African American leaders such as Frederick Douglass long advocated military service as an avenue to equal citizenship for black Americans. Yet segregation in the U.S. armed forces did not officially end until President Harry Truman issued an executive order in 1948. What followed, at home and in the field, is the subject of Brotherhood in Combat, the first full-length, interdisciplinary study of the integration of the American military during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Using a wealth of oral histories from black and white soldiers and marines who served in one or both conflicts, Jeremy P. Maxwell explores racial tension—pervasive in rear units, but relatively rare on the front lines. His work reveals that in initially proving their worth to their white brethren on the battlefield, African Americans changed the prevailing attitudes of those ranking officials who could bring about changes in policy. Brotherhood in Combat also illustrates the schism over attitudes toward civil-military relations that developed between blacks who had entered the service prior to Vietnam and those who were drafted and thus brought revolutionary ideas from the continental United States to the war zone. More important, Maxwell demonstrates how even at the height of civil rights unrest at home, black and white soldiers found a sense of brotherhood in the jungles of Vietnam.
Incorporating military, diplomatic, social, racial, and ethnic topics and perspectives, Brotherhood in Combat presents a remarkably thorough and finely textured account of integration as it was experienced and understood in mid-twentieth-century America.
“Jeremy P. Maxwell's analysis of racial integration in the U.S. Army is instructive for those trying to develop staffs that better reflect America's diverse society and for those struggling to understand why racism persists. Brotherhood in Combat is essential reading for anyone who wants to know why equal opportunity and diversity are so difficult to achieve.”—Regina Akers, Historian, Naval History and Heritage Command