The Armed Forces and American Social Change: An Unwritten Truce

"The Armed Forces and American Social Change: An Unwritten Truce" is a powerful depiction of black Americans’ struggle for equality told through the lens of uniformed military service. Troy Mosley uses superb storytelling, personal vignettes and historical examples to show how millions of Americans have lifted themselves from oppression through opportunities gleaned from military service. Collectively, these efforts exerted positive outward pressure on American society, which by and large has resisted social change. One unique aspect of combat is that rarely are Americans more equal than when thrust into harm’s way. It has been said there are no atheists in combat; similarly, racism, sexism and homophobia quickly go by the wayside when under enemy fire. Yet in the 19th century and well into the 21st, America’s military policies regarding the use of manpower could best be described as an awkward attempt to balance the requirement to win the nation’s wars while supporting a sociopolitical caste system. President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948, in response to police violence perpetrated against black veterans. His actions broke this trend and set the military on the path toward true meritocracy.

Today, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin is the first black American Secretary of Defense, in part due to the barriers broken down by those who served before him. The armed services fiercely resisted integration, gender equality and LGBTQ equality, but over time have grown to value America’s wellspring of diversity as a strategic and operational advantage. Under the Trump administration, many military policies supporting transgender inclusion were reversed. This reversal thrust the U.S. military, among other institutions, into the ideological tug of war that lies at the heart of present-day polarization in American society. This ideological divide is the crux of the public discourse surrounding critical race theory, America’s racist and sexist past, and how we contextualize our history going forward for the betterment of the nation. As far as America has come, we still have work to do for Truman’s vision of equality of opportunity to become a reality for all Americans. Join this thought-provoking narrative that celebrates brave American military pioneers and challenges us all to continue pushing for a better expression of America.

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