With each military conflict, our soldiers become more lethal. In WWII, it was estimated that only 15-20 percent of our soldiers fired their weapons in combat. After changing our training methods, it was estimated that the percentage had grown to 55 percent in Korea and 90-95 percent in Vietnam.
Those numbers have likely continued to increase in recent conflicts against people of color and other faiths.
The increases are almost certainly the result of dehumanizing the enemy to make it easier for our soldiers to fire to kill in combat. That makes our military more lethal and efficient than at any time in our history. But it may have a troubling side effect.
In her book, Bring The War Home, Kathleen Belew describes how the environment inside our military has led to a number of veterans joining the White Power movement and applying their military training to make it increasingly violent. And it appears that racism within the military is growing. Indeed, a Military Times study conducted in 2019 found “36 percent of all active-duty service members have personally seen examples of white supremacy and racism within the military.”
The consequences may be as benign as military veterans rejecting dating partners with olive skin and dark hair in favor of blondes. But, too often, racism within the ranks results in deadly consequences for our society. As some members of our military retire, they seek outlets for their racist views. They end up in White Nationalist militias and other militaristic groups, such as the Oathkeepers. Others, seeking to recapture the adrenalin rush from military conflicts join more militant groups such as the Proud Boys, and the Boogaloo Bois.
During the Trump administration, far too many of these veterans contributed to the division and violence on our streets. In blatant attempts to bully political opponents, they showed up at demonstrations in military regalia with combat-style weapons. Some engaged in street fights. And, in clear conflict with their oath to protect the Constitution, others used guerilla military tactics to burn properties and create disorder to inspire a civil war or to blame Black Lives Matter or Antifa.
Worse yet, as police departments across the nation have prioritized the hiring of military veterans, too many racist and violent people have ended up with badges. Perhaps that explains why Police Federations have labeled Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization despite the fact that BLM’s marches and demonstrations have remained almost entirely non-violent. Indeed, most of the violence surrounding their events has been committed by others or instigated by the police themselves.
What can be done to stem racism in the military and to prevent it from having a residual impact on our society?
First, we must demand that our military branches do a better job of rooting out racists. Second, we must create better mental health programs for those combat veterans who are leaving the service. Third, our governments should make it a priority to break up heavily armed militias and hate groups, to confiscate the weapons of those who have instituted or threatened violence, and make it difficult for them to obtain new weapons. Fourth, we must demand that law enforcement do a better job of screening job applicants for racist and violent tendencies.
Only then can we hope to have real peace in our streets.