War! What Is It Good for? Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq

By Kimberley L. Phillips | Go to book overview

Acknowledgments

In 1965 I watched a priest bless the tanks and soldiers that the army planned to send to Vietnam. I was a five-year-old army brat who heard my parents talk about Vietnam and the ideals of the nonviolent civil rights movement, but I didn’t have a way to question what I saw that day. My father, who was commissioned in 1958 and trained in Fort Benning, Georgia, went to Vietnam in 1966 with the 173rd Airborne. After his tour, he headed the ROTC program at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and my mother worked with other Catholics to help young men evade the draft. We lived in Grover Beach, a small town twenty miles from where my father worked and where my brothers and I went to the Catholic school. Though I loved our large yard where I watched the sun slip into the Pacific Ocean, I knew my parents had tried to buy a home in San Luis Obispo. Local residents’ equal disdain for the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement meant no one would sell a black soldier a home.

The few friends I had lived too far away for regular play dates on the weekends and in the summer, so I listened to a lot of music. Along with the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, the news that my father might return to Vietnam cast shadows in our home. I played Nina Simone’s “’Nuff Said” over and over again. In spite of the show’s ribald lyrics, my parents let me listen to the soundtrack from Hair. I knew every word to Simone’s “Backlash Blues” and “Three Five Zero Zero.” When my father returned home in 1970, he introduced me to Jimi Hendrix, Edwin Starr, and Curtis Mayfield. With the earphones clasped to my head, I let “War!” and “Machine Gun” thunder. These songs became prayers, and I listened to them for years as I tried to make sense of war and inequality.

I did not plan to write a book about African Americans, war, and civil rights until students in a 2002 Monroe seminar at the College of William

-ix-

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