Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship, Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, by Ronald R. Krebs. Cornell University Press (http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu), Box 6525, 750 Cascadilla Street, Ithaca, New York 14851-6525, 2006, 280 pages, $45.00 (hardcover).
From ancient Greece to periods as recent as czarist Russia and even Meiji Japan, citizens have viewed military service as a viable avenue to full citizenship. In Fighting for Rights, Ronald R. Krebs argues that in modern times the Arab Druze (a religious sect) in Israel and African-Americans in the United States have relied on military service to enhance their citizenship status. Krebs further explains why the Druze were more successful than African-Americans and why the latter achieved greater success after World War II than after World War I. He concludes by showing how gays used their minority status and compares the gains of women with the achievements, or the lack thereof, of African-Americans. These groups’ struggles underpin the author’s central question: under what conditions and how does military service shape the nature and outcome of minorities’ struggles for effective citizenship (p. 3)?
Another question in the book is, why does one minority group achieve greater success than another? Krebs believes that the answer lies in the “interaction between the minority’s rhetorical choices and the prevailing citizenship discourse and in the resulting possibilities for continued rhetorical play” (p. 3). For example, suffragists saw in World War I an opportunity for enfranchisement and a chance to break with the Seneca Falls Movement (women’s suffrage movement that grew out of an assembly held at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848). Women combined their efforts with the largest and best-organized women’s group—the National Woman Suffrage Association—and contributed to war efforts at home and abroad. Their turning to a Republican frame by focusing on the “common good” helped their cause. Pres. Woodrow Wilson became a convert and personally intervened to secure passage of the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920.
African-Americans failed to garner similar support after World War I. In contrast, President Wilson’s inertia helped produce the Red Summer of 1919, as immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe and white workers competed for jobs with blacks who had migrated north. The posture and policies of Wilson’s immediate successors—Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge—were equally inept, and black rights were never placed on the national agenda. With black veterans also a target of the period’s violence, Krebs points out that blacks began to realize their military-service gamble had failed. After the war, they noticed that senior military officers charged them with cowardice and ineptitude. One white officer confessed that in France other white officers sought to discredit black servicemen but withheld anything that would bring them praise and commendation (p. 128). Krebs acknowledges that black pleas were ignored because blacks continued to place them in a Republican frame that emphasized “their historical contribution to building the United States, their young men’s recent sacrifices in uniform, and the entire community’s part in the war effort” (p. 143).
Into the vacuum stepped Marcus Garvey, who drove many blacks away from a fledging National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Jamaican-born disciple of Booker T. Washington extolled the virtues of black independence, unheard of since the days of Henry McNeal Turner and Martin R. Delaney. So popular was Garvey that when he visited Los Angeles in 1922, nearly half of southern California’s black population turned out (p. 138). His popularity drew the ire of such leaders as W. E. B. Du Bois of the NAACP and Chandler Owens of the Messenger (a Marxist journal).
Returning stateside after World War II, black servicemen pressed their claims for voting rights and larger employment opportunities. The federal government responded with Pres. Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9971, which desegregated the armed forces in 1948. Blacks realized that after a day’s work in a military environment, they and whites went their separate ways. They also learned much from the rhetorical coercion of post-World-War-I-era activists as they emphasized battlefield achievements.
Changing their course for success, black leaders first capitalized on the language of individual rights, especially as outlined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Second, they turned to a foreign-affairs frame, placing their claims after 1947 in an international context, enabling the United States to win the support of non-Communist Asia and Africa. In addition, Pres. Franklin Roosevelt’s Fair Employment Committee and Truman’s President’s Committee on Civil Rights (1947) undergirded black progress for at least the next two decades. A Supreme Court that had been the nemesis of blacks in the nineteenth century became a major ally in the twentieth century; a Congress that had been an ally during Reconstruction in the nineteenth century became their nemesis for much of the twentieth century.
Focusing on the years from independence to the 1980s, Krebs outlines how the Druze framed their route to full citizenship in terms of military sacrifice and how they “remain convinced that this has been the key to their success” (p. 184). The Druze lacked the cultural resources to advance their standing, yet the domestic and international communities reminded Israel that it must work to buttress Israeli interests and not solely Jewish interests. A sympathetic Hebrew-language press also helped publicize Druze grievances. In sum, the Arab Druze played the political game according to Israeli rules and did so by emphasizing integration.
The post-cold-war atmosphere of the 1990s was an excellent time for the military to experiment with a more liberal policy on sexual orientation. Yet the gay community blasted the Clinton administration for not going far enough with its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Arguments for and against gay recruitment focused on unit cohesion and combat effectiveness. Gays contend that true acceptance in America will not come as long as the military’s discriminatory policies continue to deny them a place in the armed forces.
Krebs’s well-written, meticulously researched book is an enormous contribution to military history, government, and academia. Fighting for Rights shows how the military is viewed by nonmilitary members and governments, why recruits enlist, and what their expectations are once they enlist. Governments want to know if the military is a nation builder or a nation destroyer. For African-Americans and other minorities, the study emphasizes that patriotism and an opportunity to show that they belong top their list.
and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author
cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of
They do not reflect the official position of the U.S.
Government, Department of Defense, the United
Air Force or the
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