Blacks' high ratio in gulf stirs resentment PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN

January 25, 1991|By New York Times

There are about 104,000 black men and women who, Defense Department statistics show, account for nearly 25 percent of the American troops in the Persian Gulf region and almost 30 percent of Army troops.

Despite their numbers in the armed forces, blacks make up only 12 percent of the nation's civilian population. And as the gulf conflict moves closer to ground combat, a painful debate has divided many blacks about blacks' role in the war and in the military.

The statistics documenting the number of blacks in the gulf have stirred a deep well of resentment and anger in some blacks, who fear that their community will pay disproportionately for a war that many of them do not support.

The most recent New York Times/ CBS News Poll, conducted Jan. 17-20, asked 3,002 adults whether they favored starting military action or continuing the use of economic sanctions.

The 250 blacks in the poll split about evenly on the question and whites favored war by a 4-to-1 ratio. In a vote four days before the war started, all the black Democrats in Congress were against the measure authorizing force in the gulf.

Some black critics of the war say they are bitter that their sons and daughters are being sent to war by an administration that they see as insensitive to members of minority groups.

Others say that problems of drugs and crime in this country are more important than Iraq and Kuwait, but will not receive attention because of the preoccupation with the war.

Still other blacks express pride and comfort in Gen. Colin L. Powell, the nation's first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as a loyal, if resigned, sense of duty to the war effort.

Pentagon officials acknowledge the disproportion of blacks in the armed forces, but say it is the random outcome of having an all-volunteer force. "Nobody's making them enlist," said Christopher Jehn, assistant secretary of defense for force management and personnel.

"They're not victims, they're willing, patriotic Americans."

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