A 'Forthright Analysis' of Army Race Relations

By Hammond, William M. | Army, February 1997 | Go to article overview
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A 'Forthright Analysis' of Army Race Relations


Hammond, William M., Army


All That We Can Be: Black Leadership and Racial Integration the Army Way. Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler. Basic Books, a division of HarperCollins. 198 pages; apbendix; notes; index; $24.

Of all the questions that have confronted the United States in the 2 century, those involving race relations have proved the most intractable. From the end of the Jim Crow era in the 1960s to the rise of affirmative action in the 1970s and 1980s, few models of successful change have existed to serve as guideposts for the future. Meanwhile, special interests on all sides have sometimes impeded the sort of frank discussion necessary to define workable alternatives.

In their new book, All That We Can Be, sociologists Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler have taken a long step toward remedying ther situation by producing a forthright analysis of one of the few truly successful examples of racial integration in America today, the U.S. Army. Careful to note that the Service still has a way to go-black soldiers remain twice as likely as whites to discern racial discrimination in the ranks-they demonstrate that the Army has created such a smoothly running system of equal opportunity that it could serve as an example to the nation.

The authors emphasize that the Army's core principles in managing race relations are the basis for the progress the Service has made. Building on a realization that an absolute commitment to nondiscrimination is essential for the achievement of its combat mission, the Army has made equal opportunity a general leadership responsibility and has emphasized that a commander's failure to maintain a bias-free environment in his or her unit will be an absolute impediment to career advancement.

In addition, unlike many civilian institutions, the Army refuses to subscribe to the idea that blacks cannot succeed without a reduction in qualifications. Declining to compromise with mediocrity to achieve an acceptable racial mix, it prefers to compensate for the educational and skill deficiencies that hold some AfricanAmericans back by providing remedial training. Once soldiers have acquired the background they need, it sets them free to compete as equals. Generally, rather than adhere to hardand-fast quotas that might compromise effectiveness in combat, the Army links its racial goals to the proportion of blacks in its promotion pool and will bypass them if the candidates available appear substandard.

Although some black soldiers contend that they still have to work harder than whites to prove themselves, the benefits of the approach are readily apparent. African-Americans who have advanced on their own through the ranks assert that they have gained self-confidence from the knowledge that they earned their status without the advantage of lowered standards.

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