In Freedom, Equality, and Justice for All, James N. Leiker argues that the U.S. was not truly fighting for democracy and freedom during World War II. Many people drew comparison between the Jim Crow laws and Nazism, which is ironic considering the United States were fighting against it. During wars such as World War I and World War II African Americans were still discriminated against and even African American soldiers were segregated from white soldiers. African American soldiers stayed in horrible barracks and white soldiers had better barracks. Also, many white soldiers wanted different colored uniforms to differentiate from African American soldiers. Many Africans American felt free in other countries that they visited during the war compared to their own country. The military at time was trying to promote anti-discrimination in the war to give African Americans something worth fighting for. Ultimately, the message that James N. Leiker is trying to get across is that there were many “heroes” during this time that were doing things that are now considered normal. Tolerating each other regardless of their race and working together during the war.
Leiker mentions how many of the African American soldiers that wished to fight in the war could not because of their disadvantages. According to Leiker, “Black manpower generally ran low during the war due to higher rejection rates, often for health reasons like venereal disease or failure to meet minimum educational requirements.” (Leiker, 34). The venereal diseases were caused from the limited recreational communities for African Americans were in prostitution districts. African American soldiers had it bad from the very beginning because white people always looked down on them. According to Leiker, the reason behind African American’s AGCT test scores was because of their socioeconomic background. Many of the men were intelligent they just did not have the same advantages as their fellow white soldiers. Once the war got really bad the government realized they needed more black soldiers. Many people noticed the hypocrisy of the U.S. military racially discriminating in a time of war against racism. The government then promised that after the war, life for African Americans would get better.
One main point of the article was the hypocrisy during a war against racism. America was fighting against fascism while it was still going on in the country. This made many other allied countries that were against Hitler to question America’s intentions. Charles F. Wilson states that “Are the Chinese people to believe that we are fighting to bring them freedom, equality, and justice, when they can see that in our Armed Forces we are not even practicing ourselves what we are preaching?” (Leiker, 31). Many white soldiers did not care and wanted to be separated from the small percentage of African American soldiers. It was also exceedingly difficult for African Americans to join the war simply because they had health problems, or they did not meet the educational requirements. African American soldiers were already at a disadvantage compared to white soldiers. This led to the government declaring that African Americans are needed in the war and by giving them “perks” after fighting in the war. They gave African Americans false hope by promising “a strengthening of democracy at home and abroad, greater rights under the law, a greater opportunity to improve his conditions.” (Leiker, 36) This obviously did not sit well with many white citizens back home that supported the Jim Crow laws.
Another main point of the article was how the war against racism changed many soldiers view of the United States. There was a positive and negative side to this, some white soldiers befriended the African American soldiers, and some saw them as a potential enemy. White soldiers realized that African Americans are not as dull as they thought they were. Many racists believed African Americans were harmless but once they left the war they were perceived as a threat because they knew how to fight. Many white commanders already thought low of African Americans, so they let their stereotype affected their vision of the soldiers. Clark (2020) states “Black soldiers returned home to the United States facing violent white mobs of those who resented African Americans in uniform and perceived them as a threat to the social order of Jim Crow.” (1). Also, even after the soldiers fought in the war, they did not receive the benefits other white soldiers received such as the GI bill. Basically, African American soldier were told empty promises by the government so they could fight in a war they thought would change their lives. These soldiers were fighting so their lives would be better back in America.
This is article is still relevant to modern day because there is still racial discrimination and not only in the military. Just as Leiker put it, after African Americans came home from the war, they were considered a threat to many supporters of the Jim Crow laws. People still believe all African Americans pose a threat, even police officers believe it. But even then, racial discrimination still occurs in the military even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act states that employers cannot use race as criteria for hiring purposes. The military in a way is exempt from this because they cannot go to a civilian court to challenge the racial discrimination. In “Racial Discrimination and Forms of Redress in the Military”, Smither states “Uniformed military personnel who feel they are victims of racial discrimination must use the military justice system, which provides less protection for the individual” (1). Racial discrimination does still occur in the military, yet now the judicial system in the military is so corrupt that victims are afraid to come forward.
- Clark, Alexis. “Black Americans Who Served in WWII Faced Segregation Abroad and at Home.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, August 5, 2020. https://www.history.com/news/black-soldiers-world-war-ii-discrimination.
- Leiker, James N. Freedom, Equality, and Justice for All? The U.S. Army and the Reassessment of Race Relations in World War II, 2012. https://history.army.mil/armyhistory/AH82(W).pdf.
- [bookmark: _Hlk54518771]Smither, Robert D., and Mary Ruth Houston. “Racial Discrimination and Forms of Redress in the Military.” International Journal of Intercultural Relations. Pergamon, July 12, 2002. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/014717679190050Q.