Desperation of War in the Advancement of Minorities

War brings panic upon the nation and calls the government to take desperate courses of action. Unparalleled resources were required to conduct and wage the WWII, which dwarfed all previous wars in size and scope. Due to the desperate need for resources, people merely become inputs in the eyes of the federal government, be it economic inputs of labor or personnel to organize military battalions. Everyone was taken into consideration without regards to race out of necessity; the US realized it needed to utilize all available assets in the war effort for labor and military service to ensure victory, the nation’s foremost priority. Because of human quantification as inputs of labor and capital, an individual’s potential contribution to the war becomes the focal attribute, not race. When winning the war takes the nation’s highest priority, the nation cannot afford to discriminate against a population that would otherwise be useful. The quantification of African-Americans due to the increased demands of war decreased institutionalized racism and allowed them to advance through merit. WWII forced the country to utilize all available assets efficiently for both labor and military service, which equates to regarding all its citizens as human capital.
African-Americans made some progress on the home front of WWII. In Chester Himes’s novel If He Hollers Let Him Go, Bob Jones’s experience mirrors that of many American males during the war effort. He became an asset, who had to either work in a factory to support the war effort or fight in it. Through quantification, Bob was allowed to advance to the leaderman of a Navy shipyard through merit. Bob was college educated and his superiors described him as a dependable, trustworthy worker (Himes 174). Bob still faced racial discrimination and felt the only reason the promotion occurred in the first place was to keep the African-American workers in order. His supervisors believed that having a black man in charge would appease the black workers under him. Either way, the ultimate goal of Bob as the leaderman is to promote efficiency in wartime production, which superseded the stipulation for blatant institutional discrimination where no minority is able to advance.
The necessity to utilize all workers led to the first federal law to promote equal opportunity that prohibited racial discrimination for employment in the national defense industry. Executive Order 8802, also known as the Fair Employment Act of 1941, prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin (Graham par 2). This did not remove discrimination in its entirety and it by no means decreased racism on the personal level, but it did remove barriers in defense industries on the national level. Bob Jones, like many African-American workers at the time, worked alongside many white workers in Navy shipyards all around the Pacific Coast. Mac, Bob’s boss, self-proclaims to be a staunch believer in Executive Order No. 8802 (Himes 174). Although he has prejudice against blacks, he is a staunch believer in the war effort and he agrees that the inclusion of black workers helps in the productivity of his compound. Although black workers like Bob were segregated when organizing working units, the compounds themselves were not segregated. The Fair Employment Act placed everyone on equal ground in terms of labor output and abolished barriers to employment in the national defense industries, an important step in deinstitutionalizing discrimination.
In its most important precedent, the Labor War Board abolished the classification of “colored laborer” and “white laborer” (Graham par 1). The Labor War Board provided protection for unions from hostile bosses, increased the wages of the lowest-paid workers, helped set industry-wide wage patterns, and established methods of resolving shop floor disputes. Although the Labor War Board did not impact discrimination and racism individual factories and compounds as evident in the ineffectiveness of the Atlas Union in helping Bob regain his position, it made momentous reforms nationally. Workers were simply viewed as inputs of labor and to the government, a black worker was just as productive as a white worker; white and colored alike were thus considered merely “workers.” For the first time in US history, the abolishment of classification allowed colored workers to receive the same wages as white workers based on economic parity in a given industry (Graham par 1). Executive Order 8802 was of significant consequence to the African-Americans’ Double V campaign as the government became colorblind in respect to employment in the defense industry by viewing them as purely numerical figures and abstract labor.
In consequence of the heavy demands and large scope of WWII, not only were African-Americans needed to build ships, tanks, and weapons, they were required to man them. African-Americans were now deemed quantified and were able to serve in the armed forces. The United States military was unique in that the war was not fought domestically in fronts, but worldwide in theaters over vast oceans. Military forces stretched four continents and feeling immense pressure, the Commandant of the Marine Corps allowed the enlistment of blacks on May 25, 1942 (Nalty par 1). However, the military still failed to meet recruiting standards and on December 1, 1942, President Roosevelt made the decision to make the Selective Service System (draft) the primary source of recruits for all the military services (DiNiccolo par 5). The Selective Service System is entirely random and colorblind due to the impartiality of numbers. The new draft law prohibited racial discrimination in its administration. In practical terms, this meant that the Army and Navy could establish quotas for black recruits but not arbitrarily exclude them. The armed services needed as much manpower as it could get, so excluding a sizeable population would be absurd. The nation set aside its prejudices in order to effectively wage war and viewed blacks as human capital.
Although the armed forces were colorblind on the national level, individual African-Americans faced prejudice. Although the military as a whole was nondiscriminatory in that it was open to everyone, discrimination was rampant within the military ranks. African-Americans were unable to have combat roles and were usually delegated to support assignments such as truck driver, cook, typists, and clerks (Nalty par 3). The military was still segregated at the battalion level. The rationale behind the segregation was because the War Department feared immediate desegregation would divide the nation and decrease unit morale, thus decreasing fighting effectiveness. The War Department officially stated, “The War Department administers the laws affecting the military establishment; it cannot act outside the law, nor contrary to the will of the majority of the citizens of the Nation” (Farber par 1). The will of the majority supported segregation, but the nation still desperately needed the service of blacks. As such, the War Department opened the military to African-Americans, but segregated battalions based on race, with African-Americans being assigned to support battalions so they would not see combat.
The conviction that blacks were only good in non-combat, support roles was challenged when the military was again stressed for combat resources. The military was then forced to look to its black personnel. Out of the need for more troops, the military removed the barriers for African-Americans to see combat. The all-black Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group was formed as a direct result of labeling people as pure resources. The opposition eventually succumbed to the immense pressure to utilize blacks in combat. The US Army established the Psychological Research Unit to search for potential candidates for aviation (Wings Over Kansas par 2). The research unit was one of the first to employ standardized tests in order to quantify IQ, dexterity, and leadership qualities in order to search for candidates who can fill a position requiring high technical skill. All candidates without regard to race were required to take these tests. The standardized tests required for selection born from the ever-increasing need for aviators categorized all personnel as equally valuable resources in regards to race.
Manpower being tight also led to the formation of the 761st Tank Battalion under the infamous Gen. George S. Patton. While he was addressed his newly formed battalion right after assuming command, he said,
Men, [you all are] the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren’t good. I have nothing but the best in my Army. I don't care what color you are as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sons of bitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all your race is looking forward to your success. Don't let them down and damn you, don't let me down! (DiNiccolo par 14)
The military began adopting the belief that a bullet is lethal regardless of who shot it, although there was still contention among the white officers including Patton, who thought that African-Americans did not possess the intelligence to lead ground forces in combat (Wilson 53). The only reason he accepted command of the 761st was because he needed all the ground power he could obtain (Wilson 53). It is key to note that Patton was the first American military leader to integrate the rifle and armor companies who were short on manpower, a progressive act regardless of his motives. Despite Patton’s racist attitudes, he helped progress black rights by merely considering them his personal tools of war.
In “Why Negroes Should Oppose the War,” C.L.R. James, like many other critics, argues why African-Americans should avoid fighting the war when their very country discriminates them. More harm comes to them from its own country than the country’s enemies abroad. The question of why blacks should fight for people who have stripped them of their identity and humanity remains. However, C.L.R. James needs to realize that the desperation of the largest war in world history resulted in all people losing their individual identity; they were categorized as resources in the eyes of the government. Racism and discrimination were prevalent in the United States all throughout the war, but the desperate measures of war slowly deinstitutionalized the racism in national defense industry and the military. The war gave blacks the opportunity to operate in an environment of increasing responsibility in occupations previously closed to them and a chance to prove themselves as equals. It was not a progressive social movement or a change in society that deinstitutionalized racism in the defense industry and the military during WWII. War strips all people of their identity and simply considers them as human capital on a national level. This gave African-Americans opportunities previously unheard of, giving them a platform to share their identity and make their presence known in the United States.