Friday, March 26, 2010

The Other War on Poverty: How The Vietnam War Destroyed The Black Family In the 1960s

Black conservatives always discuss how President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty ripped the Black community into half by utilizing destructive welfare programs. These welfare programs help divide the Black family up. However, one thing that is never discussed from any conservatives is the effect of the Vietnam War and how that helped destroy Black families.

I find it extremely weird how I have heard Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and other White and Black conservatives bring up all the negative aspects of the Great Society Programs but managed to skip the effects of Black families during the Vietnam War. Therefore, I will discuss the effects of the war from an urban conservative perspective.

In his essay The War on Poverty Revisited economist Dr. Thomas Sowell, who makes his point on the War on Poverty:

"In the liberal vision, slums bred crime. But brand-new government housing projects almost immediately became new centers of crime and quickly degenerated into new slums. Many of these projects later had to be demolished. Unfortunately, the assumptions behind those projects were not demolished, but live on in other disastrous programs, such as Section 8 housing. Rates of teenage pregnancy and venereal disease had been going down for years before the new 1960s attitudes toward sex spread rapidly through the schools, helped by War on Poverty money. These downward trends suddenly reversed and skyrocketed. The murder rate had also been going down, for decades, and in 1960 was just under half of what it had been in 1934. Then the new 1960s policies toward curing the "root causes" of crime and creating new "rights" for criminals began. Rates of violent crime, including murder, skyrocketed. The Black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life."

While Dr. Sowell's analysis is direct on both the negative socialization and economic effects of the Great Society Programs one thing he never points out in his analysis is the Vietnam War and its destructive effects on the Black family. The Vietnam War split our homes up because of Black men being drafted into the War where many were being killed in Vietnam. As a result, many women were widowed and left to raise their children as single parents.

What many in this generation do not understand is how The Vietnam War saw the highest proportion of Blacks ever to serve in an American war. During the height of the U.S. involvement, from 1965-69, Blacks, who formed 11% of the American population at that time, made up 13% of the soldiers in Vietnam. The majority of these were in the infantry, and although authorities differ on the figures, the percentage of Black combat fatalities in that period was a staggering 15%.

Our Civil Rights leaders and other critics, including the formidable Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., described the Vietnam conflict as racist—"a White man's war, a Black man's fight." King maintained that Black youths represented a disproportionate share of early draftees and that Blacks faced a much greater chance of seeing combat.

Draft boards themselves were, by their very nature, divisive and discriminatory. For example, in 1967 no Black Americans were present on the boards in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Jack Helms, a member of the Louisiana draft board, was a Grand Wizard in the Ku Klux Klan. He described the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as “a communist-inspired, anti-Christ, sex-perverted group of tennis short beatniks."

While Selective Service regulations offered deferments for college attendance and a variety of essential civilian occupations that favored middle- and upper- class whites the vast majority of draftees were poor, undereducated, and urban—blue-collar workers or unemployed. This reality struck hard in the Black community.

Therefore, President Johnson launched a Great Society Program called Project 100,000. This project attempted to enhance the opportunities of underprivileged youths from poverty-stricken urban areas by offering more lenient military entrance requirements. Although more than 350,000 men enlisted under Project 100,000 during the remainder of the war, 41 percent were African American and 40 percent drew combat assignments.

Some felt in the Black community that the U.S. government were using the Vietnam War as a form of genocide against Blacks and their families by drafting young Black men into a war they fully did not understand. Money was being pumped into Vietnam instead of poor Black communities in America. Although Black represented only 11% of the U.S. population they accounted for almost 20 percent of all combat-related deaths in Vietnam during that period. Over 58,000 lost their lives in the conflict. Black families were destroyed through this effect.

In 1965 alone African Americans represented almost one-fourth of the Army's killed in action. In 1968 African Americans, who made up roughly 12 percent of Army and Marine total strengths, frequently contributed half the men in front-line combat units, especially in rifle squads and fire teams.

Black soldiers were drafted into war and went off to fight because some believed they were protecting their country. Other Black soldiers were avoiding prison so they had no choice but to go. It was quite sometime before word leaked back to the soldiers that the U.S. made a mistake by being in this war. Some Black soldiers were angry, while others had to stick with the old "blood and guts of war belief" because if they faltered in their beliefs then the whole war was for not and loss of many American soldiers would also be for not.

Today, anyone will tell you how the Vietnam War was a political and racial mess. It also help divide our familes in ways unimaginable. It's easy for Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and other Black conservatives to discuss how the Democrats destroyed the Black community with the War on Poverty. I saw a program with Glenn Beck on recently with a group of Black conservatives on there discussing Martin Luther King's legacy. How come these same Black conservatives did not point out how Dr. King voiced his concerns and charged the U.S. Government with being “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world" and urged dissenting Blacks to seek the status of conscientious objectors (to the Vietnam War).

And how come Glenn Beck did not point out how after Martin Luther King’s assassination White soldiers applauded his murder. Racist graffiti, cross burnings and Ku Klux Klan material were tolerated on some bases. Young African-American recruits were confronted with the symbol most associated with historical racist oppression, the Confederate flag, daubed on army machinery including tanks, jeeps and even helicopters. Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, the same time President Richard Nixon campaigned on "states rights" in the Southern Strategy which saw a number of Democrats crossing over to the Republican Party.

The American Government also knew full well that Agent Orange and Agent White would cause many problems, and had absolutely no problem involving their own soldiers when these two chemicals were dispersed. Agent Orange was called "The Red Rain" by the Vietnamese. This affected Black soldiers greatly and many died as a result of both Agent Organe and Agent White which also contributed to destroying the Black family.

Meanwhile, Colin Powell began his military career in Vietnam, rising through the ranks to become General. Indeed, since Vietnam many African-Americans have been promoted to the highest ranks of the U.S Army. Therefore, a positive legacy was left for the new generation of black servicemen, but at a cost: 40% of Black veterans suffered from post-traumatic stress, compared with 20% of White veterans. Again, this post-traumatic stress was hard and explosive for Black families. Add the drug trade of heroin into the community and we had a systematic problem. Again, Black conservatives are silent on these issues that affected our community.

In terms of employment Blacks suffered after returning from combat in Vietnam unforgiving working conditions, particularly in the North. Manufacturing firms were relocating southward because of cheaper land, lower taxes, and lower union membership. This placed a strain on the family component and forced some of these families to get on welfare or sell drugs which often led to incarceration or death. Again, the Black family in shambles.

Not only were there great horrors of the Vietnam War and many casualties, Black soldiers had to face the fact often that they were beginning to disbelieve in the war which made it difficult for them. Some soldiers did more than one tour of duty because they knew nothing else and knew going home would be difficult for them. Besides being psychologically confused by all the horrors of a confusing war, they also got word that some of the very people back in the U.S., were calling them so-called "baby killers."

When Black soldiers came home they were met with opposition from their own community and even had some people spitting at them. They were shocked, bewildered and saddened. Not only did many Black men come back with loss of limbs, blind, but also spiritually and mentally broken. Some managed to find jobs, while others had an extremely difficult time adjusting to civilian life. There are still Vietnam Vets in the urban community who suffer from terrible nightmares and find it difficult to function in civilian life.

So while mainstream conservatives will point out consistently about how the Democrats War on Poverty destroyed Black families Black Republicans cannot remain silent on how the Vietnam War also destroyed Black families as well. This is a history that we must continue to explain to this generation. To omit this discussion from young Black conservatives is considered dishonest. We need to tell ourstory as urban conservatives to those who we are trying to free mentally and not fall for the talking points.

2 comments:

M.E. said...

You know full well that LBJ was not a liberal Democrat but a right-winger. His so-called War on Poverty was a war on the black community who's civil rights movement concerned many whites not only in the south but throughout the country. The public housing projects were meant to disrupt the black urban communities and of course pay off union bosses and contractors.

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