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Froehlke, Robert F. "What U.S. Army Commanders Should Know." Commander's Digest. Vol. 13, no. 4. Washington, D.C.: GPO, November 30, 1972. P. 4-6.

SuDoc No.: D2.15/2

Admitting from the start that "I have my prejudices," Secretary of the Army, Robert F. Froehlke pointed out what he believed to be some of the most important factors in eliminating racial tension in the armed forces. Also interesting were his comments focusing on symbolism. Froehlke knew that the Confederate flag and the clenched black fist both had connotations well beyond their physical manifestation. Froehlke also mentioned that the "two scare phrases – 'reverse discrimination' and 'white backlash'...are both used frequently by individual commanders as excuses for inaction."


Race Relations: What U.S. Army Commanders Should Know

By Robert F. Froehlke

Secretary of the Army

Source: Froehlke, Robert F. "What U.S. Army Commanders Should Know." Commander's Digest. Vol. 13, no. 4. Washington, D.C.: GPO, November 30, 1972. P. 4-6.

I want to make you aware of my complete official and personal commitment to the Army's race relations and equal opportunity programs.

I am not an expert. As a matter of fact, I guess I am what I suspect most of you are. I am a groping and coping, sincerely concerned person. I don't have very many answers. I have my prejudices. Nonetheless, I do know that if this Army is to perform its mission, we must improve our opportunities for equality and we must improve our race relations.

I stress "groping and coping" because, in this highly emotional area involving people, I think it is inevitable that anyone who is sincerely concerned is going to be frustrated. We need the kind of human beings who can grope and cope with this frustration. And we don't need the smart alec who thinks he has all the answers. In these areas there are no pat answers. They change from day to day. That is why it is so terribly important that our commanders be sincerely concerned. That sincerity and that concern is what's going to make us move toward better relations between the races and have more successful equal opportunity programs.

Why is our equal opportunity and racial harmony program so important? First of all, it is our national policy. Secondly, and maybe we should put this number one, it is right. It is the right thing for people to have as their objective. And, thirdly, it is smart from a manager's point of view.

Involvement Is Key

There are various styles of management, but I suspect that whatever style you use in the 70s there are certain key factors that are important for your success as a manager. One of the key factors is involvement – including as many people as possible in the total management process. Another key factor is to have those involved be involved not as individuals, but as members of a team. A third key factor is concern, and particularly concern on the part of the leader for the men he is leading.

The final two key factors are mutual trust – mutual trust among all the members of the team – and fun. All members of the team that are concerned do have a mutual trust, working together towards a common objective and achieving it. That adds up to fun.

As Secretary of the Army, I want you, as commanders, to know that, without reservation, you are: to be determined to achieve the objective of good race relations and equal opportunity for all; to be committed to developing and implementing plans towards these objectives. Finally, you personally are to be involved in the implementation of the plans.

As a manager, I know that we have to put priorities on our various problems, put priorities on objectives. Action on many of our objectives and problems we must delegate to good subordinates. However... this is a non-delegatable responsibility.

Every commander must be personally responsible for the race relations and equal opportunity programs within his command.

I am aware that this will create added burdens and I don't anticipate that commanders can do everything. Both commanders and their staffs – equal opportunity officers in particular – must share the burden in this area. Commanders, however, are personally responsible and must personally make that fact known throughout their commands.

Thus far, I have stated our Department of the Army policy. I feel strongly about it, and you should consider it as a requirement. Now let me discuss [other] areas... which... concern me.

Eliminate Racial Tension

First:... Do you have a problem back in your unit?... The answer is yes. Every man and woman in this room faces a potentially serious racial situation in his or her unit. It is not enough to say that we have improved on the situation, and that it is one we inherited from society. Racial tension is the Army's problem. From whatever source we have received it, it impedes the achievement of our objectives. It is you and I, not society, who must eliminate it from the Army.

I can recall, fairly early in '69, just after becoming an Assistant Secretary of Defense, I visited with noncommissioned officers in one command who told me, "We have no racial problems." That was a terrible error. Not only that they thought it, but more importantly that they convinced top officers in that command. We must avoid a repetition of errors like this.

Second, I have a feeling that one of the biggest obstacles to resolving our problems of racial tension is a credibility gap between commanders and the minority troops they lead. I believe that one of the most significant causes of this credibility gap is an inability to empathize and I define empathy to be the ability to look at the facts through the other man's eyes. That is difficult to do. Let me use two emotional examples...

My first example involves the Confederate flag. For a WASP born and raised in Wisconsin, the Confederate flag simply represents the state flag of Alabama. Normally, it wouldn't upset me a bit to see the state flag on a barracks wall or on a car as a sticker. But here I think I have developed a little empathy. I know that most blacks, when they see the Confederate flag, don't see the state flag of Alabama. The black man sees a symbol of the white majority through hundreds of years of doing things to his race about which he does not want to be reminded. I suggest that the white man who understands this view when he sees the Confederate flag has empathy with the black man.

Another example is the clenched black fist. I know, having talked with a number of black troops about this, that the clenched black fist is a symbol of brotherhood, a symbol of fraternity, of unity, of good common purpose. Yet I must tell you that this same clenched fist is often interpreted by whites as the symbol of a black who wants to be segregated from the rest of the citizens of the United States of America. Mind you, it's what the eye perceives it to be that's important.

Here, I think in particular, is where Equal Opportunity Officers can be of invaluable aid to the commander. Help the commander to have empathy. When the white commander jumps to the wrong conclusion about a black symbol, for heaven's sake, tell him how it is, not what he thinks it is. It is through this empathy that real communication among the races will become possible.

Two Scare Phrases

In the area of race relations there are two scare phrases – "reverse discrimination" and "white backlash" – phrases that, again, mean different things to different people and, perhaps, which defy definition. I am chiefly disturbed by the fact that they are both used frequently by individual commanders as excuses for inaction.

Let us consider "reverse discrimination." Frequently when I have asked about implementing various possible affirmative actions, I have been told that such actions would constitute "reverse discrimination."

I will never advocate discrimination in any form. However, I think we as commanders, when we hear the flip phrase "reverse discrimination," should not immediately abandon our affirmative action programs. For instance, searching diligently for a member of a minority group who is competent and capable of filling a command position is not reverse discrimination. And, fighting hard to be sure equality exists in your command is also not reverse discrimination.

The second alibi I often hear is the fear that an action will cause white backlash. I agree that, to assure the success of our programs, white backlash should be avoided, at almost all cost, but not at all cost. Almost everything that should be done, in my opinion, can be done, and white backlash will be avoided if three conditions are present:

  • First, the policy is fair,

  • Second, the policy is implemented in a determined and firm way,

  • And, third, the policy and the implementation are candidly and honestly discussed.
Men of good will (and the vast majority of human beings are men of good will), will understand and will not resent a fair policy, firmly implemented, if it is candidly and honestly explained to them.

Discrimination based on race is contrary to Army policy... What happens if we spot discrimination? Often, when we do spot discrimination, the action that must be taken causes commanders and managers some discomfort, if it's not a bad guy doing the bad thing as the result of bad motivation, but rather good people doing habitual things for what they consider to be right motives. What do we do when we spot discrimination under these circumstances? We eliminate it!

It doesn't matter whether good people are using habitual practices to achieve what they think is the right objective. The rule is, when the commander spots discrimination, his responsibility is to eliminate the practice and, if need be, the source.

You may wonder if this rule applies to foreign countries whose people discriminate against our soldiers and civilians. Obviously, we have limitations in a foreign country, but we don't condone their discriminatory practices and we will take whatever action is necessary, with all powers within our means, to eliminate these practices.

In the United States, when the practices are generally approved by the community, commanders must eliminate those practices to the best of their ability, not only by use of the off-limits sanction, but also by seeing to it that the community firmly and publicly understands that the Army will not condone these practices. Now, I am not suggesting that in these communities you should use a bat and swing wildly. I think that you should use savvy. Nonetheless, in matter of this sort, the sooner the objectional practice is eliminated the better.

Finally, what about the white commander, or, indeed, the commander of any cultural or ethnic background who is very intelligent, very honest, has had an excellent record, but says that, because of his background, he simply cannot accept other officers or other men who are racially different as equals? I say that question is very simply answered; that man cannot serve as an officer in the United States Army.

Expanded Opportunities For Women

For many years, women have been limited in their participation in all aspects of Army life. I don't need to tell you that attitudes regarding women and their roles in our society have been undergoing rapid transition. Our recent moves to increase the utilization of women in the Army reflect these changing attitudes... For instance, I am sure that you are aware that Brigadier General Mildred Bailey recently announced that the Department of Army has set as a minimum objective doubling the size of the Women's Army Corps by 1978. I will predict that that objective will be met and passed long before 1978. We have also expanded the number of military occupational specialties for which women are eligible.

We are now also in the process of having women join men in advanced training. Women are now participating in ROTC training. These are all very positive actions. The Army has recognized the problem, and in its own selfish interest is solving that problem, while doing what is right... There are a few MOS's (Military Occupational Specialties) that women may not fill right now – those associated with fighting in combat or strenous physical demands. I believe these restrictions are appropriate. The important thing to remember is that... the Army is moving on every front to give women an equal share in the opportunity to serve their country.

You have an exciting prospect ahead of you. I remind you that as commanders you cannot delegate the responsibilities for racial harmony and equal opportunity within your units... It is vital to our national survival. It is vital to the ideals which our Nation has always stood for. It requires commitment and the willing assumption of a heavy responsibility.

There is no panacea. Let me also assure you that as we chip away, moving towards a common objective, we are going to have a very satisfying and rewarding experience.

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