The social problems, of course, were not solved

Friday, February 19th, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachThere had been continual difficulty with the all-Negro units sent into Korea, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War):

The problem is not one of race or color, but of a minority group, anywhere, which has had much of its essential pride as human beings stripped from it. The strongest urge of any minority group, Armenians, French-Canadians, or Untouchables, is to survive. They have no other effective way of fighting.

The old jokes about the military courage of certain minority groups has some basis in fact. Turks joke about the fighting ability of Turkish Christians. The indigenous Christians that Turks know are submerged, wily folk, sharp with money, slyly sticking together against the Moslem world, absolutely uninterested in going out to fight and die for the Turkish State. They see absolutely nothing to be gained by it — nor is there.

A diplomat from Istanbul, several centuries ago, remarked it was odd that Franks in the Western kingdoms were much more like Turks than like Christians. If this Turkish gentleman had visited the medieval ghettos, he might have begun to understand.

Jews in Eastern Europe often went to the gas chambers without a protest, without lifting a hand. The young men of the same human stock raised in Israel are among the toughest, hardiest folk in the world.


The Columbia professor, and others, discussed practical means of ending the Army’s trouble. They saw only one solution: desegregation.

In front of white men, the sociologists claimed, colored soldiers would feel an urge to prove themselves, and have a chance to develop pride they could never achieve in a segregated unit. They recommended one per squad, or two, no more — because the tendencies of the persecuted are to group together against the world.


And the United States Army’s combat problem with colored troops was largely ended. Filtered through the white units, they did well. Three weeks after its fiasco on Bloody Ridge, 3/9 performed with excellence.

The social problems, of course, were not solved. A solution to these can be anticipated only when all men look alike, hold the same views, or are so apathetic that it no longer matters.


  1. Kirk says:

    Fehrenbach is a product of his time and background, and ignores a lot of historical fact in what he’s saying here.

    Buffalo Soldiers, anyone…?

    Segregated troops fought just as well as any others, sometimes a lot better–One of the things Teddy Roosevelt had against blacks stemmed from the fact that the Rough Riders got shown up by the 9th and 10th Cav (black regiments) and the 24th Infantry. Quite often in the absence of “white officers” to lead them…

    Segregation or integration isn’t the issue, actually. What is the issue is training and culture. The historical black regiments were often better than the other Regular Army units because a.) they didn’t have the turnover the “normal” units did, due to racial reasons (where the hell else were blacks going to get employment like that…?), b.) they could afford to be a lot more discriminatory than the “normal” units, and c.) they often recruited from elements of society that had distinctly martial bents, like the so-called “Black Seminoles”.

    All Fehrenbach had to look at was the post-Wilson failed segregated units; of course he thought that didn’t work. Historically, the black Regular Army regiments oftentimes displayed better discipline and a higher martial prowess than the “normal” ones, which were recruited from and made up some distinctly shady elements of white society at the time.

    I’m not suggesting that we return to segregation or that integration is a bad thing, just that Fehrenbach is displaying a really surprising historical ignorance here, one that is just deliciously bizarre coming out of a Texan.

    I don’t think the failures of the segregated units were down to segregation, per se, but in other issues. You see the same syndromes with regards to WWII outfits like the 333rd Artillery–Initially disparaged and derided, they grew to the point where they were considered one of the premier artillery support units in the European theater, and everyone wanted them… They weren’t the only ones, either. 555th Airborne ring any bells, for people?

    The root of the problem wasn’t the segregation or integration, it was the shitty leadership and low expectations. You send men into combat under leaders that loathe them on sight, fail to properly train them, and then more-or-less expect them to fail under fire? Why, gee… No wonder you get widespread failure.

    If, however, you manage to bottle whatever lightning it was that the various Buffalo Soldier units had, and recreate it? You’re going to see much better performance. Sometimes, all it takes is basic respect, attention to training/cultural issues, and you can work wonders. Lots of the leadership went into the whole “segregated unit” thing with erroneous pre-conceived notions about race, and as a result, created self-fulfilling prophecies.

    I’m not sure that integration was necessarily the panacea they said it was, either. It’s like the whole idea of putting women into sexually integrated units–There are issues created by that which might better be dealt with by all-male or all-female outfits, and so long as the standards are met across the board, who cares if its segregated? I’m a pure pragmatist–If it works, it works, and leave it alone. If it’s not working, try something else.

    The historic Buffalo Soldiers worked. They should never have shut those units down or treated them the way they did in the post-Wilson era. Likewise, they should also have never segregated the services in the first damn place, which they did under him. With the willful cooperation of a lot of the career brass, I might add.

  2. Vetrani Sui Sunt Circuli says:

    We can add the record of the African German units of WW1, which in 1918 after incredible success and tribulations remained still fighting in the field, never captured or defeated, only the armistice bought them back in. Commanded by Paul_von_Lettow-Vorbeck 14,000 mostly African locally trained units tied up 300,000 allied forces – his goal – and he remained undefeated in the field 1914-1918. They were equipped mostly with Mauser 1871 single shot black powder breech loading rifles, although they were well equipped with Maxim machine guns.

    [I read the books for those who hold their noses at Wiki.]

    We can also add the record of the French and British colonial forces that were mostly African, the Senegalese forces under the French were fighting in Europe in both world wars, etc, etc.

    Any military unit comes down to training and leadership first, equipment second. The raw material of men respond universally to training and leadership – and I should mention I’m a troop guy, not some bloodless bean counter.

  3. Paul from Canada says:

    Another good example is the other “Buffalo Soldiers”, South Africa’s 32 Battalion. (The name is, by the way, not entirely coincidental).

    I highly recommend the book Buffalo Soldiers by their founder, Col. Jan Breytenbach.

    They started as a group of ragtag MPLA guerillas, more or less abandoned by their organization, and taken over as battalion-sized battlegroup by South African Special Forces advisors sent in to help the MPLA during the South African intervention in the Angolan civil war.

    When the South Africans withdrew from Angola, the officers of this group had bonded with them and formed a pretty good unit, and lobbied to have then brought to South Africa, rather than abandoned to certain death, or the gulag, being on the losing side.

    At first the Army and government were not keen, but eventually came around, because they would make a good, politically deniable “foreign legion” to be used in Angola to spare politically negative white-conscript casualties.

    Most interestingly, as a typical “Askari” unit, it had almost exclusively black, Portuguese-speaking soldiers, and pretty much exclusively Afrikaans-speaking, “Boer racists” for officers. Yet they were probably the most effective unit in the SADF outside of SF, and there was a fierce loyalty in both directions.

    At the end of the Apartheid era, the unit was disbanded, because once again, they found themselves on the losing side, and their opponents, now in power, would not countenance their continued existence. The white officers banded together and literally bought 30 silver coins to present to the Defense Minister at the ceremony.

    Vetrani Sui Sunt Circuli has cited the various British and French colonial units already, I would add the Portuguese and Rhodesian ethnic units as well. By the end of Rhodesia, they had black officers, and not just in the black units.

    From my reading on the subject, at the unit level, the “regiment” was family, and the loyalty was fierce on both sides, even in places one would not expect, like Apartheid South Africa. The trust and loyalty tended to flow both ways at the unit level, and in some cases,the white officers were viewed with prejudice, which they seem to have considered a badge of honor. The Army itself, and the country, on the other hand…

  4. Kirk says:

    American officers have a lot of trouble “getting” how to do the sort of thing that the Euro aristos seemed to grasp instinctively with their foreign-raised troops. We’d have never gotten the Askaris in East Africa to do what they did for Lettow-Vorbeck, or the Gurkhas for the Brits.

    Our record of failure with regards to building foreign military forces is legion; all of them seem to be failures when compared to things like the Arab Legion. The ARVN had a notable reputation for graft and cowardice, until they finally started pulling it out there at the end, when it was too late. The various SF-sponsored outfits in the mountain country of Vietnam were really the only successes we had during the war, and we threw them under the bus as we were leaving. Given the history of what we did in Burma after WWII, I am really surprised that any of the indigenous forces came over to us at all. Of course, they likely didn’t know, and bought into the bullshit.

    Saddest thing I ever ran into was an old SF trooper who’d spent much of the 1960s up in the mountains, and who’d been part of the contingent that shut that whole operation down in the early 70′s as we were leaving. Dude was a drunken wreck, and after hearing a lot of his stories, I can’t say that I blame him. He retired after a long-ass career, and eventually went over to refugee camps in Thailand to try to help as best he could. He sponsored a bunch of Hmong and other Montagnard tribes, but I think seeing the wreckage that washed up into the refugee camps was what killed him and turned him into a long-term alcoholic. The Thais eventually threw him out and sent him home, which is kinda mind-boggling. There’s no loyalty downwards in the American commissioned officer mindset–Troops and units are there to help you make your career, and its a rare officer that thinks differently.

  5. Paul fom Canada says:

    I don’t know where I read it, but I have a recollection of someone writing that for some reason, those most likely to “go native” were British and Italian Aristocrats. No idea why….

    Part of the success of “native” units, is a genuine respect for the courage and prowess of the troops on the part of the officers, regardless of any racial/cultural superiority complexes that existed. A British officer in the Arab Legion may have felt himself culturally and otherwise superior to his men, but he respected them for their prowess, and genuinely liked and cared for them.

    “There’s no loyalty downwards in the American commissioned officer mindset–Troops and units are there to help you make your career, and its a rare officer that thinks differently.”

    The “mission-men-self” ethos that is preached in the US army, and often observed more in the breach than in reality, is an article of faith in Commonwealth armies, and former ones like the SADF or the Rhodesians, and it applied regardless of the color of the soldier. Sure, there are ticket punchers and careerists in all armies, but the Brits and their offspring try to pay more than lip-service.

    I recall reading of an incident during the Falklands, where soldiers were lined up waiting for an opportunity to make a SATPHONE call home, and a journalist tried to barge in line to file his report and was pushed back out.

    He tried to use the fact that he was as an official war correspondent, equivalent to a Captain, and was again told to F.O! He found an officer, who was further back in the line WAITING HIS TURN, and complained to him. The officer (waiting his turn near the back of the line), suggested that if the men had told him to F.O, then he had best F.O.

    It is hard to not bond with men you have shed sweat with in training, and blood in battle, and shared dangers etc. without developing affection and respect.

    Sadly, regardless of the feelings in the unit, the “big army” and the government as a whole doesn’t care, and the discarded cannon fodder makes a long list.

    -Ghurkas prevented from immigrating when “refugees” come in freely.
    -Harkis in Algeria abandoned to slaughter
    -The Hmong and Montangnards you mentioned
    -The Angolans and Bushmen in the SADF
    and so on and so on….

    Closer to home, there is the case of the famous RCMP Superintendent James Walsh, (Then still the NWMP), who received Sitting Bull and his people into Canada after the Little Bighorn. He made certain guarantees and promises on behalf of the Canadian government, which he was assured would be honored. When they were not, he resigned in protest.

    When was the last time any senior flag rank of any nation resigned in protest? I can’t recall any recently.

    After Gallipoli, Churchill resigned and did a stint in the trenches in France. Profumo resigned after his scandal, and dedicated his life thereafter to doing charity work. While he ended up as president of the charity, he started out doing menial work, scrubbing toilets and so on, as a sort of penance.

    When is the last time a politician actually resigned in protest or disgrace, or to take responsibility? I can’t recall any recently. Our useless PM has “accepted responsibility” for several scandals so far, but he is still the PM.

    The quality of our elites, political, military, and cultural is absolutely abysmal.

  6. Kirk says:

    Paul, I couldn’t agree with you more, vis-a-vis the “quality” of our so-called “elites”.

    It’s a sign of the utter and essential corruption of our times, that these people are able to remain in their positions and prosper after having been proven such utter scum. In a sane world, they’d never be able to be take part in civil society, let alone be re-elected to high office.

    But, here we are. The shameless run society, and they’ve cozened the rest of us into looking past their crimes.

  7. VXXC says:

    “There’s no loyalty downwards in the American commissioned officer mindset–Troops and units are there to help you make your career, and its a rare officer that thinks differently.”

    The system is now so bureaucratized that the above is automatic, it can be ignored.

    The real problem few know of yet is the NCO’s had the same up or out, stats and academic system that ruined the officers morals forced on them …and the NCO corps while still competent is losing it’s way morally.

    The personnel system is a strange marriage of Sales and Soviet, a Soviet Sales force. The morals of sales [self before all, truth must be wrung from you] and the efficiency of the Soviets, along with Soviet statistical efficiency [none except at point of death].

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