Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Race and American Civil-Military Relations from World War II to Vietnam
Abstract: Since World War II, the military has often been at the forefront of civil rights. This is especially true for African Americans. Even before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the "separate but equal doctrine" that upheld segregation in 1954, the U.S. armed forces had already integrated. This leadership has made the military a barometer of public opinion and a laboratory for experiments in achieving greater social equality. Historians consequently need to study the military in order to understand the transformation of American society since World War II. Although historians have documented the reforms within the military that lead to integration, they have only recently began examining the constraints under which military leaders made policy to reach that goal.
This panel will contribute to this scholarship by examining the impact of civil-military relations on the history of racial integration of the military. Douglas Bristol examines how the discriminatory treatment of black troops and WACs overseas during World War II inspired deep skepticism about the commitment of the United States to its self-proclaimed ideals among its wartime allies. William Taylor examines how Leo Bogart and his team of social scientists working in Project Clear served a pivotal role in the campaign to desegregate the American military during the Korean War. Jeremy Maxwell examines the growing divide within the African American community over the Vietnam War, as the traditional view that the military was as a profession offering social advancement gave way to questions raised by the draft generation of why they should fight a white man's war when they were still not enjoying equality at home. By documenting the influence of civilians at home and abroad, this panel will shed new light on the ways the military is linked to American society and to U.S. allies.
Douglas Bristol, University of Southern Mississippi
Participant's Paper Title: "An American Dilemma: The Deployment of Black Troops Overseas and the Image of American Democracy during World War II"
Participant's Paper Abstract: World War II marked a turning point in the American commitment to racial and religious equality. Yet fighting a racist Nazi state with segregated military forces prompted many to declare there was a conflict between American ideology and practice. Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal was the most prominent critic, publishing An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy in 1944. Beyond concern for the moral dilemma that Americans faced, Myrdal pointed out there was a strategic reason for social change. "America," he wrote, "for its international prestige, power, and future security, needs to demonstrate to the world that American Negroes can be satisfactorily integrated into American democracy."
Although historians such as Mary Dudziak, Maria Hohn, and Penny von Eschen have verified the truth of Myrdal's statement during the Cold War, only Graham Smith has thoroughly examined the impact of deploying segregated black troops during World War II in his study of Great Britain. No attempt has been made to study how the deployment of black troops to places as far afield as Calcutta, Dachau, Guadalcanal, Monrovia, and Paris influenced how foreign people viewed the image of American democracy.
This paper seeks to add to the wave of scholarship that corrects isolationist tendencies in American history by applying an international perspective to domestic affairs. Specifically, it will argue that the discriminatory treatment of black troops and WACs overseas during World War II inspired deep skepticism about the commitment of the United States to its self-proclaimed ideas among its wartime allies. The two main sources for this paper are the records of the State Department and the War Department.
Jeremy Maxwell, University of Southern Mississippi
Participant's Paper Title: "The Devolution of Civil-Military Relations during the Vietnam War and the African American Move Away from the Military"
Participant's Paper Abstract: Recognizing the importance of civil military relations within American society, Frederick Douglass and civil rights leaders that followed, championed the idea of serving in the military to gain equality in civilian society. The process of securing equality in the military centered on combating segregation. That fight, while long and arduous, was largely overcome roughly a year after the close of the Korean War.
Vietnam would be the first war America fought as a truly integrated force. Integration, however, did not spell out equality. A multitude of factors merged during this period that changed traditional beliefs in the symbiotic relationship between military service and citizenship. During the American war in Vietnam, mounting casualty rates led African Americans to the realization that they were bearing the burden of the war. Classification tests statically relegated uneducated blacks to infantry assignments that were more likely to lead to possible death or dismemberment. At the same time, civil rights leaders questioned President Johnson's commitment to social change. As Vietnam drew more money away from the programs that were promised and more young blacks died in Vietnam, the newly drafted rebelled against the traditional attitude that touted military service as an advancement to the African American cause.
This paper explores the changing role of civil military relations within the African American community during the Vietnam War. It presents the growing divide between the traditional attitudes of blacks at the beginning of the war who viewed the military as a viable profession and mode of advancement, and the draft generation who questioned why they should fight a white man's war when they were still not enjoying equality at home. Using oral testimonies, I will highlight the rift that grew between the African American community that overturned one hundred years of promoting service to advance in society.
William Taylor, Angelo State University
Participant's Paper Title: "The Final Push: Leo Bogart, Project Clear, and American Civil-Military Relations during the Korean War"
Participant's Paper Abstract: This paper tells the story of Project Clear, a significant effort to grapple with issues of race, combat, and military integration during the Korean War. As the Korean War raged, Major General Ward H. Maris, deputy assistant chief of staff of the army for research and development, requested on 29 March 1951 that Johns Hopkins University's Operations Research Office "initiate a project to determine how best to utilize Negro personnel within the Army." Thus began Project Clear, a secret effort to conduct social research on the U.S. Army during the Korean War. There were archetypes for such an undertaking.
Bogart, the person tasked to lead the effort emphasized the relevance of Project Clear and military integration to American society: "Long before the era of affirmative action, years before the Supreme Court decision (in Oliver Brown et al. vs. Board of Education of Topeka) that struck down the longstanding 'separate but equal' doctrine that had prevailed since post-Civil War reconstruction, the American military moved to abolish racial segregation. This study provided the final push. In this particular debate regarding American military service, civilian leaders forced military personnel policy to change ahead of the practice of American society. President Truman's Executive Order 9981 was the opening salvo, but Project Clear provided "the final push."
This paper seeks to explore the dichotomy between important changes in military policy and actual dynamics on the battlefield that spurred further change. Specifically, it will argue that Leo Bogart and his team of social scientists served a pivotal role in the campaign to desegregate the American military, highlighting to army leaders that racial integration increased combat effectiveness. In doing so, Project Clear pushed reluctant and oftentimes recalcitrant military leaders toward fulfillment of civilian leaders' outlined policies on racial integration of the U.S. military.
Robert Jefferson, University of New Mexico

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