INTEGRATION, THE ARMY WAY
MAY 20, 1997
The authors of All That We Can Be: Black Leadership and Racial Integration the Army Way discuss social success in the military.They say we could all learn much from the army model.
JIM LEHRER: Now, a Gergen dialogue. David Gergen, editor-at-large of U.S. News & World Report, engages Professors Charles Moskos of Northwestern University and John Butler of the University of Texas at Austin. Theyíre the co-authors of All That We Can Be: Black Leadership and Racial Integration the Army Way.
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DAVID GERGEN: Gentlemen, welcome. Your new book says that a relentlessly negative picture of black America forms the premise for most racial discussions in these waning years of the 20th century, but thereís one institution thatís different, the U.S. Army. How is it different?
CHARLES MOSKOS, Author, All that We Can Be: Itís different in several important ways. Itís the only institution in American society where white people are routinely bossed around by blacks and where black leadership is very, very evident and well regarded. I mean, obviously, Colin Powell comes to mind, but I might add that 9 percent of all army generals today are black, as are approximately 1/3 of all first sergeants and sergeant majors. Itís not utopia by any means. There are problems in the military. Itís got racist in it, but in terms of any other institution one wants to compare it with, black leadership is far and away superior.
DAVID GERGEN: So if youíre a young white man and enlist in the army today, youíre likely to have a black superior.
CHARLES MOSKOS: Probably from the first day.
DAVID GERGEN: And thatís a far--itís a far different army from what it was. Iím anxious to find out how did it come this far in terms of integrating blacks and whites and seeing so many blacks succeed.
JOHN SIBLEY BUTLER, Co-Author, All That We Can Be: Well, first of all, the military has always had a black presence from the Revolutionary War. And then, of course, we had the desegregation of the military that really predated Brown vs. Board of Education. So originally, we had a pool of people there to choose from. You couple that with the President being at the apex, our commander in chief, to give an order to desegregate.
Then it became interestingly clear that it would happen almost overnight. In addition to that, the military, has developed the whole idea that if you bring me a person, whoever it is, then I will make a soldier out of him. So itís a combination of the organizational structure, the historical participation of blacks in the military, and the willingness to say, we will essentially do this. And of course, the purpose of the military is to defend the country. We must say that, and excellent race relations is a byproduct of that overall mission.
DAVID GERGEN: But the Army also seems to have made some very subconscious decisions about how it will deal with the questions of affirmative action that bedevils so much of society. Can you tell us more about those?
CHARLES MOSKOS: Itís really based on increasing the quality and qualification of the pool thatís to be promoted. For example, if 10 percent of the lieutenants in the army are black, then the goal for the next promotion, which happens to be captain, would also be 10 percent. The figure is not based on some population numbers in a general society, or the total number of blacks in the system but on the pool thatís qualified. We argue very strongly thatís the sort of key, and we do think it has lessons for civilian society.
The key is donít focus on white racism, which tends to be a kind of default for a lot of liberals; rather, focus on improving and increasing black opportunity channels. And the army has a series of programs like that, ranging from recruits to enter the military to lower ranking enlisted persons who become sergeants. And historically black colleges to produce officers were to be commissioned over half of the officers in the American army today--by the way are products of historically black institutions. And thereís another program, a so-called prep school that raises young men and women to be able to enter West Point, one of the most selective of all schools in this country.
DAVID GERGEN: They make an energetic effort to increase the pool of people who will be qualified by--both by reaching out and by training them so that they can meet the standards.
JOHN SIBLEY BUTLER: Right. Of course, the entire emphasis is on people who can do the job. And we call that, of course, the whole idea, supply side affirmative action versus demand side affirmative action. And the historical black schools have played an important role in that. So you donít see one walking around in the military and say thatís an affirmative action officer, or that is an affirmative action general. I think the whole idea is that the relationship between standards and promotion and quality has been essentially maintained through bringing from the pool.
DAVID GERGEN: But, John Butler, you make the point in your book that they made a very strong effort not to do what many universities do. You teach at the University of Texas. Many other universities lower their standards in order to bring more minorities in. And your argument is they donít lower the standards in the army. Everybody has to get over the same bar. But they train them up to get over the bar.
JOHN SIBLEY BUTLER: Well, thatís right, from those pools. And, of course, by concentrating on the focus, which is not only defense of the country but opportunity. One of the problems with many universities is that they concentrate on things like multiculturalism. Multiculturalism does not relate to opportunity, is something that churches should do and religion institutions should do, and looking at it overall. But the military concentrates on opportunities, so I would rather have 40,000 screaming white racists and 10,000 black students than 48,000 white students and 400 black students taking multicultural courses.
DAVID GERGEN: But itís also true that one argument that comes from the left is the best way to get this done in society is to lower the bar and set special standards. Youíre saying--the other argument is--that comes from the right--and that is to be racially blind, you know, donít pay--you know, letís just take each individually, donít pay attention to race, and youíre saying they donít do that either.
CHARLES MOSKOS: We call it not race blind but race savvy. Lowering the bar only buys short-term gains, and it results in long-term disaffection. The army took a lot of heat by not lowering the bar with racial problems in the late 70's and early 80's, but by not lowering the bar, everybody who does make it through the system is recognized as a qualified person. On the other side, about being race blind, that sounds nice in theory but, in practice, you have to be race savvy. You have a white first sergeant and a black company commander. Thatís okay. But if you have two whites or two blacks, you have to move people around. If a unit or a squad gets to be predominantly one color, itís going to take some adjustments. Thatís what we mean by race savvy. You cannot ignore it.
DAVID GERGEN: Bottom line, do you think is a successful approach to race relations?
CHARLES MOSKOS: We do think itís a successful approach to race relations. Obviously, there are different qualities in an army structure compared to most civilian structures, but there are some lessons that can easily be transferred.
DAVID GERGEN: Such as--
CHARLES MOSKOS: Well, one of the important lessons is that--that we know that as you increase the black proportion in an organization like the army, it can also increase the effectiveness of the organization. This runs against, I think, most civilian stereotypes. I think another lesson weíd also like to draw is that being a black and being an American are one and the same. These are not contradictory essences.
JOHN SIBLEY BUTLER: As a matter of fact, we call this Afro-Anglo culture.
DAVID GERGEN: Afro-Anglo culture.
JOHN SIBLEY BUTLER: And the whole idea is to pierce the ball, if you will, in the tribalism that is developing in America, and that whites are by definition part black culturally and blacks are by definition part white culturally. And the whole idea is to look at the shared things in terms of the movement of the country.
DAVID GERGEN: And you believe the army has done that more successfully.
JOHN SIBLEY BUTLER: I think the army has done that because it has the numbers to do it. If you look in the book, what white soldiers would say is that, yes, weíre in the service, and being part black in the service is fine. I mean, they recognize the change in country, everything from the music that you hear, and this becomes pretty interesting.
CHARLES MOSKOS: We think that if all Americans can realize that the Afro-American part of our culture is part of our core, we think we would lance a lot of the boil and for a lot of blacks at the same time to realize they are part of our mainstream.
DAVID GERGEN: A brief question but a very important one: If the army ha been this successful on the race relations, why is it having so much trouble with regard to women in the military?
JOHN SIBLEY BUTLER: Well, I think that the gender issue is a different kind of issue. I donít think--first of all--that you can draw parallels from the race issue to the gender issue. I think when you say trouble, it is not trouble of opportunities, it is a trouble in terms of what people do and how people act. Now, in our book we say that you concentrate on black opportunity and forget about racism. I donít think you can say that in the gender reflex, because with gender you have the subordinate sexual kind of things thatís going on, so I think that solving that problem, youíve got to recognize different paradigms, and thereís got to be--itís got to be seen in its own historical light. And let us also remember that 50 percent--almost 50 percent of women in the military are black, although when women are presented in the military, itís mostly female white face, so weíre talking about opportunities for women in general.
DAVID GERGEN: Iíll close on one personal note. Youíre both draftees, so youíre both proud to have served in the army. One interesting difference is one of you is an affirmative action baby and the other one isnít.
CHARLES MOSKOS: And itís not the black one. I am the recipient of affirmative action, beneficiary of affirmative action, because I was admitted to Princeton University in the middle of the 1950's because they wanted somebody from New Mexico. Iím also the first in my family to finish secondary school, and John Butler--
JOHN SIBLEY BUTLER: Iím a fourth generation college graduate. I was expected to go to school. Iím from the State of Louisiana. I went to Louisiana State University, and my parents paid my way throughout my educational experiences.
CHARLES MOSKOS: And integrated LSU as well.
JOHN SIBLEY BUTLER: One of the first undergraduates.
CHARLES MOSKOS: So much for racial stereotypes.
DAVID GERGEN: Thank you both, John Butler and Charlie Moskos.