EARLY in their study, the authors of 2 Blacks and the Military pompously proclaim that the issue of black representation in the services has "so far escaped objective scrutiny and informed debate." Setting themselves up as wunderkinder on the topic, they then proceed to let us down. Blacks and the Military lacks balance and cohesiveness; its writing style is dull and uneven, leading one to believe that separate contributions from its four authors were thrown together, and the conclusion -- that more studies are needed -- makes one sense that the authors may already be sharpening their pencils for the research they recommend.
The issue revolves over the participation by blacks in the military services. The 410,000 blacks in service in 1981 made up about 20 percent of all military personnel, a proportion far greater than the 12 percent of the population that is black. In addition, blacks made up a still larger share of ground combat forces: one of every three Army GIs was black, and one of every five Marines was black.
From these facts, the book makes several debatable points, with the authors retreating to the questionable practice of saying "observers question" and "some scholars contend" rather than citing sources for some dubious conclusions. For example, they write, "Some scholars contend that a military force that fails to represent society poses a threat . . . to civilian control of the military." What an odd proposition. Why in the world should the percentage of soldiers who are black affect civilian control of the military?
Another example of a thoroughly refutable proposition is their contention that throughout most of our nation's history there has been a "proportionality" between the percentage of black people in the population and the percentage of blacks in uniform. This proposition is patently absurd as the writers themselves demonstrate with many statistics. During World War I, the Navy was less than 1 percent black; the Marines had no blacks and the percentage of black people in the Army was far below the percentage of blacks in the general population. Later as the Air Corps grew, no blacks were permitted to enlist.
At several other points, the authors state conclusions that run counter to the statistics in their own tables. They imply that the vast majority of today's volunteers come from poverty-ridden families. But the table on page 166 shows clearly that this is an exaggeration. The book fails utterly even to consider the impropriety of judging recruits by family net worth. What family income has to do with being a good soldier or sailor or airman is beyond me.
Finally, the authors indulge in romantic condescension: "For many (black youths) the armed forces have provided their only opportunity for escape from ghetto life and from possible participation in the nation's underground economy." The condescension extends at another point in the book to all Americans in uniform. Service is characterized as a "Burden" in a chapter heading. Happily for the nation, most men and women in uniform take on their responsibilities willingly and with competence -- and, yes, enjoy their work!
Unfortunately, the Brookings study, part of its Studies in Defense Policy series, raises the suspicion that black troops might be unwilling to carry out certain assignments involving black lawlessness. This is an insult to black men and women in uniform. There is no evidence past or present to support this "suspicion." The study says the Soviets may view our armed forces as weaker as it becomes blacker. If the Soviets are so senseless in their judgments, are we to placate their nonsense by creating an all- white force?
The Brookings study says that in the early part of a major conflict, one-third or one-half of all casualties may be black. One can easily create other scenarios where early casualties would be heavily white. For example, if the early battles were at sea -- like the Royal Navy's recent encounters in the South Atlantic -- because of the racial composition of our Navy, casualties would be over 90 percent white.
The writers say that they intend only to raise questions, not to supply answers, but the slant of their material leads one to the conclusion that revival of the draft is on their hidden agenda. There are many reasons to consider returning to a draft but the "management" of the percentage of black people in the services is not among them.