4 Dumbass Moments In Military History (Caused By Racism)
Some SNAFUs, however, have a much, much simpler cause: good ol' fashioned racism ...
The British Lost The Battle Of Hong Kong Because Of Racist Stereotyping
On December 7, 1941, Imperial Japan launched a series of devastating surprise attacks on Singapore, the Philippines, Guam, Hong Kong, and of course, Hawaii -- resulting in countless thousands of deaths, the U.S. entering WWII, and later, six nominations at the 2001 Golden Raspberry Awards.
Soon enough, angry faces everywhere asked the same question: "How did no one see these attacks coming?"
The U.S. responded to this question by, um, switching off the lights and pretending to not be home for, um, some reason. The British, who were in the process of losing Singapore, Malaya, and Hong Kong -- at least insofar as they could 'lose' something which never belonged to them -- responded with diplomatic tact: blah blah fog of war blah blah superior numbers blah blah called "surprise" attack for a reason, you plebe.
Besides, they obviously weren't going to mention the real cause of their defeat: that they were too busy spouting racist propaganda to do their jobs properly.
In 1941, Hong Kong was defended by a garrison comprising troops from Britain and India. As the threat of invasion grew more intense, they were quickly reinforced by a group of strapping soldiers from Canada -- who received a welcome gift from the British in the form of an intelligence report saying how they needn't worry about the Japanese because, and we quote:
"[They] are badly trained, badly equipped, and physiologically unfit to fight. They are buck-toothed, slant-eyed, near-sighted, scrawny little people. Their slanted eyes make them poor night fighters, and prone to sea-sickness. Most of them have to wear thick corrective glasses. Because their diet consists mostly of rice and fish, they are weak from malnutrition, and their stamina is poor. There are only 5,000 Japanese on the mainland at any rate, so don't worry. And besides, they don't even look like soldiers. In their ill-fitting dung coloured uniforms, long leggings to their knees, and rubber boots."
Except, the Japanese weren't inhuman molemen armed with sticks and covered in vomit. They were (surprise!) hardened soldiers who were more than capable of taking some arrogant, tea-supping fops to the mat. Remember that figure of 5,000 from literally, like, 10 seconds ago? The attack on Hong Kong involved over 50,000 Japanese troops, meaning they outnumbered the defending garrison -- which need we remind you, was a colonial supergroup comprising troops from three countries -- by approximately 10:1.
It took less than two weeks for Japan to totally conquer Hong Kong, an ass-beating which taught the British that using racist caricature as the basis for a defense strategy maybe wasn't the best idea.
White GIs Stationed In Britain During WWII Started Race Riots (Because Brits Didn't Hate Black People Enough)
After the U.S. entered WWII in 1941, over 1.5 million GIs were shipped off to Britain in preparation for a future invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. This was a massive upheaval for many GIs, not just physically but also mentally as they orientated themselves to new surroundings, new foods, new customs, and this craaazy new idea called "desegregation." Because despite their, um, less than stellar record when it comes to race relations, Britain was still a multicultural paradise compared to America. It was a place where people of all colors, creeds, and classes could come together in the spirit of unity, and hating the shit out of Manchester United.
As you'd expect, the GIs' reaction to this broke down among racial lines. To Black GIs, of which there were approximately 130,000, they loved it and found themselves the center of attention (in a good way) wherever they went, particularly dancehalls. "At that time the Jitterbug was in and the Blacks would get a buggin' and the English just loved that," said Black former GI Cleother Hathcock. "We would go into a dance hall and just take over the place because everybody wanted to learn how to do that American dance, the Jitterbug. They went wild over that."
As for the white GIs, they lost their damn minds at the newfound freedoms their brothers-in-arms were experiencing -- and decided to make their feelings known with their punching words in addition to their talking ones. Between November 1943 and February 1945, dozens of mass brawls were recorded between white GIs who were homesick for some good ol' fashioned racism and Black GIs experiencing human rights for the first time. Some of these brawls even devolved into shootouts, such as at the so-called 'Battle of Bamber Bridge' in June 1943 -- in which a group of drunk white MPs harassed and arrested a group of Black GIs enjoying a few drinks in a local pub, and soon found themselves staring down an angry crowd of locals. A witness recalls:
"The MPs expected the locals to resent the presence of the blacks but the locals sided with the blacks. The MPs, using racial expletives, returned with two more and tried to frighten the blacks, who fought back with bricks and bottles."
After being beaten back for a second time, the MPs returned with machine guns, and sure enough, a rolling battle broke out, as Black GIs (fearing a massacre) grabbed their rifles to defend themselves and their friends. One serviceman was killed, four were injured, and 32 Black GIs were subsequently arrested and convicted. Meanwhile, the incident, and many others like it, were downplayed to avoid undermining morale, as if the entire war wasn't about punching racist goons in the face.
However, with the war's end many Black GIs were forced to return to their depressing, racist, lynching-filled lives in the U.S. But as Linda Hervieux writes in Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes, the genie was out of the bottle:
"In Britain, America's black soldiers were welcomed and treated with respect and kindness. Once they returned home, there was no going back. This equitable treatment abroad helped fuel the budding civil rights movement that would rock America in the coming decades."
A Black U.S. Army Officer Got So Tired Of Being Racially Abused, He Defected And Became An Anti-U.S. Guerilla
From 1899 to 1902, the U.S. fought a vicious, bloody war in the Philippines -- a conflict which then-President McKinley described as being rooted in a desire to protect the "full measure of individual rights and liberties which is the heritage of free peoples." The irony? This war was nothing more than a thinly-veiled colonial power grab, which cost the lives of anywhere between 250,000 to 1-goddamn-million of those aforementioned "free peoples." And it was fought by the U.S. using thousands of Black soldiers, many (if not, all) of whom had never experienced "rights and liberties."
In letters home, these soldiers -- who were basically used as cannon fodder -- expressed unease with their role in the conflict. They described it as a "race war" analogous to not just what the U.S. did to Indigenous Peoples from the 1490s onwards, but also their own subjugation under Jim Crow.
One of these soldiers was David Fagen, a corporal of the 24th Infantry Regiment who, after several months of putting up with this white bullshit, defected to the other team and became a guerilla leader with one mission: To get payback on every U.S. soldier he and his men found. After a slew of successful operations against his enemy, which included a "daring" raid on a supply barge, the press got ahold of Fagen's story. It turned him into a folk hero, describing him as a "cunning and highly skilled guerrilla officer who harassed and evaded" units sent to capture him.
Unsurprisingly, the military did not share this view, with General Frederick Funston (yes, that was his real name) declaring Fagen to be, "A bandit pure and simple [...] entitled to the same treatment as a mad dog." To whit, he posted a massive bounty on Fagen's head (and other extremities).
In 1901, however, a hunter named Anastacio Bartolome marched into a military outpost and presented them with what he said was the head of the notorious insurrecto David Fagen. The head was too badly decomposed to positively identify Fagen, but eager to shut down the bad press they were getting -- as well as dissuade any other soldiers from following in Fagen's treacherous footsteps -- the U.S. accepted the head and paid Bartolome his $500.
To this day, it's still unknown whether the head was Fagen's, and rumors soon started circulating that the head was a decoy from Bartolome, himself a loyal insurrecto, to allow Fagen to retire in peace after falling in love with a local woman. We love a good ending, so that's the one we're going with, and you can't stop us.
The Port Chicago Disaster Was A Racist Shitshow From Start To Finish
On July 17, 1944, an ammunition explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in, um, California, killed 320 people, injured 390 more, and left the port and surrounding area looking like a post-apocalyptic junkyard.
The majority of those killed and injured were Black, thanks to the port's mandate -- which was typical of the military at the time -- that only Black enlistees were "allowed" to perform the dangerous task of loading ammunition onto ships. Considering that Port Chicago accounted for a whopping 15% of Black casualties during WWII, it's unlikely the top brass received any thank-you cards for this magnanimous gesture.
Several days after the disaster, an official body of inquiry found that the explosion was likely caused by an ammunition loader(s) accidentally mishandling or dropping a box, owing to how "Colored enlisted personnel are neither temperamentally or intellectually capable of handling high explosives." Unsurprisingly, the white officers who supervised the loaders escaped without being found at fault. That was despite the inquiry not only finding that the supervising officers would frequently push the loaders to load munitions faster than was allowed -- or even possible, according to professional stevedores -- to win a contest, but that several complaints had been made about unsafe working conditions at the port. One of those included a plumber who fled the port after witnessing a loader accidentally drop an artillery shell from a height of two feet.
It then chased him for several minutes before falling into a lava pit.
The kicker, though? The inquiry found that of the black enlistees tasked with loading munitions, none had actually been trained in how to do so. Why? Because in the view of the port's higher-ups, the enlistees were "poor material" for training and would require "unusually close supervision," a problem to which the only solution was giving them no training at all. After all, what's the worst that can happen? Oh, right.
In the aftermath, families of enlistees who'd died were awarded $5,000 by Congress, although this was dropped to $3,000 after Congress learned that most victims were Black. As for the surviving loaders, they were awarded the sweet sum of $crewyou, no time off, no additional pay, no counseling, no respite, no nothing -- despite the disaster leaving many loaders traumatized and exhibiting signs of PTSD. "Everybody was scared," said survivor Percy Robinson. "If somebody dropped a box or slammed a door, people [began] jumping around like crazy."
So when the enlistees -- who'd been reassigned to menial positions at other bases in the region -- received orders to report for munition loading duties at Mare Island Navy Yard, 328 responded by going on strike. They stated that they'd perform any job asked of them except munitions loading until they got training, safe working conditions, and paid leave to recuperate from witnessed their friends be vaporized.
The military, unsurprisingly, didn't entertain such commie horseshit notions, and the strikers were arrested and placed under armed guard. After several days of threats, 278 loaders resumed their duties, leaving 50 men -- who later became known as the 'Port Chicago 50' -- to be charged as mutineers who acted. "With a deliberate purpose and intent to override superior military authority." It was a crime that carried penalties ranging from imprisonment (at best) to the death penalty (at worst, obviously).
The resulting trial of the Port Chicago 50 was a sham (but who expected anything different?), which saw the military argue that by refusing to load munitions, the enlistees were engaged in a conspiracy to undermine the authority of their commanding officers. Despite how they said they'd do anything that their commanding officers asked, they won't do that ("that" being 'load ammunition'). The PC50 argued that they were engaged in a very specific strike and that their demands basically amounted to bringing the bombs n' racism factory up to code.
They were found guilty of mutiny in less than two hours, and each man was sentenced to between 8-15 years in prison. In 1946, however, after a flood of public support (which sprang from reporting on the case by Thurgood Marshall), the military released the PC50 and reassigned them overseas. Except for Freddie Meeks, who received a pardon from President Clinton in 1999, the convictions of the PC50 still stand today. But don't expect the surviving members to go chasing pardons of their own. "We don't want a pardon," said PC50'er Joe Small, who died in 1996. "Because that means, 'You're guilty but we forgive you. We want the decisions set aside."
Top Image: Wiki Commons