Executive Order 9981 issued by President Harry Truman on July 26, 1948 brought about a de jure end to racial discrimination in the United States of America’s armed forces. Perhaps military service can be looked upon as pre Executive Order 9981 and post Executive Order 9981. Sixty-eight years have passed since the signing of that order. Within that this sixty-eight year window Americans have fought in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Kosovo, Cambodia, Laos, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria. This is just a brief list of America’s overt military involvement. The covert list will remain substantial but incomplete. One hundred and seventy-eight years preceded Truman’s order marked by the death of Crispus Attucks who became the first casualty of the American Revolution in 1770. Subsequent to Attucks’s death, America won its independence from Great Britain. Yet, there was still war with Britain. There was war with Spain. There was war with Native Americans. There was the Civil War fought over African enslavement. There was World War I. There was World War II. Included among this list are perhaps too many military skirmishes to mention.
Memorial Day, which is a celebration and remembrance of America’s war dead, has been recognized since 1868. Consequently, we must remember that Memorial Day is more than just an official beginning to the summer season of sun and fun. The war dead has to be remembered. It has been stated that “war is politics with bloodshed.” Often those Americans who die in war come from a socioeconomic background that does not always get to celebrate all the wealth that America has to offer. Nevertheless, they fight and die. Often it is the youth of the nation who find themselves on the front-lines of our wars. They have not lived long enough to understand the depth, breadth, and scope of America. Nevertheless, they fight and die. Prior to the end of the war in Vietnam, one could argue that they were conscripted into service. Today’s military is all volunteer. They still fight and die. There are many veterans who are the walking wounded. Some have readily apparent physical injuries. For others who live, something inside of them has died. We must not forget those soldiers either. There are those who will criticize America for its imperialistic use of force. What must we say to the youth who follow the orders? A well-trained soldier runs toward the noise and does not flinch. A line from a famous poem sums up this reality, “t’is not ours to question why…”
The Constitution of the United States of America says that only Congress has the power to declare war. The Constitution follows this up by saying that the President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of America’s armed forces. Congress and the President make the decision of when and where to go to war. Inevitably Congress and the President must know that they are sending some citizens off to die. This is a grave responsibility that cannot and must not be taken lightly. The earth cannot be used as a chess board for flesh and blood. Last week President Obama visited Vietnam. More than likely, this week he will be near the Vietnam Memorial. President Obama also visited Hiroshima, Japan. I can only imagine that in about 100 years from now a President will visit a memorial in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he will publish a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”