Is the Military Racist?

There is no place for intolerance in our armed forces. And yet Milwaukee shooter and army veteran Wade Page has done his damage

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M. Spencer Green / AP

Worshipers in the Sikh community gather for a candle light vigil after prayer services at the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, in Brookfield, Wis.

In the wake of a tragic shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, my heart is particularly torn. As a Hindu, I share a bond with the Sikh faith rooted in Dharma; more tangibly, their immigrant community in American suburbia closely resembled my own childhood. I can visualize the temple coming under siege, and parents and children alike — not unlike my own uncles and aunties — permanently scarred for life in their worship.

Yet at the same time, I’m a veteran, just like Wade Page. In most news articles, Page’s military service is somewhat tangential to his biography, mainly because he served so long ago, from 1992–98. He never had to see combat, and his record was tainted with alcohol abuse and AWOL status. It’s easy to marginalize him as just an anomaly of the Armed Forces. But to those who continue to read headlines about the lack of cultural civility in our combat arms — whether stories on “Kill Teams” in Afghanistan, the Haditha shootings or Abu Graib in Iraq, or even the suicide of an Asian service member after being racially targeted in his own unit — the 98% of Americans who have no relation to the military service start to see this as common place about the way our service members regard diversity.

(PHOTOS: Sikh Temple Shooting: Wisconsin Community Reacts to Shocking Attack)

If there’s one thing I hope America remembers about our military, it’s that we are indeed a cross-section of the country. If bigotry and insensitivity exists in our ranks, it’s because it originated in our society first. The context of serving in the military simply gives a visible and strategic platform upon which such ignorance can severely affect our mission abroad, and our image back home.

For an immigrant soldier like myself, this is an important distinction because in immigrant and minority communities around the country, there is a growing sentiment that the military ethos is not one of tolerance, but of conformity; that the military puts pressure upon its people to abandon their ethnic identities for a manufactured “made-in-America” brand. I spend several hours each week speaking to parents whose kids passionately want to serve our great country, but the family is fearful about the way their child will be treated.

(MORE: Soldier Suicide: The Stigma to Seeking Help)

To date, the most telling example of this fear is the reaction a Muslim soldier I served with had to the military’s colloquial use of the word “Hadji”. In his faith, it was a term of endearment bestowed upon people who made the pilgrimage to Mecca. But over the course of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the term Hadji has become the equivalent of Vietnam’s “Charlie” — a derogatory term to reference locals. When this Muslim soldier heard his teammates say “Search the Hadji,” he heard “Search the grandfather”.

With examples like these, the argument for an immigrant enlisting can fall short. But the story I try to tell is the one of compassion and tolerance; the one where my soldiers treated me with respect and dignity, as long as I did my best to serve them. I tell them how my Protestant Battalion Chaplain strove to meet my religious needs in combat. I tell them of how honored I am to have served with the finest men I’ve ever met.

(MORE: The Sikh Temple Shooter’s Army Past — and a U.S. Army Sikh’s Reaction)

Whether or not Page’s military record had any effect on his racist views, the fact that he is a veteran makes him an ambassador for the military brand. I can tell my story to every skeptical immigrant parent in the country, but Page’s narrative on a news broadcast undoes so much progress that my colleagues and I have made in our diasporas around the world. Diversity is a force multiplier on the front lines. It offers a means to relate to our enemy, our coalition partners, and to those within our own ranks. But folks like Wade Page make the family-nature of the military experience harder to tell; and though our wars are ending and troops are coming home, the next time we invade a country, the consequences of that perception may follow us there.

MORE: A Vet’s Perspective on the Afghan Massacre

217 comments
Jennifer Kennemer Spradlin
Jennifer Kennemer Spradlin

This dude didn't earn the title veteran. I hate how anyone who served in the military for any period of time becomes the face of the military when they do something messed up. It's tiring and unfair.

deadmentellnotales
deadmentellnotales

Seen a f*ckload of racism in the army.. can't tell you how many times i've been called racial epithets and had to listen to all kinds racist jokes n stuff... also my truck commander an E5 sergeant lost his rank and got kicked out of recruiter school for making racial comments...

oh and my 1sg was married to a woman of color while being a white man himself and everybody in the whole troop would always make fun of him behind his back for having 'jungle fever'..

so yeah all these lily white WASP motherf*ckers on here who claim that there's no racism in the military can shut the eff up... try being a minority or a foreigner in the military then talk to me about it.. 

US Army 2006-2010

jackie_singh
jackie_singh

As both an American-born child of immigrants from India and the Dominican Republic and a US Army/Iraq veteran, I *never* personally experienced racism.

Just my $0.2 

Lishen Nair
Lishen Nair

"The next time we invade a country."  Is this a given already?

Kate Sannicks-Lerner
Kate Sannicks-Lerner

No, the military is NOT racist, no more than this country is racist.  Are there racists IN the military?  Of course, just as there are racists in this country.  The cause of eliminating racism is not served by this utterly ridiculous broad-brushed approach... 

NativeBornUSA
NativeBornUSA

We could say liberals teach hate bigotry and prove it much more aptly simply look to our prison population who is the majority of those committing violent crime teaching hate and partisan hate as some acceptable form of freedom of speech? Liberals. progressives.  Go to a tea party rally a couple nutjobs but no violence........go to an OWS grass roots liberal or union rally? THousands of arrests rape murder robberies milliions in damages.grass roots liberals..........just read the average CNN blog conservatives this evil vile term conservatives that.........there is no greater divider and hate spreader than the average "compaassionate" liberal democrat.

NativeBornUSA
NativeBornUSA

Go to an OWS rally...........you will see real not imagined widespread bigotry in America, it's called liberalism. sometimes using the PC term "Progresssive!"

ramen_for_breakfast
ramen_for_breakfast

Rajiv,

This is the crux of your article and one that may get overlooked when padded with facts, hypothesis and opinion:

"If there’s one thing I hope America remembers about our military, it’s that we are indeed a cross-section of the country. If bigotry and insensitivity exists in our ranks, it’s because it originated in our society first. "

My husband serves in the Navy and as a Navy spouse, I completely agree with the above statement.

Unfortunately, people remember headlines like this one and thus, form their opinions/stereotypes.  The Media is responsible for lumping  him into the Army category; however, I'm sure the Army doesn't want him.

Guest
Guest

This article disgusts me almost as much as the person that wrote it. 

CommanderBill3
CommanderBill3

Don't you wish it was so Time magazine? The left hates the US Military and will try to smear any chance it gets.  Having spent some 22 years in the Navy I can say I never witnessed a single case of racism.  If anything the military is too dedicated in its political correctness.  The military is largely made of the best and the brightest of the nation’s patriots who in a day’s work offer to put down their lives for others may live.  It is revolting that Time magazine would  try to disparage these honorable individuals.

dollyrama
dollyrama

America is a racist country. That is a fact.

NativeBornUSA
NativeBornUSA

I would say there is more bigotry, bias and discimination at Time Magazine..............than in the military.  Most of it directed to conservatives....

Gloria Castilleja
Gloria Castilleja

Did this guy say anything about the Black Panthers placing a  bounty on George Zimmerman?  of course not. The liberals hate the military and they will smear them when they can.   It's terrible what happened at the Sikh temple  and we are praying for their  families.  

Doug Watson
Doug Watson

A guy on my Navy ship had "Skin Head" tattooed on his knuckles!

TheKingJAK
TheKingJAK

My Grandfather served in WWII, as did many other family members of mine (They've served in every generation and most wars, and I was raised in the MIL). My Grandfather served with Japanese, Blacks, you name it, and my Mother grew up on post with a best friend who was black. It wasn't until they left the MIL that any of them actually noticed racial differences and segregation, and while there may be racists in the Service, the Service itself is not a racist force. I recall playing ball at the community center with kids of every background, and we all got along well due to the inherent connection between us. Idiots exist in the MIL for sure, and members of my family have had to deal with them throughput their careers (Which resulted in lost rank or a failure to advance on a few occasions), but by-in-large I'd say that those in uniform represent the best grouping that America has to offer.

armchrexpert
armchrexpert

Tradition is a major focus of the military.  Separating tradition from regressive-ism is not always easy.  I think the military faces particular challenges in just this last century when the pace of social and technological change has become so astonishingly fast. 

Andrea Meluzzi
Andrea Meluzzi

As a combat veteran myself. I agree with the assessment of this author on how culturally insensitive members of our Armed Forces can be and yes there is a lot of racism within the ranks of our military that needs to be stamped out at all levels.

bigboxes
bigboxes

He's right.  It's very difficult to be an open atheist in the military.  The discrimination is not hidden.  ProudRCAF is not bashing Christianity.  He's being critical of those that claim to represent Christ in the military.  You'd never know if you have never been in the minority.

Todd Meedel
Todd Meedel

Absolutely, but it is against whites.... I was one of 3 whites in a group of 300 guys, I was constantly berated and called racist names.  Racism in the military only goes one way, and its is all command sponsored....

I knew a bunch of white guys who got together to support their race, they were one step above the Klan.

I have been called cracker, honky, puta, and such....

Prometheus Deity
Prometheus Deity

Well, I served in the military myself also and I served the people of America.  For 21 years I was willing to give up my own personal freedoms and should my mission require it, even my life to safeguard every one of you, whether you are black, white, yellow, red...whatever and no matter what your religious beliefs are compared to mine.

I went where I was told and did what I was told to do and even though often it was the hardest thing I had ever had to do I still set my brow amp; jaw determinedly and put my shoulder to the task asked of me.

Did I meet people who were intolerant of other races or beliefs in the military?  Yes I did.  However I have never met MORE racists of all skin colors and religions than since I retired and became a civilian again.

If I am a racist in any way at all then it can be measured most accurately by how ashamed I am to be a part of you...civilians.

I am thankful that I was privileged to be able to actually travel to other places and live with other people and experience their cultures and to see that at the end of the day...we are all human and that ALL human life is fragile and precious.  I am thankful that I was able to sacrifice a little of my comfort, rights and safety to safeguard the tiny, fragile and precious little bubble we all refer to as "America."

But in general, I have to admit that I don't trust the average citizen very much, nor respect them very much, nor even like them as much as perhaps I should.  So I guess I am a bigot in a way.

Hunter Tracfone Sewell
Hunter Tracfone Sewell

So even though the military Intergrated in 1948 and the rest of the country didnt until 1968 there rascist Wow.Also Charlie is not derogatory to the Vietnamese the official Army code for the Viet Cong was Victor Charlie.hadji however is mildly rascist but they are under a lot of stress in combat

Alex Fraser
Alex Fraser

The military, as an institution, is not racist in any sense of the word. I can't say the same for the multitudes of poorly-educated yokels it draws in on an annual basis, however, and that's the problem right there. When you recruit from the "lowest common denominator" segment of a society, you're inevitably going to be dealing with the consequences sooner or later. In this regard, racial supremacists are probably the LEAST of the military's worries.

NativeBornUSA
NativeBornUSA

So when the military was being overtly P.C. to Major Hassan the murderer and terrorist who did an abymal job as a medical person were they bein racist to him?  I think you will find both less racism than a simliar sized civilan organization or township.......

Matt Metz
Matt Metz

What an ill-informed and insulting article. As mentioned in other comments, the Army discharged the Wisconsin shooter for "patterns of misconduct". Stating this guy somehow represents the values imbued in him by the Army is completely ridiculous. Likewise, citing a few examples of anecdotal evidence to judge an organization of 1.8 million people is similarly ridiculous. In my 15 years experience, I'd say the military is one of the few American institutions where it is commonplace to see  African-Americans and Hispanics telling Caucasians what to do (Case in point: Boot Camp). I can also tell you that we spend several days each year discussing equal opportunity and diversity issues, often to the detriment of other training, such as basic first aid. In short, the author is seeing an issue where none exists.

NativeBornUSA
NativeBornUSA

This is the story that does not exist by a person who is closer to a racist than the US Military average person.................This guy was drummed out? What part of drummed out does the author not understand?

NativeBornUSA
NativeBornUSA

To say the military is racist is laughable..........they were the first to integrate the first to recognize race relations and for you to compare an other than honorable service member to activie duty honorable service members is like comparing democrats to the original slave owners also democrats...although this maybe less of a leap.

Diane Kirby
Diane Kirby

seriously i can see y the hate begins. when ur faced with death consatntly it confuses your head and shatters your beliefs and resentment sets in. They kill us n its ok we kill them there is an investagation on wheather u waited till being shot first. I guess unless u have been there n done it u wouldnt get it 90% can rationalze it enough to accept it. Im not a hatter dont get me wrong. Honestly i feel for both sides.

darknesscrown
darknesscrown

The U.S. military ABSOLUTELY is hostile towards people who don't "fit the mold".  I am an atheist and support gay marriage...as well as legalizing illegal drugs.  I am not afraid to admit it when asked either.  To many people in the military, being anything but a flag-waving, CHRISTIAN, conservative is tantamount to treason it seems.  It's like everyone is expected to fit the mold if they want to serve.  Just at my last drill (I'm a reservist now) you should have seen the look on my career adviser's face when I was asked if I was married or had dependents and I told them absolutely not.  You'd think I drove a box full of puppies with a bulldozer.  For a split second they looked positively horrified that I don't worship God OR believe in marriage or having a family.  So I know that there are a lot, I would even be willing to say a majority, of people in the armed forces who have zero tolerance for people who aren't like them. 

CM_JD98
CM_JD98

The whole purpose of such an entity is to follow a chain of command regardless of race, color, belief, etc. To defend the Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic. Regardless of discrimination or inequality, at the end of the day the mission comes as first. "Mission first, people always."

Subordinates must follow commands designated by the COs/NCOs and as long as this is being done what is the purpose of such an issue? Yes the foundation of the American people who compose the modern military is much more diverse than 50 years ago, but this is not to say that the civilian population is not either.

In a perfect world everyone would see each other as all being equally human and no greater than one another, but ultimately the military is task oriented and from my experience decoration/promotion is not earned by racial views or political beliefs, but by what you can bring to the table to accomplish the mission. As cliché as it may sound "hard work and commitment to an ideal pays off."

Wendy Kraus-Heitmann
Wendy Kraus-Heitmann

98% of USians have no relation to the military? I find that super extremely hard to believe considering it has become Republican Welfare over the last 20 years.

Daniel Brooks
Daniel Brooks

I am also a veteran, but from thirty years and now I have nephews servings and I find the military is still more integrated than the civilian world. And just as there are racists and bigots in the civilian world, there are some in the military, but it is not widely tolerated.

emaansingh
emaansingh

I just wanted to give a heads up that the only terrorism is not just individual, or group terrorism. There is also State terrorism. The State of India, which contains Punjab, the homeland of the Sikhs, has used its armed forces and police to kill Sikhs since 1984. The State used to pick Sikhs from the streets, take them to their interrogation centre's, torture them for information on groups who wanted a separate homeland, and then dispose off them, showing them as having been killed in fake encounters. A Human Rights investigator Jaswant Singh Khalra acquired data from cremation grounds of one county in Punjab that showed over 2,000 unidentified bodies having been cremated by the police. There are still parents who do not know what happened to their children in Punjab.Contrary to the swift action taken by the US in apprehending and bringing to justice Mr. Page, India has not brought anyone to Justice for the State sponsored killing of Sikhs post 1984. In fact the Punjab State Police Chief Sumedh Saini is one of the most dreaded police officer who was actively involved in police operations of the period under the tutelage of the notorious Police chief KPS Gill. Another one of Mr. Gills pupils, and tainted police officer Azhar Alam has had his wife elected to the state legislature through the political party Akali Dal (Badal).While I appreciate the great sense of outrage being felt in the US at these unwarranted hate killings. As Sikh and someone who studied in the US, I also want to thank you as a society for caring for the Sikh Nation.Emaan Singh Mann.

Brian Dionys
Brian Dionys

Most military, especially the vile brainwashed marines, come from the South. They also tend to be macho and very aggressive types, so it's no surprise that they are racist.

sinsationalbulk
sinsationalbulk

There is hatred all over America so of course it would be there too. I have served and met some that were racist. I don't know how you can be racist and work with all diff types of ppl.

HYDBD
HYDBD

As an Indian living in the US I've found Americans to be the nicest people I've met anywhere in the world. And I've visited more than 10 different countries.

I was subject to racism only once and it was by a drunk marine. He wanted to beat me and my other Indian friends up because we were not speaking in English with each other. I think it was more of a hate against other nationalities as he had Asian-american buddy with him then. I know its wrong to generalize but after that scary experience, I try to avoid any interaction with someone who seems to be from the military. 

It might just be the case that many such people with hateful intent against other races and nationalities might want to join the military thinking it might give them an opportunity to fight some of the people they dislike.

However, I would still want to believe that these are just exceptions and a majority of the armed forces are good and caring people.

Bettie
Bettie

This was a very good artilcle.  ROADDIE, If 'the word racist is being used like a comma", it is falling on deaf ears in the military. 

Roaddie
Roaddie

Since the ultimate mission of the military is to kill foreigners, I guess that makes them racist.

And since the word "racist" is used like a comma when no other cogent argument can be made, that doesn't mean much.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow

.....what an ignorant point of view.  The US Military is one of the most socially progressive institutions in America, far out pacing virtually every other institution; academic, business, and religious, in the integration of minorities into the warrior culture.  They're not perfect, but I challenge you to find any institution in America that works as hard as it does to be inclusive.

To paint the entire military with such a broad brush because of one bad apple, is the very definition of narrow mindedness that I find pervasive in liberal group think.  

However, it is the military that insure your right to write and print such dribble.  

RRanger27
RRanger27

I served for 4 years in the military and I am a Muslim who was born in the South.  I am as American as hot dogs and beer, but I will say this, the military is the most racist organization I have ever participated in my life.  I did everything just like my peers and I beat them in everything.  Never once did I object to anything; I just kept quiet did my job and went with the flow.  Because of how I was in my day to day reactions with others, the individuals automatically knew I was one not to cross or say something that I could consider racist.  So, I guess you just have to roll with the punches and let them know in the most non- stand-offish ways "Don't F*** with me or I'll F*** you up."  Once they realize you have the same attitude as many of them, the people whom were at first "racist"  become some of the best people you can have backing you up.  It just takes a little time and education on matters.  The average American fears what he or she does not understand or have knowledge upon.  How cliche it is to say knowledge is power.

pepitopapi
pepitopapi

so some crazy killer is going to influence you writing an article? this is the problem with the American media. you wait for disasters such as these to capitalize on all sorts of documentaries, movies, etc... I watched CNN after the colorado shootings and they were showing how the suspect's apartment was booby-trapped and all that. I dont see the point of exposing this stuff knowing damnw ell that the people that commit these atrocities LOVE THE PUBLICITY, and yet you idiots give it to them. they're evil in the eyes of the average man, but you MAKE THEM INTO HEROS and they love it...If the media got together and stopped giving these crazy deranged people the attention that they long for, maybe they'd be less atrocities like this happening. The media makes me sick.

neoritter
neoritter

Wow seriously, stop writing. You as a journalist suck.

khalief
khalief

While non-Hispanic whites make up 66 percent of the U.S. population, they comprise 77 percent of active duty officers. Similarly, blacks account for 12 percent of the U.S population, but represent just 8 percent of active duty officers. When it comes to Hispanic Americans, which make up 15 percent of the U.S. population, they number only 5 percent of the officer corps. (Military Leadership Diversity Commission)

khalief
khalief

sure, and i understand why criminals become criminals or terrorists become terrorists.  understanding causation doesn't legitimize the outcome.  any behavior can be rationalized.  we don't all need to experience battle, child birth, crucifiction, etc, to understand those realities.  we also don't need to give certain individuals a pass to behave as they please just because they made choices that caused them hardship.

khalief
khalief

nice papa, it'd be hard to come up with an argument to better prove Brian's point than the one you made.  the thing that's really lacking in our military is that they forgot to let you know that you weren't made to think.  it's not that the military is racist, it's that the rest of society just can't appreciate the humor in racist  jokes.

papa4444
papa4444

I love it when people who know absolutely nothing about a subject speak as if they're experts.  Marines are from all over the US.  They're all colors, races, genders, beliefs, sexual orientations, etc.  Sure, there are occasionally racists there.  But the Marine Corps is also the only place where I could sit down with a bunch of black guys and tell stereotypical racist jokes about black guys, and have them all laugh and tell me ones I didn't know.

Racism is not tolerated very well in the Marines.  Maybe if you'd ever served you would know.  But until you know, don't speak.

mermera
mermera

 Where was Jeffery Dahmer from?

papa4444
papa4444

You, as a journalist, suck.*

also acceptable would be:

You suck as a journalist.

If you're going to criticize someone's writing, you should do it with proper grammar.

neoritter
neoritter

*It would also be acceptable to write:

If you're going to criticize someone's grammar, you should do it with proper grammar.