It is with a sinking feeling that I read where, in an effort to recruit Latinos to the U.S. military, the Pentagon will, among other things, consider changing requirements to lower standards for aptitude tests said by Latino advocacy groups to discriminate against minorities. The inclusion of lower standards--from high school diploma to a GED (certificate of completion)--adds insult to injury.
As one familiar with the high mortality rate of Latinos during World War II and Vietnam, I have reservations about the proposed recruitment plan. From teaching Chicano history, I know that Chicano soldiers died in Vietnam in vastly disproportionate numbers. Moreover, it rankles that a concentrated effort to bolster U.S. troops targets minorities. Has not enough blood been shed by Latinos?
Even more galling is that some Hispanic politicians have lobbied to lower testing requirements (which they feel discriminate) to bring more Latinos into the military fold. Clearly what they seek is parity, but at what cost?
The 1970s brought together disparate activist groups with a common interest: to end the Vietnam War. In Los Angeles, the Chicano Moratorium, a peaceful march, was held to protest the disproportionate fatalities of Chicano servicemen during the so-called conflict. The moratorium ended in violence and served as a reminder of what Chicano activists and scholars have always known: that historically, during wartime, minorities have been used as cannon fodder.
For some, the march was nothing more than a demonstration by student radicals, folks who lacked patriotism and did not understand the war. In fact, many World War II veterans--decorated heroes, even--took issue with the moratorium and what it represented. Others decried the un-American attitude of those marching. Were they not Americans?
Charley Trujillo's book "Soldados: Chicanos in Viet Nam," explores factors that led a group of young men from Corcoran, a small farming town, to join the military. Most volunteered not because of ideology but to get away from a barrio with nothing to offer; they went from the cotton fields to the rice paddies. Most encountered racism within the ranks; officers were white and few Chicanos were promoted. Worse, unlike their Anglo counterparts, Chicanos were consistently assigned as point man. Many came home in a coffin.
In his book "Shifting Loyalties," Vietnam veteran Daniel Cano, dean of admissions at Santa Monica College, explored the conflicting attitudes of Chicanos who fought--and died--in Vietnam, to find many questioned this country's involvement. Still, out of loyalty or because life offered little else, they went off to fight the good fight, never to return. States Cano: "It is ironic that colleges today plan to raise requirements while the military seeks to lower theirs. For Latinos who don't make it to college, the alternative will be the military."
And yet for many Latinos, the military can offer a way out of poverty and the low-paying jobs that are the lot for those with minimal education. Many branches of the service offer incentives, college tuition in particular, that are hard to match at leading universities. After World War II, returning veterans took advantage of the GI Bill not only to buy homes (nothing down!), but to pursue the college education that politicized and changed Latino society. Even today, some Latinos join the military as a way to learn technical job skills. To them, the probability of engaging in real combat seems not to be an immediate threat.
In all fairness to the military, I should rejoice knowing that young Latinos with nothing else going for them might have the opportunity to learn lifelong skills (punctuality, independence, hygiene) and a modicum of education that can guarantee them a piece of the American pie. But should future military "conflicts" break out, will they once more serve as cannon fodder?