Military service still risky, destructive and bad for Africa
In 2005, bewildered U.S. Army recruiters scratched their heads because the number of Black enlistees had plummeted by 40 percent over the preceding five years. The Army’s own research eventually showed young people of African descent listened to pastors, teachers and other community leaders who admonished them to have no part in the Iraq War. At the time, one would-be Black soldier told a reporter: “Until the war in Iraq dies down, I don’t think anyone in his right mind (will) join.”
While this boycott of sorts was not an organized political movement, it was a collective intuitive rejection of an obviously pointless, destructive war about oil. Fear of military service was likely triggered at least in part by wall-to-wall television coverage of “shock and awe” bombs destroying large sections of Baghdad.
The reasons for rejecting military service remain, but the frightening television images of the devastation caused by U.S. bombs are gone. In addition, troops are returning from Iraq, deadly unmanned drones are used instead of live soldiers, foreign proxy forces are often used for U.S. missions, and instead of U.S. troops, African armies directed by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) advisors fight America’s battles in Africa. All of this creates perceptions that military service is now safe.
Perhaps because of the perception that military service is now a low-risk occupation, the recruitment trend has been reversed. In 2005, 14.5 percent of Army recruits were Black. That percentage has gradually risen, and last year 22.8 percent of recruits were of African descent.
In a commentary, the Army explained: “The recruiting environment has become more difficult. The unemployment rate generally (and specifically the youth unemployment rate clearly) identifies the level of competition the military recruiters face with employers. As the unemployment rates continue to trend toward full employment (5 percent), recruiting the best qualified becomes more difficult… Across the races, African Americans reported the most difficulty in getting a full time job at 54 percent.”
The unemployment crisis may be driving Black young people into the Army, but joblessness is nothing new for the Black community. Although unemployment was a factor in 2005, it was trumped by a community-wide belief that military service was imprudent if not dangerous. This leaves observers to wonder if recruitment would be as robust if there were a greater awareness of military realities.
Specifically, growing opposition to the use of drones has prompted increased use of small teams of military personnel to carry out discrete and often deadly missions in Africa. Thousands of U.S. troops are now in northeast Africa, and still others are stationed in Italy in anticipation of the need for rapid deployment to northern and western Africa. In fact, the ever-expanding U.S. military engagement in the Black community’s ancestral homeland should alone be enough to dissuade enlistment.
The U.S. scrambles desperately to preserve its crumbling empire often through unconscionable military missions in Africa. Africa’s people born and living in America need not be a part of that folly.
Mark P. Fancher is an attorney who writes frequently about the U.S. military presence in Africa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.