By Carlito Rovira
The U.S. military reflects the racism of the U.S. capitalist system.
African Americans’ role in the military during the Civil War was wholly progressive. Indeed, Black soldiers had a vital stake in smashing the hideous system of slavery.
While President Abraham Lincoln often expressed his indifference to the issue of emancipation, he was forced to recognize the absolute necessity of arming African Americans.
Black soldiers soon became feared by the Southern slavocracy. Their tenacity, skill and valor proved decisive to the North winning the Civil War.
For instance, when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was sent to fight Gen. Robert E. Lee’s military forces in Virginia, he requested Black regiments as his principal troops.
Then there was Harriet Tubman. A former slave, she became an intelligence officer for the Union Army, operating behind enemy lines.
Tubman’s courage made possible the capture of Confederate garrisons–and the famous “Underground Railroad” she organized led to the liberation of hundreds of slaves.
All told, 200,000 African Americans served in the Army and Navy during the Civil War. Thirty thousand died in combat.
The Civil War was the last time Black people had a positive stake in a U.S. war’s outcome. After they were betrayed during Reconstruction, the African American people were further undermined and impoverished when the South was overrun by capital investments in manufacturing, lumber and agriculture. Then capital cast its eyes abroad. The Monroe Doctrine had already reserved all of Latin America to be exploited exclusively by U.S. capitalists.
The mysterious explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana on Feb. 18, 1898, served as an excuse for Washington to declare war on Spain. The U.S. invaded the Spanish colonies of the Philippines, Guam, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, colonizing them anew, this time under U.S. control.
Many Black soldiers played a military role this time, too- -but on a different side.
RESISTING THE U.S. ARMED INVASION
In 1899 under the leadership of Aguinaldo, the Filipino people furiously fought the new invaders. They inflicted many casualties on the U.S. Army, which claimed to be “helping the people’s quest for freedom.”
The U.S. government retaliated by slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Filipino women, men and children.
This genocide was not passively accepted inside the United States, as mainstream historians contend. For example, the Anti-Imperialist League held mass protests in major cities throughout the country.
Significant anti-war sentiment was also expressed widely in Black communities. The Black press as well as other representatives of the African American people vigorously denounced the war. The great historian and African American leader W.E.B. Du Bois played a notable role in this movement.
Most important, Black resistance surfaced inside the U.S. military. Four Black regiments sent to fight in the Philippines established a bond with the Native people there, who also were dark-skinned. These Black troops resented white officers and soldiers describing Filpinos with the same racist slurs applied to African Americans in the United States.
Filipino insurgents appealed to Black soldiers not to fight on the side of imperialism. Posters denouncing racist lynchings in the United States were placed throughout the islands.
This political agitation helped lead to many Black troops deserting the U.S. military.
Some of these African Americans went over to the other side, joining the Filipino guerrilla fighters.
The most notable was David Fagan, formerly of the 24th Infantry Division. The Filipino freedom fighters so respected Fagan that he was made a commander in their army.
David Fagan’s example demonstrates how unity is possible. This is a highly relevant lesson today. Once unity among the working classes and peasant farmers of all nationalities can be established, it lays the basis for overthrowing the tyrannical reign of U.S. imperialism–and preventing another 120 years of terror.