Neatly tucked into the sprawling new anti-affirmative action lawsuit aiming to strike down race-based admissions at the nation’s top military academy is an easily refutable claim: that racism within the U.S. Armed Forces has been “virtually nonexistent post-Vietnam.”
The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday by the same group that successfully sued in the Supreme Court case that ended race-based college admissions at Harvard University, claims that the U.S. Military Academy – more commonly known as West Point – factors race too much when it comes to applicants.
“Instead of admitting future cadets based on objective metrics and leadership potential, West Point focuses on race,” the lawsuit from Students for Fair Admissions said in part. “In fact, it openly publishes its racial composition ‘goals,’ and its director of admissions brags that race is wholly determinative for hundreds if not thousands of applicants.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the first Black person to work in that role, is among the defendants in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit downplays documented injustices Black soldiers faced during the Vietnam War, in particular, as “a few unfortunate incidents” that are “a textbook example of conflating correlation with causation.”
It then goes on to cite a Guardian opinion column from 2001 in an attempt to back up its premise that any claims of racism in the military over nearly the last half-century are overblown.
“In fact, ‘racial animosity had been negligible within the U.S. armed forces’ prior to 1967, and it has been virtually nonexistent post-Vietnam,” the lawsuit also claims.
Here’s the new lawsuit against race-conscious admissions at West Point—which claims that “racial animosity had been negligible within the U.S. armed forces prior to 1967, and it has been virtually nonexistent post-Vietnam.”https://t.co/G3bViwuH5L pic.twitter.com/Qvn7H9nyW5
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) September 19, 2023
To be sure, the Vietnam War officially ended on April 30, 1975.
Forgetting for a moment that it wasn’t even 30 years earlier when the U.S. military was finally fully integrated, a simple Google search disproves the lawsuit’s assertion that racism within the military has been relegated to a footnote in history.
In fact, the Associated Press in 2021 interviewed “current and former enlistees and officers in nearly every branch of the armed services” who “described a deep-rooted culture of racism and discrimination that stubbornly festers, despite repeated efforts to eradicate it.”
There were also “more than 750 complaints of discrimination by race or ethnicity from service members in the fiscal year 2020,” the Associated Press reported.
It’s likely why Austin in 2021 felt compelled to order senior Pentagon leadership to “not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies. Service members, DoD civilian employees, and all those who support our mission, deserve an environment free of discrimination, hate, and harassment.”
And just this past June, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley condemned systemic racism while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee
“There is no place our armed forces for manifestations or symbols of racism, bias or discrimination,” Milley testified.
Yet the facts show the opposite is true.
Last year, the military’s own news website reported that “42% of service members of color in a new survey turned down an assignment or permanent change of station order because of concerns about racism and discrimination, even when they knew doing so could negatively affect their career because of perceptions of racism in the local community.”
That is to speak nothing of the real concerns that the U.S. military is a viable breeding ground for white supremacists like neo-Nazis and other extremists who have managed to infiltrate their ranks. The military has a documented, modern history of being replete with people who share those harmful ideologies, including the Patriot Front, a white supremacist hate group that participated in the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and whose members maintain that their ancestors conquered America and bequeathed it to them, and no one else.
In fact, documents leaked last year showed that more than one in five – more than 20% – of all military applicants have ties to the Patriot Front, the Guardian reported.
And who can forget about Travis King? He’s the Black 23-year-old Private 2nd Class in the U.S. Army who just last month ran across the Military Demarcation Line separating South Korea from North Korea because he “harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army,” according to KCNA Watch, a Korean media outlet that aggregates North Korean state media.
Not to be outdone, Republican Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville even advocated against white nationalists being barred from serving in the military.
Claiming “the Democrats are attacking our military, saying we need to get out the white extremists, the white nationalists,” Tuberville this past July defended white supremacists as still being “Americans.”
Considering those facts, the new lawsuit from Students for Fair Admissions may have more of an uphill battle than it was with Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and UNC.
After all, in the concurring opinion that ended affirmative action at colleges and universities, “race-based admissions programs further compelling interests at our Nation’s military academies” were notably exempted.
However, if Tuesday’s lawsuit does end up reaching the current iteration of a Supreme Court with a conservative supermajority, then all bets are off.