|DIVISIONS IN THE DIVISIONS|
November 29, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, race in the military; elections in Malaysia; and a Roger Rosenblatt essay. Ray Suarez has the race story.
RAY SUAREZ: The researchers who did the study responded to the questions picked as vital by Pentagon brass.
ANITA LANCASTER, Pentagon Personnel Official: They wanted feedback on policy areas like how much training is going on; do members feel free to report problems; what's their use and satisfaction with the complaint systems; what's their perceptions of leaders' enforcement of and commitment to equal opportunity?
RAY SUAREZ: In other words, it was a survey of attitudes, sentiments, perceptions, as much as a search for concrete racial incidents. But the researchers also asked armed forces personnel to report on racial incidents in the past 12 months.
ANITA LANCASTER: Well, what did we learn? We learned that 62 percent of whites, compared to 69 percent to 78 percent of the other racial ethnics, the four other groups, said they had at least one offensive encounter with another DOD person during the previous year. Let me tell you what offensive encounters were. They were items that said... they were items like the following: Told stories or jokes which were racist or depicted your race, ethnicity, negatively; made unwelcome attempts to draw you into an offensive discussion of racial ethnic matters.
SOLDIER: Keep going, keep going. There, there.
RAY SUAREZ: The 76,000 personnel in the survey were asked to compare their opportunities for progress and advancement in military and civilian life.
ANITA LANCASTER: For freedom from harassment and discrimination, only 7 percent thought it would be better to be in the civilian sector. Over one-third-- 35 percent to 37 percent-- said these conditions were better in the military. And similarly, although only 43 percent said that education and training opportunities are better in the military, only 16 percent said they would be better in the civilian sector.
RAY SUAREZ: But minorities in uniform are far more pessimistic about their chances for advancement than whites are. Secretary of Defense William Cohen reacted strongly to the report.
WILLIAM COHEN: To the extent that any of it exists, to the extent that there are complaints about lack of promotion, actions that involve discrimination, they have to be eliminated. And I and everyone who is working in this department will do everything we can to achieve that result.
RAY SUAREZ: Of the 1.4 million active duty personnel, nearly 20 percent are black and 7 percent Hispanic, and minorities now compromise 16 percent of the commissioned officers and 36 percent of the noncommissioned officers. This is the latest of several reports and studies on racial attitudes in the services. In the mid-90's, when Americans were telling public opinion researchers that a black general, Colin Powell, was one of the most admired men in the country, three white enlisted men in fort Bragg, North Carolina, were tried for the murder of a black couple. Two were found to be members of organized hate groups. A follow-up investigation found 22 more members of white supremacist groups at Fort Bragg. They were discharged or barred from reenlistment. In the new survey, organized hate groups were not found to be a widespread problem. When the highest-ranking enlisted man in the army was tried for sexual misconduct, sergeant major of the army Gene MacKinney maintained that part of the motivation for his investigation, trial, and loss of rank and pension benefits was racial. The new study shows that black personnel are far more likely than their white peers to see racial slight in their work.
ANITA LANCASTER: We asked, is the military paying the right amount of attention to racial ethnic harassment and discrimination? 62 percent of blacks, 38 percent of Hispanics, 28 percent of Asian Pacific islanders, and 17 percent of whites said we were paying too little attention. So you see the disparity in the perceptions across the race ethnic groups.
RAY SUAREZ: Despite those numbers, active duty personnel reported in category after category that despite problems, race relations in the military were better than in civilian life.
ANITA LANCASTER: When asked about the progress in race relations over the last five years for both the military and the nation as a whole, 46 percent of our members said military race relations were better today, compared to 30 percent who responded similarly about race relations in our nation.
RAY SUAREZ: And for more, we get three views. John Butler is Professor of Sociology and Management at the University of Texas. He is the co-author of "All That We Can Be: Black Leadership and Racial Integration the Army Way." He was in the Army from 1969 to 1971. Herman Bulls was an Army officer from 1978 to 1989, and is now a lieutenant colonel in the Army reserves. He is also managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate management company. And Colonel David Hunt retired from the Army in 1998, after serving 28 years as an infantryman in special operations. He's now a consultant. Well, John Butler you've been looking at these questions for quite a long time. What do you make of the results?
JOHN BUTLER, University of Texas: First of all the results are not surprising given the research historically. We've always known that blacks and white do not see race relations in the military the same. The other thing that is important as Charles Moskos and I note in our book, "All That We Can Be" is that the mort important thing is behavior and the opportunity structure. So, you have an organization where 40 plus percent of people in managerial positions are black and, of course, there seems to be an interesting sort of disjunction between that statistic and the perceptions. The other thing that is very, very important is to really, really concentrate as we say on opportunity and not white racism. We think very strongly that the opportunity structure for black Americans in any organization is much more important than white racist attitudes. That is, we liken the military for their significant number of blacks and lots of racists to an organization where there are lot of liberals and no blacks. So I think the study itself is in a long tradition of looking at racial attitudes I think it adds to our understanding of how people perceive the military but in terms of the opportunity struck here, as noted in the survey itself, for blacks noted that comparatively civilian society was worse off than the military in terms of race relations. So I think that is a continued contribution to this massive literature.
RAY SUAREZ: Herman Bulls, what did you find significant about this set of data?
LT. COL. HERMAN BULLS: Well, I find it alarming but at the same time I see myself personally being a product of the military and the consistency of the training and the opportunities that result from that. But at the same time I think we need to be aware of the demographic shift that is going on and be aware that the message that we need to send to the young Americans as this demographic shift continues is that we'll need you for the Army, for our Air Force and for our Navy. At the same time you look at the management structure at the senior level. You heard the secretary's comment. That was very compelling indicating that he would not tolerate this type of behavior in the military. The Secretary of the Army, Louis Calendara is an Hispanic. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower is Al Maldon, an African American. The chief of staff of the Army, General Shinseky, is also a minority -- the deputy chief of staff for operations, General Ellis, a minority. So I think this in itself says even though the data is three years old, I think the current leadership has an opportunity and an obligation to market and make sure that the American people know that there is equal opportunity in the armed forces.
RAY SUAREZ: Yet, David Hunt, you found very little comfort in the evidence provided by senior staff who come from minority groups and from those favorable compares sons to civilian life.
COL. DAVID HUNT (Ret.), U.S. Army: I'm sorry, are you asking me?
RAY SUAREZ: Yes.
COL. DAVID HUNT (Ret.): I think that is a bad news story. First of all the Department of Defense had to be told to make the study. I believe Congress dictated that this study is be done. Number two, I got a real problem with this taking a year to come out. It sounds to me like spin doctoring which is very disturbing for people in uniform or at the Department of Defense. One of the things that is very upsetting in this study is the percentage of some 79-82 percent of the soldier, sailors, airmen, and marines who said they did not bring these type of problems to the change of command. That is a leadership issue which cuts across all other issues in the military. I don't think we have come even close to turning the corner with race. I think it's disingenuous to suggest that it's a little bit better than it is in civilian life. In the military we control our soldiers live with rank, money and time and we with just about dictate policy on race. And to have these perceptions come out this way is disturbing.
RAY SUAREZ: Yet John Butler, you are more worried about achievement than perceptions, the measuring of attitudes doesn't concern you as much?
JOHN BUTLER: Yes, we must understand that the purpose of the military is to defend the country. That is the most important thing for the military. We always bring out that race relations has been a byproduct of that goal. Defending the country is the most important goal. What the military has done is to bring people into the situation to defend the country. Bring me a soldier, man or woman, and I'll make a soldier out of them and I'll make an excellent person out of them. The purpose of the military is not to get involved in the feel good politics of race that other institutions have gone through. I would rather see people -- of course we're in a peacetime military which means that the goal, the defense of the country are not clearly defined. Let's keep in mind that the excellent quote unquote race relations and of course all scholarly work is comparative. You cannot do scholarly work without comparing it to other institutions. So let's keep in mind that the purpose of the military is to first of all defend the country and that race relations is simply a byproduct of that defense of the country. What we don't want to see -
RAY SUAREZ: What about David Hunt's point that the military is very different, that you can order people to do things, behave in a certain way, respond in a certain way?
JOHN BUTLER: What we did was to switch from the draft to the all volunteer divorce force and myself being a veteran, I can remember that draft military. The all volunteer force takes on as my co-author Moskos will note more of an occupation of format. Therefore we have a military based on marketplace standards. My distinguished colleague is talking about a military based on an institutional format -- where you did not recruit people, rather you drafted people. So therefore much of the problems that we have in the civilian society is seen under the organization format. And you can look at the change in race relations in essence as somewhat a byproduct also of the switch from a military based on values and service of country to one based on marketplace standards.
RAY SUAREZ: David Hunt, let me go to David Hunt with that point, because the survey also noted that there was a wide variation in these racial incidents, these moments of conflict over race. And if you take out the ones that actually involve physical harm or threat, the vast majority of what was being reported were more the attitudinal things, jokes, remarks, feelings of uncomfortableness in social situations. Should we bring the same sort of attention to those as we do to the one that is involve harm or threat?
COL. DAVID HUNT (Ret.): Absolutely, I mean the, those issues lead to physical harm, but again you've got to go back to the point that the survey found the perception of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, 79 to 82 percent were very, very high would not bring the issues to the change of command. You have an equal opportunity person in the chain of command. You've got the inspector general. You have the chain of command itself. You've got civilian leadership; you've got four or five avenues that a service member can go to to address grief acts. And this survey it said they didn't perceive that those avenues were listening to them.
RAY SUAREZ: Herman Bulls, what about that?
LT. COL. HERMAN BULLS: As I mentioned earlier I think that's a real concern, and I think our leadership has to make it apparent, a wear and open that people who perceive that they have a problem with come forward with the problem. Having served both in the military and been in the civilian world, I feel within the military I had more of an opportunity to perhaps bring those type of issues up than perhaps some people do in the private sector experiences because the military as an institution has traditionally supported equal opportunity.
RAY SUAREZ: There is a big split between attitudes that involve a single other person and ones that involve the entire institution. One of the results showed that among all racial and ethnic groups, vast, vast percentage, 80, 90 percent, socialized with, invited to their homes or to their personal quarters people of other races and ethnic groups; yet those same members of the service responding to the survey said that they didn't always have faith that the system was going to take as good care of them. What does that tell you?
JOHN BUTLER: Well, let me comment on that. First of all we must understand that unlike my university, the University of Texas at Austin, where it is against the law basically to call somebody a name, unless of course you are the law school -- it is very noteworthy to note in the military it is not against the law to call somebody a name. If it disrupts discipline, if it relates to command, then it becomes a problem. So, therefore, what you can do is you can have two soldiers who called each other names and of course you can report that but the sergeant can say can we work this out or maybe put them in the middle of the ring and let them box it out, as the old saying goes. So actually the military does not have a set rule unlike a lot of civilian feel good institutions like universities have become. It does not have a rule against these kinds of acts. So, therefore, reporting that essentially can be different in civilian life. Let me also comment on the friendship variable. What we need to know about the attitudes is how much of the contact, significant contact that people have with different groups, how much of that contact is quality contact. Because since the American soldier, since Stouffer and his colleagues published "The American Soldier," racial contact and the quality of that contact has been the best predictor of racial attitudes. People who have lots of high quality contact with high-quality people report less racist kind of attitudes. So we need to know a lot of the control variables or background variables as we discuss this excellent report.
RAY SUAREZ: Herman Bulls, people were talking about not reenlisting, not pursuing longer term careers in the military because of some of the experiences they had. They also reported less trust in unit cohesion. Does this mean that the military is, has to really change something drastic right away?
LT. COL. HERMAN BULLS: Well, I think the attitude is what is most important coming from the senior membership, leadership of the military. If you think of the military and I can think to my times, you think to a ranger school, or combat which I cannot serve it but it's truly a meritocracy, in the end you are going to the person to the left or right and say are you going to be able to cover my back? Can you help me achieve the goal and safe my life? In order to have that type of camaraderie it is very, very important that we have respect for the individual and respect for one another. It's up to our leaders to enforce this in the sense of sensitivity training that may be required, in the sense of training particularly at the senior, at the enlisted soldier level. That first line of defense is so important that make sure that the appropriate standards are set and it is appropriately enforced.
RAY SUAREZ: And, David Hunt, do you see a crisis in retention and enlistment coming on the heel of the ones that we already seem to have?
COL. DAVID HUNT (Ret.): Absolutely, the Navy, Army has got two combat divisions now that are not combat ready. The Navy and the Air Force are screaming for guys. The problem is that we've wound down the military and ramped up the deployments. Bosnia and Kosovo are just examples. So there is a straight strain on the system and on the leadership. But what has happened is in my opinion is we have not paid enough attention to this issue and that surveyed slapped us right in the face and said we better pay attention. It's not just race. If they don't trust the chain of command to talk about something like this, what else don't they trust the chain of command to talk about?
RAY SUAREZ: David Hunt, Herman Bulls, John Butler, thanks for being with us.