Diversity in the Armed
of the United States of America
American Veterans For Equal Rights
In March, I was invited by Georgia
State University in Atlanta to speak at a discussion on
the U.S. Military and diversity. GSU is one of many
schools in the University System of Georgia, along with
Georgia Tech, the institution where I work. I was to
focus on the Repeal of DADT, and members of the school's
ROTC cadre were to speak on racial, religious, and
gender issues. According to the sponsor of the event,
the Assistant Dean of Students, when the ROTC folks
called their headquarters at Ft. Knox for advice on what
to say about the repeal of DADT, they were told not to
say anything. Furthermore, they were told not to speak,
so they canceled their participation, and ROTC cadets
were told not to attend. So I was asked to speak on
Diversity in the Military and cover all the topics. I'd
like to share some of it with you, because it
demonstrates how the battle for the repeal of DADT is
nothing new. Just about every minority has had to fight
for inclusion in the military, and often it was either
necessity or politics that led to new groups being
integrated into the armed forces.
Today's United States Military often expresses its pride
at being an organization that values and encourages the
service of minorities. The U.S. Armed Forces sees itself
as a champion of diversity and views its record of
integration as proof of a long history of reflecting
America's changing demographic makeup. But history shows
a different military, one which frequently had to be
nudged to change as the rest of American society did,
and often gave into the assimilation of minorities only
when necessity or political pressure forced them to
accept new groups. Sometimes the military was ahead of
the curve on acceptance of diversity, but that has not
always been the case.
1654 - Nieuw Amsterdam Jews fight for the right to
Long before there was even a dream of a United States of
America, there was discrimination in the military. Every
male adult in the Dutch colony of Nieuw Amsterdam (later
New York) was required by law to serve in the militia.
Those who did not serve were required to pay a steep
fine. Jews were not allowed to serve in the militia, but
of course they had to pay the fine anyway. Jewish
citizens protested the exclusion, and as a result were
allowed to serve beginning in 1654.
1775 - British offer slaves freedom for enlisting:
During the American Revolution, the British government
offered freedom to Black slaves who would enlist to
fight against American colonists.
1776 - Blacks serve in the Continental Army and Navy:
General George Washington responded to the British offer
of freedom to slaves who enlisted against the colonists
by allowing Blacks, both free and slave, to serve in the
Continental Army and Navy. Slave owners were terrified
of the idea of armed slaves roving the land, but
practicality overruled. Slaves who served did so only
with the permission of their owners.
1778 - Gotthold Enslin is discharged for homosexual
Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin became the first
American service member to be discharged from the U.S.
military due to homosexuality, following accusations of
sodomy. He was prosecuted by Colonel Aaron Burr, later
Vice President of the U.S., and literally drummed out of
1792 - Blacks denied service in the Army but continue to
serve in the Navy:
The fears of slave owners resulted in Blacks, including
free Black citizens, no longer being allowed to carry
weapons in the U.S. Army. Blacks composed a large
percentage of sailors on American Navy ships, and
continued to serve out of necessity of maintaining the
1846 - First Catholic chaplains commissioned:
During the Mexican-American War, the Mexican government
accused the Americans of a Protestant vs. Catholic
religious war, since there were no Catholic chaplains in
the U.S. military. In response, the President of the
U.S. ordered the military to commission Catholic
1862 - Blacks serve in the Army in segregated units:
During the Civil War the U.S. Army, short of recruits,
allowed African-Americans to enlist in the U.S. Army in
segregated units. The Marines did not allow Blacks to
serve at all.
1862 - First Jewish chaplains commissioned:
An increasing number Jewish recruits were acknowledged
by the military with the commissioning of the first
1901 - Women officially serve in the armed forces:
Although women had served as nurses since the formation
of the Continental Army, women first became members of
the U.S. military with the formation of the Army Nurse
Corps in 1901. Women served in separate units and were
not commissioned as officers in the Regular Army.
1917 - Ethnic and Religious groups serve together:
Although wave after wave of ethnic Europeans immigrated
to the U.S. in the early 1900's, only to discriminate
against each other as each new group arrived, the U.S.
military made the decision to have all ethnic groups
serve together as the U.S. entered World War I.
1917 - Native Americans serve in integrated units:
While Hispanic American service members had served in
integrated units, even during the Spanish American war,
it was not until 1917 that Native Americans began to
serve in any large numbers. American Indians had served
in the Army in units known as Indian Scouts, but in the
First World War the military integrated Native Americans
into regular units as they had Hispanics.
1919 - Articles of War prohibit homosexual service:
A revision of the Articles of War of 1916, which would
be replaced as the military's official law code by the
Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1950, established
the act of sodomy as a felony. The Navy initiated purges
of homosexuals in 1919.
1941 - Japanese-Americans serve in segregated units:
The discrimination against Japanese people was so
intense following Pearl Harbor that Japanese citizens of
the U.S. were "interred" in camps to "protect" them.
Citizens who could speak Japanese were an obvious asset
for the military in translating intercepted Imperial
Japanese military communications. So Japanese-Americans
were allowed to serve in the military, but in strictly
segregated units. It is interesting to note there was no
such segregation of German-Americans.
1948 - Truman orders racial integration of the military:
In the years following World War II a number of high
profile attacks on African American soldiers in uniform
enraged America's Black population. In response,
President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981,
which mandated a non-discrimination policy based on
race, color, religion and national origin. Truman's
Order was opposed by General Omar Bradley, World War II
hero and future first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, on
the grounds that "donning a uniform does not change a
man's personality, his aptitude or his prejudice".
Bradley also claimed that racial integration would
"seriously affect morale", "affect battle efficiency",
"adversely affect our ability to carry out our mission",
and "seriously affect voluntary enlistments." The entire
general staff opposed the change, but Truman
nevertheless issued the executive order over 16 years
before passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which
outlawed similar discrimination in the civilian sector.
Truman's order integrated all racial groups, including
Japanese-American service members.
1948 - Women integrated into the military:
On June 12, 1948, the United States Congress passed the
Women's Armed Services Integration Act, which enabled
women to serve as permanent, regular members of the
armed forces in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the
recently formed Air Force. Prior to this act, women,
with the exception of nurses, served in the military
only in times of war. However, the act excluded women
from serving in units that might engage in combat,
including combat aircraft and navy warships.
Additionally, the Act placed a two percent ceiling on
the number of women in each of the services, restricted
promotions to one full colonel or Navy captain as Chief
of the Nurse Corps and/or Service Director, and limited
the number of female officers who could serve as
lieutenant colonels or Navy commanders.
1970s - Vietnam War inspires racial integration:
Service members fighting in Vietnam experienced the
greatest degree of racial integration and cooperation,
since everybody "in country," regardless of race, was
facing the same threat of death or injury and therefore
had to work together as a team to survive. The uniform,
especially when bloodied, became the "great equalizer".
1989 - First African American becomes Chairman of the
General Colin Powell became the first African American
to hold the highest rank in the U.S. military.
1991 - Congress allows women to attend military
1993 - Women allowed to serve on combat aircraft.
1993 - First Muslim chaplain commissioned:
During the First Gulf War the question of whether or not
the U.S. presence is the Middle East was a religious war
against Muslims was answered by the appointment of the
military's first Muslim chaplain.
1993 - DADT becomes law:
Opposition to President Bill Clinton's campaign promise
to issue an executive order ending the exclusion of gay
service members led to the implementation of the
discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law by Congress.
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual members of the military would
be allowed to serve so long as they didn't tell anyone.
Discharge numbers showed that the policy did not prevent
the military from continuing to investigate and
discharge LGBT service members.
1994 - Women are allowed to serve on surface warships in
1996 - Kosher and Halal MRE's introduced:
The U.S. military acknowledged respect of Jewish and
Muslim service members by introducing pre-packaged
"Meals Ready to Eat" (MREs) which met Kosher and Halal
2004 - First Buddhist chaplain commissioned.
2008 - First Woman Four Star General:
Ann Dunwoody became the first female officer to be
promoted to full General.
2010 - Women allowed to serve on submarines.
2010 - DADT repeal is authorized by congress.
Words on military diversity:
Command Sergeant Major Hector G. Marin, who assumed the
top enlisted position at Aberdeen Proving Ground in
2007, spoke of "strength in diversity" at his
installation ceremony. According to Marin, "the many
races, ethnicities, religions and creeds" that "make
America strong" also help "make the Army strong". "We
take young men and women from all backgrounds, some who
come from several generations of Americans and some who
are first generation Americans, and turn them into a
force with a common focus, the defense of our great way
of life. We understand better than most that success has
nothing to do with the color of your skin, where you
were born, or the type of religion to which you belong.
In fact, we know there is only one color of importance
to the Soldier and that is Army green….It was only in
1948, when President Harry S. Truman signed an executive
order that led to the integration of the military, that
we really started on the road to becoming the model of
meritocracy that our military is today." The Army's
first four-star female general, General Ann E. Dunwoody,
Commander, U.S. Army Materiel Command, continued the
theme of diversity in a speech on March 6, 2009. "Your
Army considers diversity a strength � and we proudly
lead the nation in offering equal opportunity to all".
These same sentiments were echoed by General George
Casey, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, who stated in the wake
of the tragic Ft. Hood mass shooting by a Muslim Army
officer, "Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in
our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this
tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I
think that's worse."
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter stated in direct
response to General Casey's "diversity is strength"
statement with her own thoughts on diversity. "Never in
recorded history has diversity been anything but a
problem. Look at Ireland with its Protestant and
Catholic populations, Canada with its French and English
populations, Israel with its Jewish and Palestinian
populations….'Diversity' is a difficulty to be overcome,
not an advantage to be sought."
In an increasingly diverse world one could imagine that
Ms. Coulter would lead a very paranoid existence.
Fortunately, Ms. Coulter's view is not the predominate
one. U.S. Navy veteran and former President, Jimmy
Carter said of diversity "We are of course a nation of
differences. Those differences don't make us weak.
They're the source of our strength." These words are
echoed by the late historian and ecologist Thomas Berry.
"Diversity is no longer something that we tolerate"
writes Berry. "It is something that we esteem as a
necessary condition for a livable universe, as the
source of Earth's highest perfection". As the largest
and most diverse nation in history, the destiny of the
U.S. may well be the "highest perfection" described by
Berry. And as both a microcosm and the "best and
brightest" representative of America, our military must
of necessity reflect that diversity.
Clearly the modern military "get's it" when it comes to
the issue of diversity, although it has certainly been a
shaky path to get to the current idea of diversity as a
strength. One question appropriate for
soon-to-be-liberated LGB service members is will we
follow the same pattern as the ethnic waves of
immigrants in the early 1900s who no sooner clawed their
way out of discrimination only to heap it upon the next
group to arrive? Will we join other minorities who have
gained the right to serve in the U.S. military only to
turn their back on the next group? Some African-American
veterans stated during the DADT debate that the issue
was "different" for gays than it was for pre-integration
Black service members. "This is a choice for them", they
said, "whereas it was not a choice for us." Will LGB
Americans have the courage, determination, and wisdom
not to stand up when the next group comes along and say
"Its not the same thing". There will be other groups. We
already face the issue of discrimination against
transgender Americans, and there will be other groups to
follow them. Will we say "its not the same thing", or
will we hold the line on prejudice and stand with them.
History will record the answer.
© 2011 Gay Military Signal