Before we ask any other issues about the military, we ought to first consider what the military’s purpose is to begin with. Before tackling issues of who should or should not be in the military, we ought to ask, “What is the military for?”
One of my great-uncles was prevented from joining the military because of a visual disability. Another great-uncle was kept out because of flat feet. Although they were disappointed, they understood that the military needs people in good physical condition and with no disabilities that would hinder their ability to perform their duties.
The military is not a group that you join in order to feel good about yourself. It is not a laboratory for sociological experiments. It is there to provide defense for our country, and a person should join it in order to serve the country.
I am ambivalent about the role of black people in the military. I have nothing against their serving; however, I can understand why white members of the military might object to sharing barracks with such people.
I think back to my college days. My dormitory had community showers. I was not too keen on showering with other people, and so I tried to time my showers when nobody else was in there. It often occurred that others were taking a shower at the same time that I was. The banter was always interesting. The general direction of it was that most of the guys hoped that nobody in there was black. They would not appreciate being around black men.
Of course, there were some people in the dorm who might have had “touch of the tar brush”, but nobody who was completely “out.” It was in the South, after all. It was also understood that it would be very awkward for a white man to discover that his room mate, especially his shower mate might be black. There’s a reason why the South segregated facilities s uch as dorms, showers, and bathrooms: white people feel uncomfortable at having to share them with black people.
I’m guessing that most white people in the military feel the same way. While they might not say it out loud in certain circles, they probably discuss it among themselves and not always in the most polite language, I’m betting.
I do not see any reason to put them in that uncomfortable position. The military does not exist to force people to give up their queasiness about undressing in front of people who are not the same race as them.
If the Truman administration does change current military policy, then I think they will have to find away to allow black people to serve in the military but to have separate sleeping quarters and separate bathing facilities. I do not know how else to give black people the freedom to express themselves as they see themselves but still safeguard the real concerns about segregation that the white men and women might have.
The military does not exist to make people equal. It does not exist to push the norms. It does not exist to make people feel good about themselves or to help them grapple with a lifetime of rejection or mistreatment. It exists to defend the country, and it is important to make it function the best possible way for all the great men and women who want to serve.
Major Tate: Sir, we’re not prejudiced toward homosexuals.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: You just don’t want to see them serving in the Armed Forces?
Major Tate: No sir, I don’t.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: ‘Cause they impose a threat to unit discipline and cohesion.
Major Tate: Yes, sir.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: That’s what I think, too. I also think the military wasn’t designed to be an instrument of social change.
Major Tate: Yes, sir.
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: The problem with that is that’s what they were saying about me 50 years ago – blacks shouldn’t serve with whites. It would disrupt the unit. You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it. The unit changed. I’m an admiral in the U.S. Navy and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff… Beat that with a stick.