In An Army in Crisis Alexander Vazansky analyzes the social crisis that developed among the U.S. Army forces stationed in Germany between 1968 and 1975. This crisis was the result of shifting deployment patterns across the world during the Vietnam War; changing social and political realities of life in postwar Germany and Europe; and racial tensions, drug use, dissent, and insubordination within the U.S. Army itself, influenced by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the youth movement in the States. With particular attention to 1968, An Army in Crisis examines the changing relationships between American and German soldiers, from German deference to familiarity and fraternization, and the effects that a prolonged military presence in Germany had on American military personnel, their dependents, and the lives of Germans. Vazansky presents an innovative study of opposition and resistance within the ranks, affected by the Vietnam War and the limitations of personal freedom among the military during this era.
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Black GIs in Postwar Germany
During the immediate postwar period, black GIs stationed in Germany and elsewhere in Europe became an issue for the army as well as African American civil rights activists. As U.S. armed forces entered Germany in 1945, concern arose whether the population, which had been exposed to and had participated in a racist ideology, would accept supervision by "racially inferior" Negro troops. Germans really were apprehensive at first about the black troops among them. Many people in the southwestern region of Germany remembered the French occupation forces in the Rhineland after World War I, which included between 14,000 and 25,000 colonial troops from Morocco and Senegal. In a propaganda effort, German politicians and journalists depicted these troops as "wild beasts" let loose upon the German people to humiliate them. The event became known in Germany as the schwarze Schmach (black humiliation) and evoked images of black savages raping German women. Colonial troops were no more vicious or barbaric than their white counterparts in the French army, but the image of the schwarze Schmach remained vivid in the minds of many Germans. During the last months of World War II, the National Socialists intensified their racial scare propaganda about African American soldiers.
Despite these early anxieties among Germans, their experiences would turn out quite differently. As a matter of fact, many Germans agreed that the black soldiers "distinguished themselves through their generosity and friendliness toward the Germans." Many Germans preferred the black GIs to their white counterparts, because the former were more generous with their food rations and "approached the defeated Germans with less arrogance." In their defeat and humiliation, the Germans may have also felt a sense of solidarity with the black GIs because white Americans treated the latter as second-class citizens.
As the army settled into its new role as an occupation force in the American sector of Germany, commanders not only maintained the system of segregation that was still the norm in the army but made an unsuccessful effort to rid themselves of black soldiers in their command. Ironically these efforts were taking place at a time when the number of black soldiers in the army in Europe was rising. The army did not demobilize black GIs as fast as white soldiers, because it gave preference to combat veterans. Prejudice and segregation had kept the number of black combat soldiers low. African Americans were also more likely to reenlist or to newly enlist in the army. While the number of black troops in Germany never exceeded the percentage for the entire army, overseas commanders insisted that they had more black troops than they could absorb. They reported some 19,000 black soldiers in excess of billets in black units and some 2,000 men above the theater's current allotment of black troops.
Despite the fact that the segregated black units were overcrowded, commanders in the European theater refused to assign black soldiers to other units or occupations. The black combat units that had existed during the war were now mostly deactivated, and their members were absorbed into quartermaster or general service. No black soldiers served at the headquarters of European Theater Operation (ETO) in Frankfurt, and the commander of ETO, Gen. Joseph T. McNarney, did not employ a single black officer on his staff. African Americans held no positions in the military government. They had not been integrated into the military police units either and were therefore suspiciously absent at the Nuremberg trials. The army's maintenance of segregation and the resulting discrimination continued to negatively impact morale and discipline among black GIs in Germany.
The unfavorable comparison between U.S. barracks in 1970 and the victorious troops occupying Germany in the wake of World War II carried some irony considering that in 1946 the army in Germany suffered from an increase in crimes committed by its soldiers accompanied by an increase in venereal diseases. The rise in venereal disease cases was seen as an indicator of bad morale and lack of discipline. The relaxation of discipline and the heightened level of lawlessness were not unusual for a victorious army. The need to reorganize and redeploy large numbers of troops as well as take over the administration of the occupied territory caused much confusion within the army in 1945 and 1946. The breakdown of German society and its economy provided GIs with ample opportunity for looting and illegal marketeering. Moreover, the poverty of the population made sex an easily available commodity. The rate for soldiers afflicted with venereal disease jumped from 75 cases per 1,000 before VE day (May 8) to 251 per 1,000 at the end of 1945. The rate remained this high for the next two years. While high levels of criminal and sexual activity were apparent across the army, the statistics from the early occupation period contained a racial twist. Black soldiers were represented in these statistics in disproportionate numbers. Historian Morris MacGregor presents a statistic according to which the disease rate among black soldiers was 806 cases per 1,000 black soldiers as compared with 203 cases per 1,000 white soldiers. Court-martial rates were also significantly higher for black soldiers, 3.48 per 1,000 compared with 1.14.
These numbers point to a high level of frustration among black soldiers at the time. They are also indicators that despite the army's official dedication to a policy of "separate but equal," black soldiers widely experienced discrimination. Black officers were scarce. White officers and the military police were often hostile and prejudiced toward African Americans, and black units were often housed in poor camp locations. Many of the black soldiers had been sent over to Europe without basic training, came from poor educational backgrounds, and served under young and inexperienced noncommissioned officers. The high crime and disease rates among black GIs drew the attention of the Senate's Special Investigations Committee and the attention of noted criminologist Leonard Keeler. In response to a study by Keeler, who recommended excluding African Americans from Europe, DOD aide Marcus Ray, who advised the department on racial matters, argued that the statistics were a result of the high concentration of blacks in a few places separate from white units. Ray believed that if the army afforded black soldiers at least the same opportunities for advancement and acquisition of special skills as their white counterparts, the situation in Germany would improve. Ray had toured the German bases himself in December 1946. While he did not call for an immediate end to the system of segregation, he did favor integrating black specialists. He strongly criticized the exclusion of African Americans from combat units and certain occupations because of assumed prejudices on the part of the German population.
Attitudes about race among commanders in Germany bore similarities to the attitudes of commanders in the 1960s. Most of them maintained that African Americans made inferior soldiers. However, like later commanders, they believed that the poor performance and state of indiscipline among black soldiers was not the result of prejudice or discrimination but of social upbringing or conditioning of African Americans in their communities in the United States. The army, these officers believed, was not the place to initiate social reform. Officers stationed in Germany also argued that the presence of black soldiers in Germany needed to be limited in order not to offend the perceived racial sensibilities of the Germans. Even though Germans were seen as the vanquished enemy, their presumed sensibility to race was used as a rationale not to change potentially discriminatory practices. An example for this practice was the military police. African Americans were kept out of the constabulary because this would put them in a position where they supervised and wielded police control over German nationals.
Sensitivity to African Americans in positions of authority reflected the preconceptions of white U.S. officers rather than the feelings of the German population. Marcus Ray condemned officers for taking into account racial sensibilities that were the result of a wrong and defeated ideology. Like the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), he had found that Germans had not reacted in the expected hostile fashion to the presence of black troops. He "found no carry-over of Nazi racial ideologies."
Black GIs often experienced their service time in Germany and Europe in general as liberating. This was due to the unexpected friendliness of the German people as well as the fact that blacks could enter any bar or store. Moreover, while black soldiers associating with German women did cause resentment, they could still do so without facing arrest or the kind of physical violence they would have encountered in many parts of the United States.
The depictions from black reporters of the NNPA, however, should not be taken as an indication that the German population did not exhibit any prejudice or hostility. When these reporters favorably depicted the racial atmosphere among Germans, they did so to indict the situation that awaited black GIs at home. By showing that black soldiers received better treatment from former Nazi Germans than from their own countrymen, the black journalists shed a most unfavorable light on their own society. African Americans in Germany continued to experience segregation and discrimination within the army, but they also faced limits to the Germans' tolerance particularly in regard to interracial relationships between black GIs and German women.
Brawls between black soldiers and German men over women were common during the early occupation period. Willoughby and MacGregor argue that records of the period indicate that Germans interpreted such clashes over women as a German-American problem rather than an issue of race. The NNPA alleged that it was U.S. officers and military policemen who often racialized these clashes. They discouraged associations between black GIs and white women by often employing strong-arm methods "at the mere sight of a Negro soldier and a white girl."
While white Americans may have imported many of their racial attitudes, indications are that German men and women objected to relationships between black men and German women due to their own prejudices. Germans would publicly insult women associating with black soldiers. These women were often prostitutes squatting in camps outside the towns. German officials harassed and arrested such women.
In 1947 the deputy theater commander, Lt. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner, and Marcus Ray, who left his DOD position to become a lieutenant colonel in Europe, started a program to improve the status of black troops. Recognizing that most black enlisted men sent from the United States were poorly educated and badly trained, Huebner and Ray established a three-month training program. The soldiers were drilled in both military and academic subjects. A training center was established at Kitzingen Air Base. The education of soldiers was continued on duty, as a soldier was required to undergo academic instruction until he passed the general education development (GED) test. Black soldiers who had undergone training at Kitzingen scored an average of twenty points higher on army classification tests.
While it is hard to demonstrate a direct connection between the training program and the improvement in the morale and discipline of African American troops, a dramatic improvement had taken place by 1950. The venereal disease rate and the serious incident rate dropped closer to the average rates among white troops. The training program demonstrated that educated black soldiers performed their duties just as well as their white counterparts. It also demonstrated that segregation normally meant discrimination. But it would take the army a few more years to accept this fact.
In 1948 Truman began to take a stronger interest in civil rights issues. With the presidential candidacy of Thomas Dewey and Henry Wallace and the defection of Southern Democrats from the party, the urban black minority vote became important to Truman's quest for reelection. Civil rights leaders pressured the Truman administration hard to integrate the armed forces, and they threatened to start a campaign of civil disobedience, a threat not easily overlooked by the administration considering that at this point 10 percent of the military population was black. Since Truman could not pass any kind of civil rights legislation through Congress, he had to rely on the instrument of executive order. Executive Order 9981 officially desegregated the armed forces, declaring "equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons." A presidential committee was organized that would review the manpower policies of the services and the implementation of the order. Despite the somewhat vague language (for example, the word "integration" was omitted), the order was a turning point in the civil rights struggle and the history of the armed forces. It was widely interpreted as an order to make integration a federal policy.
However, the new dedication of the commander in chief to racial integration did not translate to an immediate acceptance of this policy by senior officers, who tended to believe that integration of the army was neither necessary nor feasible. They maintained that the army could not serve as a vehicle for social experimentation, that black soldiers, because of social and educational disadvantages, could not compete with their white counterparts, and that therefore racial segregation was the fairest and most efficient system that the army could offer at that time.
The most important factor in ending segregation in the army was the Korean War. As in previous wars, the increased demands in manpower forced change in racial policies. During the initial phases of the war, the black units were up to 60 percent overstrength because of the high reenlistment rate of black soldiers and because the army insisted on assigning newly enlisted black soldiers to existing black units. At the same time the predominantly white combat units in Korea were unable to replace their losses at a sufficient level to maintain their battle strength. Without any sanction from the Department of Defense, commanders in Korea started to assign incoming black soldiers with combat specialties into white units to make up for their battle losses. By May 1951, more than 9 percent of the black soldiers in Korea served in unofficially integrated units. Another 9 percent were in integrated units that were predominantly black. On May 14, 1951, Far East commander Gen. Matthew B. Ridgeway formally requested that all the units in his command be integrated. Surprisingly, Ridgeway's proposal met with little resistance and was officially approved on July 1, 1951. The integration of the Eighth Army went smoothly and caused none of the problems senior officers had always predicted.
The successful example of Korea convinced the army chief of staff, J. Lawton Collins, that integration was not only workable but also the most efficient way of organizing the army. On December 29, 1951, Collins ordered all major commands, continental and overseas, to prepare integration programs. After some initial resistance from senior officials in those commands, especially in Europe, Collins ordered the worldwide integration a year later in December 1952. The last segregated army unit was eliminated in the first half of 1954. For the remainder of the decade and well into the next, the army became the most integrated institution in the United States. Despite the fears and predictions of most senior army officials, integration went smoothly and without any major disturbances. Subsequently the army's success in the area of race relations became a source of pride to its officers and enlisted men. For the first time in its history, the army was ahead of developments in general society with respect to desegregation and integration.
The last black unit in Germany, the Ninety-Fourth Engineer Battalion, was deactivated in November 1954. Initially European commanders had been reluctant to follow the example of their colleagues in the Far East. When briefed about the successes of integration in Korea in November 1951, commanders voiced their skepticism. They believed integration was impractical for Europe. Once again officers pointed to the racial homogeneity of the host country. They argued that blacks serving with whites would cause social problems. The army chief of staff largely ignored the concerns of the European commanders and ordered the European command headed by Gen. Thomas T. Handy to submit a plan for racial integration on December 14, 1951.
On January 24, 1952, Collins accepted Handy's proposal to integrate combat units over a period of six months at the end of which all units would be 10 percent black. The army's insistence on a de facto quota of 10 percent strength per unit would slow the process down. Since overall black strength in Europe exceeded 10 percent in 1952 and 1953, it took European command until 1954 to properly balance and integrate its units. Despite the anxieties of many officers, integration of the army in Europe proceeded smoothly. Combat readiness increased. The army was now less vulnerable to Communist propaganda, and the civilian population took little notice.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "An Army in Crisis"
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Table of Contents
Introduction Part 1. Race Discrimination and Black Power in the U.S. Army, Europe
1. Black GIs in Postwar Germany
2. Growing Racial Tensions
3. Failed Leadership Responses and Black Power
4. The New Race Relations Policies
Part 2. Political Protest and Antiwar Activism
5. Resistance and Dissent in the U.S. Army
6. The Situation in USAREUR, 1968–1975 Part 3. Between Punishment and Rehabilitation
7. Drug Abuse Prevention in the U.S. Government
8. Drug Abuse in USAREUR, 1970–1975
9. The German Response