National Review Online
September 2002

The Color of Combat: The Minority-Disproportion Myth
by Mackubin T. Owens


..........The contention that in America's wars, minorities bear a disproportionate burden of the fighting and dying has long been a staple of Left-wing rhetoric since the Vietnam War. Even as late as the Gulf War in 1991, Jesse Jackson, addressing a largely black audience, claimed that "when that war breaks out, our youth will burn first."

But as Will Rogers once said, "It's not the things we don't know that get us into trouble. It's the things we know that just ain't true." The claim of disproportionate minority casualties wasn't true during the Vietnam War, where the record indicates that 86 percent of those who died during the war were white and 12.5 percent were black, from an age group in which blacks comprised 13.1 percent of the population. It is even less true today.

To understand why, it is necessary to look a little beneath the surface. While overall, minorities comprise 30 percent of the Army, one of the two services that would be expected to bear the brunt of close combat in Iraq, they tend to be underrepresented in the combat arms. As the incomparable Tom Ricks observed in a January 1997 article for the Wall Street Journal, the "old stereotype about the Army's front-line units being cannon fodder laden with minorities" is false.

The fact is that blacks disproportionately serve in Army combat-service support units, not combat units. When Ricks wrote his piece, such units had become "majority minority," with more black soldiers than white. By contrast, he observed, the infantry, which generally suffers the most casualties in wartime, had become "whiter than America." African Americans constituted nine percent of the infantry, compared to 11.8 percent of the age eligible civilian population. In 1995, 79 percent of the new troopers were white, compared with 74.3 percent of civilians. There is little evidence to suggest that these figures have changed much over the last five years.

Why is this the case? Ricks pointed out that the new demographics of the Army have to do with the dynamics of an all-volunteer force—Blacks and whites join the military for different reasons. On the one hand, white youths are frequently looking for adventure while they try to raise money for college. As a result, they tend to flock to the combat arms, especially elite units like the Rangers and airborne. On the other, young black males, "are generally seeking skills, and so gravitate toward administrative and technical jobs. Because they often find the Army a fairer and better place to live than civilian society, blacks tend to stay enlisted longer: Though only 22% of today's recruits are black, the Army itself is 30% black."

In addition, most pilots are white, as are most special-operations forces, e.g. Navy SEALS and Army
special-forces. This leads one to the conclusion that in a war, middle-class white kids, not minorities, would be at the greatest risk, since they make up the bulk of the combat arms. So much for the conventional wisdom.

[Mackubin Thomas Owens is professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, RI, and an adjunct fellow of the Ashbrook Center. He is also a Colonel in the USMCR. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of the War College, Navy Department, or Department of Defense.]
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The statistics on Vietnam are proving to be quite interesting in the final analysis -- much to the chagrin of many pundits. Will Roger's quote, in the early part of Owen's article, was quite apropos. But rather than get hung up on all this statistical nonsense, we should be concentrating on the first issue at hand -- training and equipping a military force that can get the job done with minimum loss of life. Some will die, make no mistake about that, but the cost of freedom has never come cheap! 

Beyond the debate looming on whether or not to attack Iraq, have you been watching the situation relative to west coast dock workers and port facility owners? The loss of jobs and diminished economy as a result of that lockout (precipitated by the dock worker's slowdown) makes me wonder if this country has its head screwed on properly. We appear to be in an unnecessary economic death spiral. This isn't helping things one bit. Within this downward spiral we are de-fueling our ability to wage a proper war, if it must come to that. This country must start coming together soon if we are going to pull ourselves out of the hole we seem to be digging ourselves into. Debate is good, but action is better. Politics are taking a front seat, at the expense of national interests. There is a good item written by Senator Zell Miller floating around the Internet now. I haven't passed it since I'm sure most of you have already seen it. You don't necessary have to buy into all he is saying, but I do on the main message -- put country above personal and political agenda -- draw together!  I've always felt the Marine Corps had the best approach to doing business. Before a looming issue, everyone gets together and dukes it out. After thorough and (usually) animated debate, a decision is made. And like it (decision) or not, everyone goes to the dance whistling the same tune (Steady the course, full speed ahead!). As a country, we need to come together soon with a cogent economic and foreign policy plan. There is not a lot of time left to squander. Put all the cards on the table and decide a course of action. But be sure to think it through thoroughly first. Stick to the points based on what's good for our country and Allies' best interests. (Never forget we are not alone.) Decide on the necessary courses of action -- and then carry them through. Right or wrong we will then be able to maneuver forward -- not backward or, worse yet, flounder.  Mistakes can be corrected mid-stream because there will be room to maneuver. We shouldn't be caught sitting on the dock of the bay, as Otis Redding might say! 
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AND THE JEWS ? They're enlisted  in the Ivy League. 
 
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