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Before assessing the details of what they call a success story with caveats, sociologists Moskos (Northwestern Univ.) and Butler (Univ. of Texas) provide a once-over-lightly survey of the African- American experience in the US military, from the colonial era to the present. Getting down to business, the authors offer by-the- numbers summaries on the incidence of African-Americans in the enlisted, NCO, and commissioned ranks (one in nine members of the Army's officers corps is black). Liberal complaints about cannon fodder to the contrary, there's no evidence that blacks are overrepresented in front-line units, which suffer the greatest casualties under fire. Moskos and Butler characterize the Army as a race-savvy, not race-blind, service that pragmatically subordinates trendy peripheral concerns (ethnic diversity, multiculturalism) to its primary goal of combat readiness. The authors go on to argue that "the Army does not patronize or infantilize blacks by implying that they need special standards in order to succeed." Instead of lowering its standards, they point out, the Army elevates veterans as well as recruits with a wealth of instructional courses and programs. Among the lessons to be learned from the accomplishments of the Army and its black soldiers, they cite the need to focus on opportunity and to link affirmative-action efforts to supply- rather than demand-side exigencies or aspirations. In a concluding chapter, the authors call for a national service corps to offset the loss of opportunities caused by downsizing of the US military.
An important, eye-opening study that delivers fresh, matter- of-fact perspectives on a divisive issue in need of more reason and less rhetoric.