HIDDEN HEROISM by Robert B. Edgerton


Black Soldiers in America’s Wars
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Serviceable survey of the role of African-Americans in the US military.

UCLA anthropologist Edgerton (Death or Glory, 1999, etc.) offers a timely work in light of recent—and long overdue—honors accorded to African-American veterans of WWII and Korea. The slighting of African-American soldiers was no accident, he argues, inasmuch as generations of white officers and political leaders regarded black fighters as “naturally cowardly,” “unfit to associate with the American soldier,” and marked by “inferior intelligence, carelessness, false pride, and easy discouragement.” Edgerton rightly notes that military oversight committees in Congress and the upper ranks were long dominated by Southerners likely to be unsympathetic to civil-rights concerns, but he does not adequately explore how racism in the American military reflected and sometimes departed from racism in the society as a whole. His account is pockmarked by flaws large and small: he overestimates the role of black soldiers in the American Revolution while undervaluing the essential role of “buffalo soldiers” in the Indian Wars; he confines his discussion almost entirely to the US Army, neglecting the other services; and his chapter on the use of slaves in non-American armies, awkwardly sandwiched between analyses of Vietnam and the Gulf War, seems designed to show Edgerton’s command of the anthropological literature and contributes little to his thesis. Still, this portrait has its uses, especially because it quotes liberally from overlooked documents implicating the American military and political leadership in overtly racist policies.

Better works on the subject are readily available.

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 2001
ISBN: 0-8133-3858-1
Page count: 296pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2000


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