Astor (A Blood-Dimmed Tide) complements Bernard Nalty's long-standard Strength for the Fight in this evocative account of the vicissitudes and achievements of African Americans in the U.S. armed forces. Making extensive use of personal narratives, Astor concentrates on the changes in the period from the Spanish-American War through Korea. Beginning with the institutionalized racism prior to WWI, he outlines the conflict between a military that regarded blacks as unfit for effective combat and an African American community insistent on their right to serve as American citizens rather than accept segregated regiments. In both world wars, African American combat formations had mixed records. Usually poorly trained and commanded by black officers who received little respect and often racist white officers, black units were expected to fail.
The legal desegregation of the armed forces after 1948 did little to modify this mind-set. Real change began only in Korea, when the black 24th Infantry Regiment became a scapegoat for a series of American disasters. Expanding on the 1996 Clay Blair/Army publication Black Soldier, White Army, Astor argues that the 24th's performance was systematically maligned, but it ironically caused the army to decide that integration was preferable to maintaining one large, unreliable formation. The balance of Astor's work is a coda that presents a success story in diminishing white-black tension. Racism, Astor demonstrates, has by no means disappeared from America's military. But race now matters less in uniform than it does elsewhere in America, and this achievement merits recognition. -HC