in the summer of 1943, when racial violence raged across the country. In addition to the riot in Detroit, there were more than 240 reports of interracial battles in cities and at military bases, including in Harlem, Los Angeles, Mobile, Philadelphia and Beaumont, Texas.
“Looky here, America / What you done done / Let things drift / Until the riots come […] You tell me that hitler / Is a mighty bad man / I guess he took lessons from the ku klux klan […] I ask you this question / Cause I want to know / How long I got to fight / BOTH HITLER — AND JIM CROW.”
The end of Hughes’ poem calls to mind the swastikas and Confederate flags that were prominently displayed in Charlottesville and at other white supremacist rallies. These symbols and ideologies have long and intertwined histories in the U.S.
Advocates of the Double Victory campaign understood that Nazism would not be completely vanquished until white supremacy was defeated everywhere. In linking fascism abroad and racism at home, the Double Victory campaign issued a challenge to America that remains unanswered.
Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. (December 18, 1912 – July 4, 2002) was the first African-American general of the United States Air Force and commander of the World War IITuskegee Airmen. He was born in Washington, D.C., the second of three children born to Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and Elnora Dickerson Davis.
At the age of 13, in the summer of 1926, the younger Davis went for a flight with a barnstorming pilot at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. The experience led to his determination to become a pilot himself. He was the first officer to get his wings from the Tuskegee Army Air Field on March 7, 1942.
After attending the University of Chicago, he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1932.
He was sponsored by Representative Oscar De Priest (R-IL) of Chicago, at the time, the only black member of Congress. During the four years of his Academy term, Davis was racially isolated by his White classmates, few of whom spoke to him outside the line of duty. He never had a roommate. He ate by himself. His classmates hoped that this would drive him out of the Academy. The "silent treatment" had the opposite effect. It made Davis more determined to graduate. Nevertheless, he earned the respect of his classmates, as evidenced by the biographical note beneath his picture in the 1936 yearbook, the Howitzer:
The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered a problem incomparably more difficult than plebe year won for him the sincere admiration of his classmates, and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career cannot fail to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.
He graduated in 1936, 35th in a class of 276. He was the academy's fourth black graduate after Henry Ossian Flipper (1877), John Hanks Alexander (1887), and Charles Young (1889). When he was commissioned as a second lieutenant, the Army had a grand total of two black line officers – Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and Benjamin O. Davis Jr. After graduation, he married Agatha Scott.
At the start of his junior year at West Point, Davis had applied for the Army Air Corps but was rejected because it did not accept blacks. He was instead assigned to the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment (one of the original Buffalo Soldier regiments) at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was not allowed inside the base officers' club.
He later attended the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, but then was assigned to teach military tactics at Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college in Tuskegee, Alabama. This was something his father had done years before. It was the Army's way to avoid having a black officer in command of white soldiers.
Early in 1941, the Roosevelt administration, in response to public pressure for greater black participation in the military as war approached, ordered the War Department to create a black flying unit. Captain Davis was assigned to the first training class at Tuskegee Army Air Field (hence the name Tuskegee Airmen), and in March 1942 earned his wings as one of five black officers to complete the course. He was the first black officer to solo an Army Air Corps aircraft.
In July that year, having been promoted to lieutenant colonel, he was named commander of the first all-black air unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron.
The squadron, equipped with Curtiss P-40 fighters, was sent to Tunisia in North Africa in the spring of 1943. On June 2, they saw combat for the first time in a dive-bombing mission against the German-held island of Pantelleria as part of Operation Corkscrew. The squadron later supported the Allied invasion of Sicily.
In September 1943, Davis was deployed to the United States to take command of the 332nd Fighter Group, a larger all-black unit preparing to go overseas.
Soon after his arrival, however, there was an attempt to stop the use of black pilots in battle. Senior officers in the Army Air Forces recommended to the Army chief of staff, General George Marshall, that the 99th (Davis's old unit) be removed from combat operations as it had performed poorly. This infuriated Davis as he had never been told of any deficiencies with the unit. He held a news conference at The Pentagon to defend his men and then presented his case to a War Department committee studying the use of black servicemen.
Marshall ordered an inquiry but allowed the 99th to continue fighting in the meantime. The inquiry eventually reported that the 99th's performance was comparable to other air units, but any questions about the squadron's fitness were answered in January 1944 when its pilots shot down 12 German planes in two days while protecting the Anzio beachhead.
Colonel Davis and his 332d Fighter Group arrived in Italy soon after that. The four-squadron group, which was called the Red Tails for the distinctive markings of its planes, were based at Ramitelli Airfield and flew many missions deep into German territory. By summer 1944 the Group had transitioned to P-47 Thunderbolts.
In the summer of 1945, Davis took over the all-black 477th Bombardment Group, which was stationed at Godman Field, Kentucky.
During the war, the airmen commanded by Davis had compiled an outstanding record in combat against the Luftwaffe. They flew more than 15,000 sorties, shot down 111 enemy planes, and destroyed or damaged 273 on the ground at a cost of 66 of their own planes and losing only about twenty-five bombers.
Davis himself led dozens of missions in P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs. He received the Silver Star for a strafing run into Austria and the Distinguished Flying Cross for a bomber-escort mission to Munich on June 9, 1944.
In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 ordering the racial integration of the armed forces. Colonel Davis helped draft the Air Force plan for implementing this order. The Air Force was the first of the services to integrate fully.
Davis served at the Pentagon and in overseas posts over the next two decades. He again saw combat in 1953 when he assumed command of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing (51 FIW) and flew an F-86 Sabre in Korea.
He served as Director of Operations and Training at Far East Air Forces Headquarters, Tokyo, from 1954 until 1955, when he assumed the position of Vice Commander, Thirteenth Air Force (13 AF), with additional duty as commander, Air Task Force 13 (Provisional), Taipei, Taiwan. During his time in Tokyo, he was temporarily promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, a rank not made permanent until after his temporary promotion to Major General.
In April 1957 General Davis arrived at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as chief of staff, Twelfth Air Force (12 AF), U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). When the Twelfth Air Force was transferred to James Connally Air Force Base, Texas in December 1957, he assumed new duties as deputy chief of staff for operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), Wiesbaden Air Base, Germany. While in Germany he was temporarily promoted to major general in 1959, and his promotion to brigadier general was made permanent in 1960.
In July 1961, he returned to the United States and Headquarters U.S. Air Force where he served as the director of manpower and organization, deputy chief of staff for programs and requirements, having his promotion to major general made permanent early the next year; and in February 1965 he was assigned as assistant deputy chief of staff, programs, and requirements. He remained in that position until his assignment as chief of staff for the United Nations Command and U.S. Forces in Korea (USFK) in April 1965, at which time he was promoted to lieutenant general. He assumed command of the Thirteenth Air Force (13 AF) at Clark Air Base in the Republic of the Philippines in August 1967.
Davis was assigned as deputy commander in chief, U.S. Strike Command, with headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, in August 1968, with additional duty as commander in chief, Middle-East, Southern Asia and Africa. He retired from active military service on February 1, 1970.
At the time of Davis's retirement, he held the rank of lieutenant general, but on December 9, 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded him a fourth star, raising him to the rank of full general. After retirement, he headed the federal sky marshal program, and in 1971 was named Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Environment, Safety, and Consumer Affairs. Overseeing the development of airport security and highway safety, Davis was one of the chief proponents of the 55 miles per hour speed limit to save gasoline and lives. He retired from the Department of Transportation in 1975, and in 1978 served on the American Battle Monuments Commission, on which his father had served decades before.
Both Benjamin O. Davis Jr. and his wife died months apart in 2002. Davis's wife Agatha died in early 2002. Davis, who had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease, died aged 89 on July 4, 2002, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Davis was buried July 17, at Arlington National Cemetery. A Red Tail P-51 Mustang, similar to the one he had flown in World War II, flew overhead during funeral services.
Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr. (1877 or 1880 – November 26, 1970) was the first African-American general officer in the United States Army. He was the father of Air Force General Benjamin O. Davis Jr.
Davis was born in Washington, D.C., the third child of Louis P. H. Davis and Henrietta (née Stewart) Davis. Biographer Marvin Fletcher has presented evidence that Davis was born in May 1880, citing a June 1880 census document. Fletcher concludes that Davis lied about his age so that he could enlist in the Army without the permission of his parents. The birth date that appears on Davis's gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery is July 1, 1877, the date he reported to the Army.
Davis attended M Street High School in Washington where he participated in the school's cadet program. During his senior year of high school, he took some classes at Howard University. His father, a messenger for the Interior Department, and his mother, a nurse, urged him to enroll in college after high school. Against his parents' wishes, he determined to take a military career.
After graduating from high school, in response to the start of the Spanish–American War, Davis entered the military service on July 13, 1898, as a temporary first lieutenant in the 8th United States Volunteer Infantry, an all-black unit. This regiment was stationed at Chickamauga Park, Georgia, from October 1898 until the unit was disbanded in March 1899. During the war, Davis briefly served in Company D, 1st Separate Battalion of the Washington D.C. National Guard.
Davis was mustered out on March 6, 1899, and on June 18, 1899, he enlisted as a private in Troop I, 9th Cavalry Regiment (one of the original Buffalo Soldier regiments), of the Regular Army. At his post in Fort Duchesne, Utah, he served first as the troop's clerk and later as squadron sergeant major through 1900. In late 1900, Davis's unit was commanded by Lieutenant Charles Young, the only African-American officer serving in the US military at that time.
Young encouraged Davis's ambition to become an officer. Young tutored Davis in all of the subjects that were covered in the officer candidate test, especially mathematics, which had been Young's most difficult subject at the United States Military Academy at West Point. In early 1901 Davis passed the test at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, his highest score coming in the math section.(A second African American, John E. Green, passed the test along with 10 other soldiers.) On February 2, 1901, Davis was commissioned a second lieutenant of Cavalry in the Regular Army.
In the spring of 1901, Troop I was posted overseas to serve in the Philippine–American War. In August 1901, Davis was assigned to Troop F, 10th Cavalry, where he assumed the duties of a second lieutenant. Troop F returned to the US in August 1902. Davis was then stationed at Fort Washakie, Wyoming, where he also served for several months with Troop M. In September 1905, he was assigned to Wilberforce University in Ohio as Professor of Military Science and Tactics, a post that he filled for four years.
In November 1909, shortly after being ordered to Regimental Headquarters, 9th Cavalry, Davis was reassigned for duty to Liberia. He left the United States for Liberia in April 1910 and served as a military attaché reporting on Liberia's military forces until October 1911. He returned to the United States in November 1911. In January 1912, Davis was assigned to Troop I, 9th Cavalry, stationed at Fort D. A. Russell, Wyoming. In 1913, the 9th Cavalry was assigned to patrol the Mexican-United States border.
In February 1915, Davis was again assigned to Wilberforce University as Professor of Military Science and Tactics. From 1917 to 1920, Davis was assigned to the 9th Cavalry at Fort Stotsenburg, Philippine Islands, as supply officer, commander of 3rd Squadron, and then of 1st Squadron. He reached the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel but returned to the United States in March 1920 with the rank of captain.
Davis was assigned to the Tuskegee University, Alabama, as the Professor of Military Science and Tactics from 1920 to 1924. He then served for five years as an instructor with 2nd Battalion, 372nd Regiment, Ohio National Guard, in Cleveland, Ohio. In September 1929, Davis returned to Wilberforce University as Professor of Military Science and Tactics. He was assigned to the Tuskegee Institute in the early part of 1931 and remained there for six years as Professor of Military Science and Tactics. During the summer months of 1930 to 1933, Davis escorted pilgrimages of World War I Gold Star Mothers and Widows to the burial places of their loved ones in Europe.
In the video below, General, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. decorates Lt. Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. and other airmen of the 99th Pursuit Squadron which Davis, Jr. commanded.
In August 1937, Davis returned to Wilberforce University as Professor of Military Science and Tactics. Davis was assigned to the 369th Regiment, New York National Guard, during the summer of 1938, and took command of the regiment a short time later. Davis was promoted to Brigadier General on October 25, 1940, becoming the first African-American general in the United States Army.
Davis became Commanding General of 4th Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, in January 1941. About six months later, he was assigned to Washington, D.C. as an assistant in the Office of the Inspector General. While serving in the Office of the Inspector General, Davis also served on the Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies. From 1941 to 1944, Davis conducted inspection tours of African-American soldiers in the United States Army.
From September to November 1942 and again from July to November 1944, Davis made inspection tours of African-American soldiers stationed in Europe.
On November 10, 1944, Davis was reassigned to work under Lieutenant General John C. H. Lee as Special Assistant to the Commanding General, Communications Zone, European Theater of Operations. He served with the General Inspectorate Section, European Theater of Operation (later the Office of the Inspector General on Europe) from January through May 1945. While serving in the European Theater of Operations, Davis was influential in the proposed policy of integration using replacement units.
After serving in the European Theater of Operations for more than a year, Davis returned to Washington, D.C. as Assistant to the Inspector General. In 1947 he was assigned as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. In this capacity, he was sent to Liberia in July 1947 as a representative of the United States for the African country's centennial celebration. On July 20, 1948, after fifty years of military service, Davis retired in a public ceremony with President Harry S. Truman presiding.
From July 1953 through June 1961, he served as a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Davis died on November 26, 1970, at Great Lakes Naval Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.