Sunday, January 15, 2012

Phillips on Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from WWII to Iraq

An important new book on African Americans and the U.S. military, War! What Is It Good For?: Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq, by Kimberley Phillips, has just been released by the University of North Carolina Press.  It is in the UNC Press John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture.  Going well beyond the desegregation story, the book illuminates the relationship between military service and African American culture.  Beautifully written, it is essential reading for anyone with an interest in race and war in U.S. history.

Here's the press book description:
African Americans' long campaign for "the right to fight" forced Harry Truman to issue his 1948 executive order calling for equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces. In War! What Is It Good For?, Kimberley Phillips examines how blacks' participation in the nation's wars after Truman's order and their protracted struggles for equal citizenship galvanized a vibrant antiwar activism that reshaped their struggles for freedom.

Using an array of sources--from newspapers and government documents to literature, music, and film--and tracing the period from World War II to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Phillips considers how federal policies that desegregated the military also maintained racial, gender, and economic inequalities. Since 1945, the nation's need for military labor, blacks' unequal access to employment, and discriminatory draft policies have forced black men into the military at disproportionate rates. While mainstream civil rights leaders considered the integration of the military to be a civil rights success, many black soldiers, veterans, and antiwar activists perceived war as inimical to their struggles for economic and racial justice and sought to reshape the civil rights movement into an antiwar black freedom movement. Since the Vietnam War, Phillips argues, many African Americans have questioned linking militarism and war to their concepts of citizenship, equality, and freedom.
And an endorsement:
"Kimberley L. Phillips's superb book tells the long overdue story of the disproportionate impact of American wars on African Americans and their resistance to this unequal burden. Her expansive catalogue of black artistic engagement with wartime struggles for justice--from the Double V campaign to Baghdad Hip Hop--creates a new groove in the study of American protest culture. The book sounds off beautifully, voicing cries of freedom through the guns of war."--Bill V. Mullen, Purdue University, author of Afro-Orientalism and Popular Fronts: Chicago and African American Cultural Politics, 1935-1946

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