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Diversity in the Armed Forces
of the United States of America


Danny Ingram
President, American Veterans For Equal Rights

In March, I was invited by Georgia State University in Atlanta to speak at a discussion on the U.S. Military and diversity. GSU is one of many schools in the University System of Georgia, along with Georgia Tech, the institution where I work. I was to focus on the Repeal of DADT, and members of the school's ROTC cadre were to speak on racial, religious, and gender issues. According to the sponsor of the event, the Assistant Dean of Students, when the ROTC folks called their headquarters at Ft. Knox for advice on what to say about the repeal of DADT, they were told not to say anything. Furthermore, they were told not to speak, so they canceled their participation, and ROTC cadets were told not to attend. So I was asked to speak on Diversity in the Military and cover all the topics. I'd like to share some of it with you, because it demonstrates how the battle for the repeal of DADT is nothing new. Just about every minority has had to fight for inclusion in the military, and often it was either necessity or politics that led to new groups being integrated into the armed forces.

Today's United States Military often expresses its pride at being an organization that values and encourages the service of minorities. The U.S. Armed Forces sees itself as a champion of diversity and views its record of integration as proof of a long history of reflecting America's changing demographic makeup. But history shows a different military, one which frequently had to be nudged to change as the rest of American society did, and often gave into the assimilation of minorities only when necessity or political pressure forced them to accept new groups. Sometimes the military was ahead of the curve on acceptance of diversity, but that has not always been the case.

1654 - Nieuw Amsterdam Jews fight for the right to serve:

Long before there was even a dream of a United States of America, there was discrimination in the military. Every male adult in the Dutch colony of Nieuw Amsterdam (later New York) was required by law to serve in the militia. Those who did not serve were required to pay a steep fine. Jews were not allowed to serve in the militia, but of course they had to pay the fine anyway. Jewish citizens protested the exclusion, and as a result were allowed to serve beginning in 1654.

1775 - British offer slaves freedom for enlisting:

During the American Revolution, the British government offered freedom to Black slaves who would enlist to fight against American colonists.

1776 - Blacks serve in the Continental Army and Navy:

General George Washington responded to the British offer of freedom to slaves who enlisted against the colonists by allowing Blacks, both free and slave, to serve in the Continental Army and Navy. Slave owners were terrified of the idea of armed slaves roving the land, but practicality overruled. Slaves who served did so only with the permission of their owners.

1778 - Gotthold Enslin is discharged for homosexual conduct:

Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin became the first American service member to be discharged from the U.S. military due to homosexuality, following accusations of sodomy. He was prosecuted by Colonel Aaron Burr, later Vice President of the U.S., and literally drummed out of the service.

1792 - Blacks denied service in the Army but continue to serve in the Navy:

The fears of slave owners resulted in Blacks, including free Black citizens, no longer being allowed to carry weapons in the U.S. Army. Blacks composed a large percentage of sailors on American Navy ships, and continued to serve out of necessity of maintaining the Navy.

1846 - First Catholic chaplains commissioned:

During the Mexican-American War, the Mexican government accused the Americans of a Protestant vs. Catholic religious war, since there were no Catholic chaplains in the U.S. military. In response, the President of the U.S. ordered the military to commission Catholic chaplains.

1862 - Blacks serve in the Army in segregated units:

During the Civil War the U.S. Army, short of recruits, allowed African-Americans to enlist in the U.S. Army in segregated units. The Marines did not allow Blacks to serve at all.

1862 - First Jewish chaplains commissioned:

An increasing number Jewish recruits were acknowledged by the military with the commissioning of the first Jewish chaplains.

1901 - Women officially serve in the armed forces:

Although women had served as nurses since the formation of the Continental Army, women first became members of the U.S. military with the formation of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901. Women served in separate units and were not commissioned as officers in the Regular Army.

1917 - Ethnic and Religious groups serve together:

Although wave after wave of ethnic Europeans immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900's, only to discriminate against each other as each new group arrived, the U.S. military made the decision to have all ethnic groups serve together as the U.S. entered World War I.

1917 - Native Americans serve in integrated units:

While Hispanic American service members had served in integrated units, even during the Spanish American war, it was not until 1917 that Native Americans began to serve in any large numbers. American Indians had served in the Army in units known as Indian Scouts, but in the First World War the military integrated Native Americans into regular units as they had Hispanics.

1919 - Articles of War prohibit homosexual service:

A revision of the Articles of War of 1916, which would be replaced as the military's official law code by the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1950, established the act of sodomy as a felony. The Navy initiated purges of homosexuals in 1919.

1941 - Japanese-Americans serve in segregated units:

The discrimination against Japanese people was so intense following Pearl Harbor that Japanese citizens of the U.S. were "interred" in camps to "protect" them. Citizens who could speak Japanese were an obvious asset for the military in translating intercepted Imperial Japanese military communications. So Japanese-Americans were allowed to serve in the military, but in strictly segregated units. It is interesting to note there was no such segregation of German-Americans.

1948 - Truman orders racial integration of the military:

In the years following World War II a number of high profile attacks on African American soldiers in uniform enraged America's Black population. In response, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which mandated a non-discrimination policy based on race, color, religion and national origin. Truman's Order was opposed by General Omar Bradley, World War II hero and future first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, on the grounds that "donning a uniform does not change a man's personality, his aptitude or his prejudice". Bradley also claimed that racial integration would "seriously affect morale", "affect battle efficiency", "adversely affect our ability to carry out our mission", and "seriously affect voluntary enlistments." The entire general staff opposed the change, but Truman nevertheless issued the executive order over 16 years before passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed similar discrimination in the civilian sector. Truman's order integrated all racial groups, including Japanese-American service members.

1948 - Women integrated into the military:

On June 12, 1948, the United States Congress passed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, which enabled women to serve as permanent, regular members of the armed forces in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the recently formed Air Force. Prior to this act, women, with the exception of nurses, served in the military only in times of war. However, the act excluded women from serving in units that might engage in combat, including combat aircraft and navy warships. Additionally, the Act placed a two percent ceiling on the number of women in each of the services, restricted promotions to one full colonel or Navy captain as Chief of the Nurse Corps and/or Service Director, and limited the number of female officers who could serve as lieutenant colonels or Navy commanders.

1970s - Vietnam War inspires racial integration:

Service members fighting in Vietnam experienced the greatest degree of racial integration and cooperation, since everybody "in country," regardless of race, was facing the same threat of death or injury and therefore had to work together as a team to survive. The uniform, especially when bloodied, became the "great equalizer".

1989 - First African American becomes Chairman of the Joint Chiefs:

General Colin Powell became the first African American to hold the highest rank in the U.S. military.

1991 - Congress allows women to attend military academies.

1993 - Women allowed to serve on combat aircraft.

1993 - First Muslim chaplain commissioned:

During the First Gulf War the question of whether or not the U.S. presence is the Middle East was a religious war against Muslims was answered by the appointment of the military's first Muslim chaplain.

1993 - DADT becomes law:

Opposition to President Bill Clinton's campaign promise to issue an executive order ending the exclusion of gay service members led to the implementation of the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law by Congress. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual members of the military would be allowed to serve so long as they didn't tell anyone. Discharge numbers showed that the policy did not prevent the military from continuing to investigate and discharge LGBT service members.

1994 - Women are allowed to serve on surface warships in the Navy.

1996 - Kosher and Halal MRE's introduced:

The U.S. military acknowledged respect of Jewish and Muslim service members by introducing pre-packaged "Meals Ready to Eat" (MREs) which met Kosher and Halal requirements.

2004 - First Buddhist chaplain commissioned.

2008 - First Woman Four Star General:

Ann Dunwoody became the first female officer to be promoted to full General.

2010 - Women allowed to serve on submarines.

2010 - DADT repeal is authorized by congress.

Words on military diversity:

Command Sergeant Major Hector G. Marin, who assumed the top enlisted position at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 2007, spoke of "strength in diversity" at his installation ceremony. According to Marin, "the many races, ethnicities, religions and creeds" that "make America strong" also help "make the Army strong". "We take young men and women from all backgrounds, some who come from several generations of Americans and some who are first generation Americans, and turn them into a force with a common focus, the defense of our great way of life. We understand better than most that success has nothing to do with the color of your skin, where you were born, or the type of religion to which you belong. In fact, we know there is only one color of importance to the Soldier and that is Army green….It was only in 1948, when President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order that led to the integration of the military, that we really started on the road to becoming the model of meritocracy that our military is today." The Army's first four-star female general, General Ann E. Dunwoody, Commander, U.S. Army Materiel Command, continued the theme of diversity in a speech on March 6, 2009. "Your Army considers diversity a strength � and we proudly lead the nation in offering equal opportunity to all". These same sentiments were echoed by General George Casey, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, who stated in the wake of the tragic Ft. Hood mass shooting by a Muslim Army officer, "Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that's worse."

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter stated in direct response to General Casey's "diversity is strength" statement with her own thoughts on diversity. "Never in recorded history has diversity been anything but a problem. Look at Ireland with its Protestant and Catholic populations, Canada with its French and English populations, Israel with its Jewish and Palestinian populations….'Diversity' is a difficulty to be overcome, not an advantage to be sought."

In an increasingly diverse world one could imagine that Ms. Coulter would lead a very paranoid existence. Fortunately, Ms. Coulter's view is not the predominate one. U.S. Navy veteran and former President, Jimmy Carter said of diversity "We are of course a nation of differences. Those differences don't make us weak. They're the source of our strength." These words are echoed by the late historian and ecologist Thomas Berry. "Diversity is no longer something that we tolerate" writes Berry. "It is something that we esteem as a necessary condition for a livable universe, as the source of Earth's highest perfection". As the largest and most diverse nation in history, the destiny of the U.S. may well be the "highest perfection" described by Berry. And as both a microcosm and the "best and brightest" representative of America, our military must of necessity reflect that diversity.

Clearly the modern military "get's it" when it comes to the issue of diversity, although it has certainly been a shaky path to get to the current idea of diversity as a strength. One question appropriate for soon-to-be-liberated LGB service members is will we follow the same pattern as the ethnic waves of immigrants in the early 1900s who no sooner clawed their way out of discrimination only to heap it upon the next group to arrive? Will we join other minorities who have gained the right to serve in the U.S. military only to turn their back on the next group? Some African-American veterans stated during the DADT debate that the issue was "different" for gays than it was for pre-integration Black service members. "This is a choice for them", they said, "whereas it was not a choice for us." Will LGB Americans have the courage, determination, and wisdom not to stand up when the next group comes along and say "Its not the same thing". There will be other groups. We already face the issue of discrimination against transgender Americans, and there will be other groups to follow them. Will we say "its not the same thing", or will we hold the line on prejudice and stand with them. History will record the answer.

  2011 Gay Military Signal