Critical Race Theory (CRT) ideologues and their Diversity-Inclusion-Equity (DIE)-minded cousins peddle various fantasies. One reprehensible narrative concerns racial disparities among US military deaths during wartime. Not content with claims that teachers who require correct answers from students on their math problems are guilty of “white supremacy culture” (see A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction); or that 1619 rather than 1776 marks the true founding of the country; that disparity of results among those of differing pigmentation manifests race prejudice; or that good “antiracism” requires racism of a different sort (against whites and Asians); CRT-based assertions that US combat losses from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq prove institutional racism are particularly contemptible. They paint those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in a negative light, as if pawns in a racist conspiracy.
As a Virginia Military Institute (VMI) graduate and retired Air Force member with several kinfolk currently in-service, I want to make clear that it makes no difference to me what color someone was who died in the service. Each military fatality, of which I’ve known my share among unit buddies and friends – during peacetime or hostilities – deserves the honor of a grateful nation. The member’s melanin is a zero to me.
This commentary addresses losses in three conflicts: Southeast Asia (often referred to as “Vietnam”), Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Regarding Vietnam, the popular consensus has been to view the presumed inordinately high loss rate of black ground-combat personnel in that conflict as tantamount to their use as “cannon fodder” by the Pentagon. This view continues to be perpetuated by CRT gurus such as Richard Delgado, “a mentee of [Derrick] Bell,” considered “the father of CRT” – both quotes from a VMI diversity official whose own dissertation promotes the myth.
In his highly-regarded 1999 work, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam, Lewis Sorley added to the findings of Col. Harry Summers, Jr. (pg. 303):
Summers noted that the casualties were proportioned by race in about the same numbers as the population as a whole, and that almost 70 percent of those who were killed in Vietnam had been volunteers. “Instead of ‘black, poor, and conscripted’ as we have been led to believe,” wrote Colonel Summers, “the evidence is those who died in Vietnam were mostly ‘white, middle class and volunteers.’ And so were most who served there as well. But that is a ‘nonfact,’ i.e., a fact not acknowledged because it’s not politically correct.”
Sorley added, “Perhaps most meaningful of all the evidence is the large numbers of veterans who, decades after the war, still attend annual reunions of the outfits in which they served.” Of course, that was two decades ago. But for most, their war experience was meaningful and treasured. I know firsthand of one small town where Memorial Day remembrances of their war dead, including from Vietnam, have zero to do with race. Their events are uplifting, after long decades still mixing laughter, hugs, and tears. It is one of the most patriotic communities in the country: Andalusia, Alabama. I recommend a visit.
The mischaracterization of military deaths by race in Vietnam served different agendas. Beginning in the 1960s, for those seeking to live absent civic responsibility – perhaps including draft-dodging (not limited to either major political party) – it was convenient to decry the war or military manpower efforts as racist. To others starting up the now-multibillion-dollar, inherently-divisive race industry (currently led by Black Lives Matter Global Foundation), the racially-engineered “cannon fodder” mantra fueled support and donors.
However, one badly misguided military manpower program must be mentioned here: Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s “Project 100,000,” which permitted previously unfit young men to serve in the armed forces, most of them between 1967 and 1970. The project was a militarily counterproductive extension to the Pentagon of the Johnson administration’s Great Society programs. At the same time, defense leaders realized the need for more ground-combat forces in Vietnam than were readily available, a requirement the project helped to fill.
Meanwhile, President Johnson had refused to mobilize the reserves for the war, most likely so as not to compromise his Great Society ambitions of economic and social uplift for the poor. For those four years, an inordinately large number of draft-age black men were inducted, roughly one-half of whom previously would not have been eligible for military service due to low aptitude, social maladjustment, or violence.
Of those inducted, about one-half volunteered, the others were conscripted. An inordinate percentage of young blacks went into the infantry, and fought and died or were wounded in Vietnam (see Lisa Hsiao’s 1989 article, “Project 100,000: The Great Society’s Answer to Military Manpower Needs in Vietnam”). Rightly deemed a failure, the project was costly especially in lives lost or ruined.
But by the early 1970s, as the “Vietnamization” process followed by the American withdrawal turned the war over to the South Vietnamese, throughout the previous decade the US military’s loss of white and black personnel in Vietnam approximated their percentages in the US population at large. In 1970, black Americans comprised 11.1 percent of the population. Of the 58,220 US military deaths reported by the National Archives, black or African-American losses were 7,243, or 12.4 percent. By comparison, in 1970 the US white population was 87.7 percent. White military losses totaled 49,830, or 85.6 percent.
For the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, a Congressional Research Service report (CRS Report RL32492), updated in 2020, provided reliable statistics on US military casualties by categories, including race. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the combined US Army-Marine-Corps hostile/nonhostile fatalities are as follows (the crux of the issue is ground-combat losses, so I omitted Navy and Air Force fatalities):
Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)
black: 177 (8.3 percent)
white: 1,821 (85.8 percent)
total (including all races): 2,122 dead (hostile/nonhostile)
Operation Iraqi Freedom
black: 422 (9.9 percent)
white: 3,520 (82.6 percent)
total (including all races): 4,260 dead (hostile/nonhostile)
In 2000 (the first time respondents could report multiple races), of those who claimed only one race in the census, blacks comprised 12.3 percent; whites accounted for 75.1 percent.
If one thing is clear from the above statistics, there is no basis for the claim that black military personnel have been used generally as “cannon fodder” in America’s wars from Vietnam to the present. The lone, temporary exception was the misbegotten McNamara Pentagon’s attempt at social engineering in the late 1960s – not so unlike today’s counterproductive programming in the defense department, perhaps, ironically, including CRT.
For CRT advocates from Bell to Delgado to VMI’s diversity office to claim that the typical use of black military personnel has been as “cannon fodder” is false, disproven by the facts, and irresponsible.
Of course, if one assumes – as some CRT writers do – that employing facts is, itself, evidence of “white supremacy culture,” such an individual may only be pitied.
Forrest L. Marion, VMI Class of 1980