Book Review: The African-American Soldier: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell


by Michael Lee Lanning

Birch Lane Press, 1997. ix, 309 ppBirch . Illus, biblio, index. $22.50. ISBN:1-55972-404-8

An uneven, though still valuable look at the role of black Americans in the nation's military history. The African-American Soldier is refreshingly free of the silly extremism found in such works as the notorious Fighting on Two Fronts.

Lanning provides some of the clearest discussions this reviewer has seen of several important events in the history of blacks in military service. Of particular value is his treatment of the "Brownsville Raid" of 1906. He also does an excellent job of analyzing Vietnam War casualty rates. putting black losses into perspective. There are, however, several errors of fact and interpretation in the work.

On p. 131 the author states that in World War I proportionately more blacks were drafted than whites. This is true, but misleading. On the previous page he has already observed that 650,000 whites voluntarily enlisted, while only 4,000 blacks were permitted to do so, and he wholly overlooks the federalization of the nearly 400,000 National Guardsmen, the nearly 250,000 who joined the Navy, and the nearly 80,000 who served in the Marines, virtually all of whom were white; So about 1.3 million white men - nearly a third of the total Armed Forces -- entered the service by means other than the draft.

Likewise, in his discussion of the belated award of the Medal of Honor to several black World War II veteans in 1997, Lanning fails to realize that one award is clearly invalid, not having occurred in "direct conflict with the enemy." And, succumbing to Communist propaganda, he credits the black American mercenary pilot James Peck with five victories during the Spanish Civil War, though in fact Peck appears to have shot down just one airplane.

Overall, however, a useful work. Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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