by Chris Dixon
New York & Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. xiv, 290.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $99.99. ISBN: 9781107112698
African Americans Fighting on Two Fronts
Prof. Dixon (Macquarie University) looks at the complex experiences of African Americans in the war against Japan, a persecuted racial minority in a racially charged war. This is a very nuanced work.
Dixon makes a point of noting that while Japanese propaganda made some effort to reach and subvert African Americans, most of members of America’s black community were committed to the war effort, despite America’s abysmal racism, if only because the Fascist powers offered nothing better. Nevertheless, white Americans tended to doubt both the loyalty and the military prowess of black Americans.
Dixon offers us insightful looks at what life was life for African Americans in a segregated military establishment, drawing on many personal accounts. During his research into the writings and memoirs of these men, he also discovered that, rather surprisingly, the attitudes of African American soldiers, sailors, and marines toward the indigenous peoples of the Pacific were strongly influenced by colonialist attitudes. Dixon also found that despite their the nation’s own racist “White Australia” policies, Australians were rather surprising willing to accept the presence of black American military personnel, certainly a consequence of the desperate military situation.
Dixon gives us a great deal of material on American military leaders. Senior American commanders were mostly, albeit not wholly, racist, and it was common for them – and the white press – to generally overlook successful actions by black troops, while touting their failures, and rarely calling out similar failures by white personnel. He also notes that the war helped expand opportunities for African Americans, the Navy, for example, began offering black men rates beyond messman, and the Marine Corps began recruiting black men for the first time in its history.
Dixon draws a number of lessons from these experiences, most importantly the longer term effects of the war and its veterans on the civil rights movement and on the role of African Americans in military service. African Americans and th Pacific War is a valuable contribution not only to the history of race relations in the United States, but also to the study of ordinary Americans in the Pacific War.
Note: African Americans and the Pacific War is also available in paper back and several e-editions