Which was racism in the South,[b] not racism on a military base,where there are people from all over America.
LOL You really dont know much about History. The Army turned to Shit just as I got out. We could see it coming. Did not have a damn thing to do with the south.[/b]
The Vietnam war saw countless numbers of America's young men - both black and white - thrown into combat. They were there to fight the Vietcong but, as tension grew in their ranks, they turned on each other.
The Guardian, Friday 14 September 2001
At the height of the Vietnam war in 1969, John Lee Hooker recorded I Don't Want To Go To Vietnam. In the song, he moaned grimly, "We've got so much trouble at home," before adding simply, "We don't need to go to Vietnam." But the black American soldiers already in Vietnam, trudging tirelessly across that country's saturated rice fields or creeping through its elephant grass and sticky, airless jungles, were understandably more explicit in expressing themselves. Wallace Terry, the Vietnam correspondent for Time magazine between 1967 and 1969, taped black soldiers airing their anger in the summer of 1969. Throughout the recording, their rage is tangible. Speaking about his team-mates, one black soldier declares, "What they been through in the bush, plus what they have to go through back in the world [America], they can't face it. They're ready to just get down and start another civil war." Another adds, "Why should I fight for prejudice?" When Terry inquires, "Tell me what you think the white man should be called?" a chorus of "devil... beast" erupts from the group.
Although President Johnson predicted that the Vietnam war would create a political nightmare, he neglected to foresee the racial one. The ongoing domestic conflicts between black and white Americans were reflected and exacerbated over in Vietnam, principally because the very apex of this increasingly unpopular war, between 1968 and 1969, coincided explosively with the rise of the Black Power era in America. In these years, there was a surge of inter-racial violence within the US forces in Vietnam. Discrimination thrived and, as in America, a racial polarisation arose out of this tension. Black soldiers embraced their culture as well as the emerging Black Power politics and its external symbols.
In fact, the war in Vietnam was America's first racially integrated conflict. Black soldiers had fought in all of America's preceding military engagements, but in segregated units. Although President Truman put pressure on the US armed forces to integrate in 1948, some units in the Korean war were still divided by race.
Prior to 1967, racial animosity had been negligible within the US armed forces in Vietnam because the black men stationed there were professional soldiers seeking a permanent career. Generally, if there were racial slights, they were quietly ignored by these men. On his first exploratory trip to Vietnam in the spring of 1967, Terry today concedes that he sensed "democracy in the foxhole - 'same mud, same blood'." Within a year, however, his feelings had been transformed.
At the beginning of 1965, there were about 23,300 US servicemen in Vietnam. By the end of 1967, this number had jumped to a phenomenal 465,600, the result of Project 100,000, initiated by Johnson in 1966. This dramatically increased the number of US troops in Vietnam by dropping the qualification standards of the draft. Many black Americans who had received an inferior education and, consequently, had evaded the draft, discovered, like Muhammad Ali, that they were now eligible. Of the 246,000 men recruited under Project 100,000 between October 1966 and June 1969, 41% were black, although black Americans represented only 11% of the US population. With a bitter irony, the other group that Project 100,000 condemned was the poor, racially intolerant white man from the southern states of America.
In a country riddled with institutional racism, the draft boards were naturally infected. In 1967, there were no black Americans on the boards in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. In fact, Jack Helms, a member of the Louisiana draft board, was a Grand Wizard in the Ku Klux Klan. In one fatuous outburst, he described the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the highly respected and conservative black civil rights group, as "a communist-inspired, anti-Christ, sex-perverted group of tennis-short beatniks". Although a poll in 1966 established that three out of four black Americans supported the draft, by 1969 56% of the black American population opposed the Vietnam war.
In 1967 and 1968, indignation against the war accelerated among both black and white Americans. Some thought the draft was simply a covert mode of genocide instigated by the US government, while others watched aghast as monstrous sums of money that could ease the impoverished black communities such as Watts in Los Angeles, were pumped into the war machine. The Black Panther, Eldridge Cleaver, denounced these repellent contradictions, stating that black Americans "are asked to die for the system in Vietnam, in Watts they are killed by it".
The perception that the Vietnamese were parallel sufferers of white colonial racist aggression also flourished in the late 1960s and was reflected in a comment made by Muhammad Ali on the TV programme Soul! "They want me to go to Vietnam to shoot some black folks that never lynched me, never called me nigger, never assassinated my leaders." Before his murder in 1968, Martin Luther King also damned America's foreign policy. He charged the US government with being "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today", and urged those against the draft to seek the status of conscientious objectors.
Although the image of a white hippy tentatively depositing a flower in the barrel of a rifle is one of the most potent icons of anti-war sentiment from the 1960s, black Americans also fought against the draft. Groups such as the Black Panthers and the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) denounced the war, black Americans burned their draft cards in public and one man escaped to Canada, exclaiming: "I'm not a draft evader, I'm a runaway slave." Robert Holcomb, one of those interviewed in Bloods, Terry's oral history of the war by black veterans, describes how, after being hounded by the FBI, he was "sworn into the army in manacles". Like other young black Americans, he diagnosed the Vietnam war as "an attack on minority people, minority people being used to fight each other".
Robert Holcomb perhaps personified what Terry describes today as "a different breed of black soldier entering the battlefield" in the latter half of the 1960s. Terry adds that these hostile black recruits were "veterans of the civil rights movement or the urban upheavals, the riots in the streets. They were being told by judges: 'You'll either join the Marines or go to jail.' " In 1969, during a conversation with Terry, a black naval lieutenant stationed in Vietnam also characterised these black men forced to fight in southeast Asia as "a new generation". He added: "They are the ones who ain't going to take no more shit."
In the aftermath of Martin Luther King's assassination on April 4, 1968, black Americans rioted in more than 100 US cities. But in Vietnam many white soldiers flagrantly applauded his murder. At Cam Ranh Bay, a group of white men wore Ku Klux Klan robes and paraded around the military base. At another compound, the Confederate flag, so symbolic of racial persecution, was hoisted for three days. Don Browne, a black staff sergeant in Vietnam, overheard a white soldier protesting that King's image was always on TV. "I wish they'd take that nigger's picture off," the soldier said, a moment before Browne granted him "a lesson in when to use that word and when you should not use that word - a physical lesson". King's demise was, of course, a pivotal incident in the 1960s because it represented the switch from the nonviolent civil rights movement to the more militant and aggressive Black Power era. James Hawkins, a black soldier in Vietnam, understood this: "Dr King's death changed things, it made a lot of people angry, angry people with weapons."
At this stage, with the extraordinary increase of mostly reluctant troops - black and white - to Vietnam, covert and overt racism was now rife. The fledgling black American conscript was expected to endure the sight of the Confederate flag painted on Jeeps, tanks and helicopters, and sometimes encountered menacing graffiti, such as "I'd rather kill a nigger than a gook", scrawled on the walls in the latrines of US bases. Other grisly practices, such as cross burnings, were uprooted from Alabama and Mississippi to the war theatre of Vietnam, and some commanders tolerated Ku Klux Klan "klaverns" on their bases.
Young black soldiers also discovered that white soldiers, notably at Da Nang, repeatedly refused to pick up exhausted black soldiers in their Jeeps and that army barbers were not trained to cut black hair, although the merest hint of an Afro was penalised. In Terry's recording from 1969, one black sailor describes how, "when they caught a brother with an Afro, they just took him down to the brig and cut all his hair off and throw him in jail. All these beast motherfuckers walking around with their hair looking like goddamn girls and we can't wear our hair motherfucking three inches long." White officers were either sympathetic to or simply disregarded white soldiers who printed "Fuck the war" or "Peace" on their helmets, yet black Americans were disciplined for comparable offences. One black soldier was ordered to remove a "Black is beautiful" poster from the inside of his locker.
The post exchanges and libraries on the bases did not stock black hair products, tapes of soul music or books on black American culture and history. Magazines such as Ebony and Jet were also scarce, as one black private grumbled: "Every time a soul brother over here gets an Ebony or Jet, there is a waiting line of at least 30 to 50 soul brothers waiting to read it." Terry once stated, "If blacks can account for up to 22% of the dying, they should at least have 22% of the jukebox or the music on Armed Forces radio." Yet black American music was neglected by the Armed Forces Radio Network and in the enlisted men's clubs in preference for country music.
Today, Terry comments, laughing: "I find it amusing to see a Vietnam movie and the white guys are popping their fingers to black music. That just didn't happen. This is revisionism." In fact, Terry Whitmore, the author of Memphis-'Nam-Sweden: The Story Of A Black Deserter, witnessed a minor riot in the Freedom Hill post exchange at Da Nang after the manager of the beer garden, irritated by the number of black marines socialising there, promptly withdrew all soul music from the jukebox. But such incidents weren't confined to land. Off the coast of Vietnam, on the USS Sumpter, Captain JS Keuger also banned the music of the Last Poets, whose recordings included When The Revolution Comes. The affronted black sailors subsequently signed a petition, a fight erupted and they were charged with mutiny. Dissension over music resulted in a multitude of other brawls and Jet magazine reported that a white officer was killed in Quang Tri after ordering black soldiers to turn down their music.
Military justice in Vietnam was also rarely racially impartial. Black servicemen were frequently sentenced to longer terms than their white counterparts and, once inside a military prison, black Muslim inmates were refused copies of the Koran. During this period, one black marine pointed out, "The Corps says it treats all men just one way - as a marine. What it actually has done is treat everybody like a white marine." But, most disturbingly, black Americans were dying at a disproportionate rate and this only inflamed their indignation, as one black private remonstrated: "You should see for yourself how the black man is being treated over here and the way we are dying. When it comes to rank, we are left out. When it comes to special privileges, we are left out. When it comes to patrols, operations and so forth, we are first."
Their predicament was aggravated by a weakening in the chain of command. Many of the very young, naive white officers were incapable of diffusing the racial tension and, at times, white privates informed their superior black officers, including Allen Thomas, that they "weren't going to take orders from a nigger".
But, as the naval lieutenant informed Terry back in 1969, these black soldiers were "the ones who ain't going to take no more shit". The black Americans who were drafted from 1967 to 1970 called themselves Bloods, and many were influenced by the teachings and politics of Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panthers and Malcolm X.
Terry explains: "They would wear black amulets, they would wear black beads, black gloves to show their identity and racial pride." Some wore "slave bracelets" made out of boot laces and walked with "Black Power canes", sticks with the nub carved into a clenched fist. To offset the oppressive ubiquity of the Confederate flag, these soldiers flew black flags from their patrol boats and Jeeps. Another group of black servicemen, who were followers of Ron Karenga's US (United Slaves), created a flag that asserted in Swahili "My fear is for you". The "dap", a complicated ritualised handshake that changed from unit to unit , was also common among black personnel in Vietnam. Black privates and officers, too, acknowledged each other in public with a Black Power salute.