Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
My father is a veteran of the Korean war. My grandfather is a veteran of WWI. My grandfather was only 16 when he served. He lied about his age because he wanted to be in the armed forces. Like other little boys, I often asked my father what he did during the war. He would never tell me. I only knew he had nightmares about being chased by the enemy. My dad would also have his army buddies over to the house. Once he asked me to come in and tell them the story of what I would have done had I been in the war. My 5-year-old self demonstrated how I would have shot the enemy down and been a hero. They all laughed, and my story became part of their fun evening. I was unaware that my natural desire to be a hero was not even a possibility for the black men in my father’s kitchen.
Years later I learned that when Blacks were allowed to serve in the military, they were often humiliated and given subservient tasks. My grandfather probably shoveled the manure left by the horses as the soldiers went off to battle. My father finally opened up to me in his 70s and shared that he was a dental assistant in a MASH tent that was overrun by the enemy. He never saw the front. He never fired his weapon. He did the cleaning up of the mess the white dentist left behind, then ran for his life when the enemy advanced.
After enduring the racial hatred and hassles of serving our country in the armed forces, most African American men were not even allowed an opportunity for glory or heroic activities that shape the myth of war. Instead most were humiliated. There were exceptions of course. Buffalo soldiers of the Indian wars and the Tuskegee airmen of WWII come to mind. But to lead, command, and achieve honored status with medals and the conferred dignity that follows were often denied the black soldier.
I have lived during the time of military change. Although it was the first government agency to racially integrate (at the direction of President Harry Truman in 1946), true equality for soldiers of color was evasive until recently.
And this is why I cried when I saw Kamala Harris on the stage as the first woman of color vice president of the United States. In that moment doors were opened that have been closed to women since the founding of this nation. After three attempts by previous women, she is the first woman vice president. And she’s a black woman. And she’s an Indian woman. Speechless.
Now little girls can dream and become a fuller part of what this great nation is. Now little girls can imagine being in the most powerful positions in the land because a path has been opened. Some young girl will be able to ask her mother, auntie, or grandmother about what she did while she was in the White House. And she will share stories of pride, honor, and grandeur. These stories, like the heroic tales of soldiers, were formally held tightly by white men only. Now these stories are being opened to all populations of the United States.
I am aware that war is anathema to many Christians. I too am a peacemaker. I know that being in the White House doesn’t carry the meaning it had before 1968. However, having full access to the archetypes that define a nation (fearless warrior, courageous hero, decisive leader, etc.) is part of what it means to be people of that country. All Americans should have access to the many dimensions of work, education, geographic and social location. This is part of God’s freedom for us and part of what it means to be a just and righteous society.
Rev. Craig M. Howard