Published: Monday, September 10, 2007
Why blacks are not joining the military
The Iraq War is changing the way blacks view the military. For decades, they saw military service as a route out of poverty and an escape hatch from discrimination. Not now.
Thanks to President Bush's war, blacks have soured on the military. The number of black recruits has plunged in all four branches of the military since the invasion of Iraq, according to Pentagon data reported by the Associated Press. In 2001, there were nearly 51,500 black recruits for active duty and reserves. By 2006, that number had fallen to less than 32,000 a 38 percent decline.
The Army, which has the most troops deployed in Iraq, has registered the steepest decline. Five years ago, nearly one in four recruits were black, according to the Army Recruiting Command, but black recruits dropped to 13 percent of the Army's total in 2006.
In 1974, 21 percent of new Marine recruits were black, according to the University of Maryland's Center for Research on Military Organization. By 2006, that figure was just 8 percent.
The sharp drop over the last few years reflects the negative attitude that blacks have of President Bush.
"This is George Bush's war, and African-Americans neither trust nor like George Bush," said David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington think tank that focuses on black issues.
Polls consistently have revealed high rates of black American opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Even in 2003, when there was considerable overall support for the invasion, black support never rose above 44 percent in major polls. This June, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that black support has fallen to 15 percent.
Although blacks had a disproportionate presence in the military, they have seldom been gung-ho for military action. "It has to do with black folks' tradition of opposition to war," noted Ronald Walters, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland. "We join the services and take part in war, but we often are opposed to it for moral reasons."
Other reasons cited for the decline in black recruits are better economic and educational opportunities for blacks and the high incarceration rates of young black males. Of these, only the high incarceration rate seems plausible. The black unemployment rate is still twice the rate for whites, and the percentage of black males in college has remained flat.
Blacks also resent the high cost of this war, which is now running $3 billion a week. One president after another has contended that the government has insufficient funds to improve the dismal state of housing, health care and education among blacks, yet President Bush has somehow managed to find hundreds of billions of dollars to invade and reconstruct Iraq. This fact sticks in people's throats.
To address the dropoff in black enrollment, the Army is offering higher enlistment bonuses and is gearing up a new marketing campaign aimed at blacks.
A more effective strategy would be to bring the troops home from Iraq.
Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor at In These Times magazine in Chicago. The writer wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.