Hello readers, today I am going to delve into the history of The Black Panther’s and their view and even role in the Vietnam War. In class last week we touched on their view of the war, however; I had never really learned about it prior to our class and so I thought this blog would be a great way to get to know some of the background on why the war was started in the first place and why African Americans, specifically the Black Panther’s were against it.
The Vietnam War (1954-1975) was a conflict between the communist government in North Vietnam, along with their allies in South Vietnam (also known as the Viet Cong) against the government in South Vietnam and its main ally, the United States. The main goal of the war for the North Vietnamese was to bring the entire country together under “a single communist regime modeled after those of the Soviet Union and China” (1). The South Vietnamese, however; wanted to be more closely associated with the West United States military. So, on one hand you have the Soviet Union and China giving weapons, supplies, and advisers to the North Vietnamese, and the United States doing the same for the South.
While it was known that African American’s had served in the military much earlier than the Vietnam War, it was not until President Truman issued an order to desegregate the military in 1948, that more decided to join, seeing it as a “path to greater social and economic opportunity” (2). While their conditions did somewhat improve, when the United States sent more troops to Southeast Asia in 1960, racial inequality persisted. By 1966, African American’s made up over 20 percent of the army’s two airborne units in Vietnam. While these men were risking their lives with the hope that they would make it out and see better treatment, they were being denied the same “occupational and education deferments, and they scored lower on military entrance examinations, leaving them ineligible for some of the more technical military occupational specialties” (2).
Eventually, after black casualties began to soar beginning in 1968, African American activists began speaking out. MLK Jr. was one of the most prominent figures to begin speaking out, condemning the use of black troops to “guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem” (2). Even Muhammad Ali, who I am sure we are all aware of, refused to serve and received a conviction for doing so.
In order to keep this blog from being too long, I will link the references that I used in case any of you would like a more in-depth history of African American’s in the Vietnam War. Just from reading the history, it is clear why the Black Panther’s and other African American activists detested the war. They did not see the point in protecting a country that does not protect them and they saw irony in the fact that the United States was fighting a war to free people elsewhere when there were still African American’s in the US that were not wholly free. All in all, I found it so interesting to learn about African American’s role in the Vietnam War. It still baffles me how much of our history regarding African American’s and the Black Panther’s are left out of our general education.
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