The racial integration of the Korean War

The racial integration of the US Army during the Korean War (1950-1953) is one of the largest and swiftest desegregation episodes in American history. This paper argues that racial integration improved white survival rates at the expense of blacks, and resulted in less anti-black prejudice among white veterans decades after the war. Using a novel military casualty file, I construct a wartime similarity index to measure the extent of racial integration across military units and time. Using exogenous changes in racial integration, I show that integrated whites were 3% more likely to survive their injuries than segregated whites, whereas integrated blacks were 2% were less likely to survive their injuries than segregated blacks. Given that blacks were initially confined to noncombat support roles, the results reflect a convergence in hazardous combat assignments. To explore the long-term effects of racial integration, I link individual soldiers to post-war social security and cemetery data using an unsupervised learning algorithm. With these matched samples, I show that a standard deviation change in the wartime racial integration caused white veterans to live in more racially diverse neighborhoods and marry non-white spouses. In aggregate, these results are some of the first and only examples of large-scale interracial contact reducing prejudice on a long-term basis.

That is from the job market paper from Daniel Indacochea of the University of Toronto.


See my post, TO WAR! Part 1: War and America's National Psyche, where I briefly mention Klinkner and Smith, The Unsteady March (U. Chicago, 1999), who argue that African Americans have been able to move forward on civil rights only during periods where the nation faced an external threat - the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the major wars of the first half of the 20th century. When the external danger had subsided, gains were lost.

How would you disentangle periods where the nation "faced an external threat" from periods of heightened focus on the nation's natural rights ideology. The Revolution, Civil War, WW2, maybe not so much WW1 --- those were all periods in which ideas about liberty and human rights were also top of mind. Might that also have played a role in advancing civil rights?

For example, suppose 9/11 and related Afghan War did not lead to significant gains in Blacks' civil rights? We were attacked, and the Afghan War seemed to be more about American security (eliminating Al Qaeda's safe harbor) rather than ideological commitment to spreading and protecting liberty in Afghanistan. Might that be an indication that facing an external threat was not the salient factor?

How can you disentangle what the wars were about and what people said they were about? As far as I remember, we were there to free the Afghans and, in Iraq, we were to be welcome as liberators. And the Taliban religious totalitarianism and Saddam, the Kurds-killer, were great strawmen to oppose to America's idea that everyone has rights, no matter race, religion, etc.

Also, regarding external threats, sending part of a professional army to "eliminate Al Qaeda's safe harbor" comes short from drafting every available man to liberate Europe and Asia. Maybe the issue is the fight against terrorism is more TSA security theatre than Omaha Beach.

I think the author made a huge leap to an unlikely conclusion. What changed was society and it did so in spite of and without regard to wars. The changes are more likely the result of TV and later the internet and not wars. Statistic dredges often pick up spurious and meaningless correlations. This paper is just more proof of that fact.

Whites have done a disproportionate amount of the US military's dying in post-9/11 wars. This isn't well known because it doesn't fit The Narrative.

In the mid 2000s, non-Hispanic whites made up about 61% of the 25-year-olds in the U.S. But through this 2009 report by Hannah Fischer of the Congressional Research Service, whites made up 74.7% of Iraq war fatalities, while minorities only accounted for 25.3%. So, whites gave the last full measure of devotion at an 89% higher per capita rate than nonwhites in Iraq.

The sacrifice gap was even larger in Afghanistan through 2009, with whites dying at a per capita rate 146% higher than nonwhites.

For data, see:

Those are white men's wars (Carter and Reagan supported the Mujahideen and Saddam) and shouldn't nonwhites' fighting.

But as usual, non-whites don't mind enjoying the indirect benefits of the white man's interventionism. We could never support our massive welfare state without petrodollars, after all.

(Carter and Reagan supported ... Saddam)

They didn't. The left never stops lying. The palaeotrash right hardly does either.

Maybe whites are the only ones dumb enough to risk life and limb for Bush and Obama’s forever wars.

Whether during the reign of the Achamaenids, to the ancient Greeks, to the Roman Legion, the mercenaries of Renaissance Europe, the French Empire (I, II, & III), and the Irish during the Civil War...

"Service brings citizenship!" - Robert Heinlein

The fastest way for any foreign born population that doesn't speak the language to naturalize is to join the military. Always has been. Always will.

I remember walking through the barracks one Sunday morning during Navy Apprenticeship training and hearing literally 5 different languages being spoken--and not one of them was English...

"some of the first and only examples ..." What's that in English?

Does he mean "some of the few"?

In English: "very unique".

Ex Malo Bonum. The mandarins weren't out to win that war, anyhow.

"I show that integrated whites were 3% more likely to survive their injuries than segregated whites" Do economists not have the custom of providing a confidence interval for a number such as 3%? Do they have a custom for distinguishing 3% from three percentage points?

Am I alone in objecting to piffle such as "racial integration improved white survival rates at the expense of blacks". After all, it did no such thing. It was presumably moving blacks into "combat roles" (and whites out of them?) that resulted in the changes.

No, I noticed it too. A decrease in black survival is tautological if integration means placing blacks in combat roles--unless support crews face perils worse than combatants. One might also say that black unemployment increased as a result of emancipation--technically true, but not as illuminating as the speaker thinks it is.

+1 was going to say the same thing, the pertinent sentence is "Given that blacks were initially confined to noncombat support roles, the results reflect a convergence in hazardous combat assignments". Absurd paper stating the obvious.

Bonus trivia: contrary to some popular narratives, the Battle of Midway was won by the US via "Soviet" or "Asian" style mass wave attacks, not as in some narratives by the chance lucky strike US bombing when JP Zeros were refueling on deck. The last US wave of aircraft succeeded after the first five or so waves failed tactically, but won positionally via sacrifice, by depleted the superior Mitsubishi Zero fighters providing air cover to the JP carriers. In Midway of course the enemy fleets never saw each other visually, the first such naval encounter and one not fought close to shore.

Not surprisingly, to win as gigantic of a victory as Midway, the U.S. needed both sacrifice (the US torpedo bombers getting wiped out down at sea level) and luck (the US dive bombers finally spotting the Japanese fleet just as the Zeros were down at sea level shooting up the torpedo bombers so they couldn't defend against the dive bombers).

I doubt the intention is to illuminate so much as to provide people with poor critical thinking skills more ammunition for race-based grievances.

Re: Midway. Somewhere a Japanese observer noted that American pilots demonstrated the same courage as Japanese in throwing themselves against massed fighters and antiaircraft artillery.

Casualty rates among support troops were high in Bush's second (not worth it) Iraq war - IED's.

Maybe in WWII, segregated, black units were relegated to support roles, not sure of it.

We know that in the Plains Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War and WWI black US Regular Army cavalry and infantry regiments/battalions fought with great heroism and professionalism. The 10th Cavalry took San Juan Hill along with TR's 1st Volunteer Cavalry - the subtitle of TR's book should have been "Alone In Cuba."

In WWI, US black infantry battalions fought with great distinction alongside French units.

In WWII, black/Tuskegee fighter pilots were highly successful shooting down many Nazi fighters and escorting long-range bombers.

No, it was because the black units were bugging out as soon as any shooting started. They were not in support roles. So they broke up the black units and scattered them throughout the Army. My dad's unit got some of them (87th Tank Battalion, 25th Infantry). So it makes sense: the blacks no longer had the option of retreating at the slightest threat, and the whites were less likely to get outflanked.

In 1950 in Ft. Lewis, Washington, my dad, who was a chaplain, brought me along when he did an errand of some kind, standing in for an African-American chaplain who was assigned to a "Negro" company. I have no idea what the nature of the errand was, but it didn't take long. All I remember was the shock at seeing first-hand that people were segregated that way. Nearly everyone at Ft. Lewis at the time (including my dad) was in training to be shipped to Korea, so I'm pretty sure there were still at least some segregated troops in the Korean War.

A natural continuation of Armed Services integration was "Project 100,000" in the Vietnam War, where low IQ troops were recruited, as a way to mitigate the political polarization of the University draft and under the belief that low-IQ, predominantly African-American soldiers could be trained to operate at a comparable level to their higher-IQ counterparts. Of course, this was in vain, this cohort died at higher rates than regular enlistees, and suffered much worse post-War life outcomes.

It was part of Johnson's "War on Poverty", but the sensible thing to do would have been provide rudimentary job-training for these individuals, as opposed to put them on frontlines, where they were invariably a risk to themselves and fellow soldiers.

As it turns out, aptitude tests have a natural place in arms services recruiting, even if they have disparate impact. The modern army uses the "Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery", which is an IQ test in everything but name only.

"McNamara's Folly: The Use of Low IQ troops in the Vietnam War" by Hamilton Gregory

All that plus McNamara needed to fill monthly draft/enlistment quotas (about 49,000), the highest since 1951 during the Korean War. Ending college deferments would have been a more useful solution, but that could have ended the war post haste.

"the sensible thing to do would have been provide rudimentary job-training for these individuals, as opposed to put them on frontlines, where they were invariably a risk to themselves and fellow soldiers."

The only systematic large scale job training in the US has been military service, except for the CCC, structured, and run by former military for the most part, until the end of the draft/voluntary military in the 80s and since.

Military service was temporary for all but a few for which is was a profession equivalent to civil service.

Wars were fought by civilians, not mercenaries.

Thus the military became expert in training civilians to do many jobs. First, in boot camp they were trained in the most basic job skill, discipline. Then they were trained in thousands of jobs from cook to laundry to truck driving to accounting to run the business of supplying the needs of hundreds to millions of people. Then post WWII, the military prepared those leaving in getting jobs in the civilian world based on their military job training and in the networking based on military service. Many companies were famous for the high percentage of vets who ran the business like a military unit.

The airline industry was able to grow after Carter got a lot of deregulation made law because of the military job training of Vietnam War. 6 years service to become an airline pilot or mechanic, then a fast track to high pay career. Today a crisis shortage of both looms as the vets of Vietnam and then the downsizing pushed out tens of thousands involved in training the short term civilians in military aviation.

That is a good book and an important record of one of the lesser-known crimes of that war. I don't know where my copy is but as I recall it does not state that McNamera's morons were 'predominantly african american'. It does state that poor blacks and poor whites from the south and Appalachia were disproportionately represented. From the anecdotes in the book is was clear that many group were congenitally stupid, while many others were simply illiterate and otherwise unfamiliar with pen and paper tests. The origins of the present anti-elitist movement are clear to see in the demographic breakdown of which Americans died in Vietnam.

The predominance of African-Americans can be inferred from the statistics. Caucasians have an average IQ of 100, with a standard deviation of approximately 15. Prior to "Project 100,000" the minimum IQ to serve in combat roles was 80. This meant approximately 10% of Caucasians would be too low intellect to serve. Project 100,000 attempted to further lower the IQ floor, although it is difficult to tell the exact amount.

At such low tail ends of the IQ Bell Curve, a cluster of mental, behavioral and physical conditions emerge that would screen an individual out in the examination before basic training. The only way someone would be rendered fit to serve is that if they came from a Bell Curve with a lower overall average -- i.e., African Americans with an average around 90.

Any honest discussion about desegregation in the armed forces should also discuss the lowering of the IQ requirements that accompanied it.

Meanwhile, the US arm forces have quietly reversed this trend, imposing strict IQ floors, in which the vast majority of Whites are eligible and only the top 20% or so of African-Americans are fit to serve. Even among the Hispanics you see in elite combat units, I suspect the majority are coming from predominately Spanish, non-Mestizo lineage. As our military gradually retools for more drone and computer-centric warfare, this trend will likely continue.

A lot of McNamara's 100,000 who had scored below the 10th percentile on the military's entrance exam were Funny Looking Kids who clearly suffered from some kind of birth defect.

As Arthur Jensen discovered in the 1960s, low scoring FLKs tend to be mostly white, while low-scoring non-FLKs tend to be more black.

Some sergeants wisely tried to protect the FLKs (and their comrades) by keeping them away from guns and the like.

I can recall an anecdote about some normal-looking white guy in the Vietnam War who was said to be doomed because nobody would notice from looking at him just how stupid he was. He didn't make it back.

The integration of the military around 1950 was an important milestone in the integration of the South because many military bases were in the South. I vaguely recall that Harry Truman called in leading Southern Democrats and told them in secret that the military wasn't going to follow Jim Crow anymore on bases in the South for national security reasons, and that they should pass the word to local sheriffs and newspaper editors not to cause any trouble about it. So integration of military bases in the South happened pretty smoothly.

In the Iraq War from 2003 onward, young white Americans were about 75% more likely to die per capita than young nonwhite Americans. Afghanistan was more like 100% higher white mortality.

So what was that about, Mr iSteve?

The military pays pretty well these days, so it doesn't have to scrape the bottom of the barrel as hard as it did during the Vietnam War. Typically, post 9/11, you aren't allowed to enlist in the military if you don't score at least at the 30th percentile on the AFQT portion of the ASVAB entrance exam. During the Great Recession, the Air Force and Navy weren't letting in anybody below the 50th percentile.

Also, white men tend to volunteer for combat more, while blacks try to get themselves in supply jobs. The white ideal has been said by military sociologists to be to "play Rambo" for four years, then go to college.

Many blacks come from a military background where the goal has been for several generations to get a bureaucratic job in the military, put in 20 or 30 years, leave with a pension, then work in a civilian bureaucracy, then retire with two pensions. It's a pretty sensible life plan.

Cool that he had access to objective data about post-war behavior to measure how attitudes changed, i.e. living in integrated neighborhoods and interracial marriage.

I wonder about his use of "an unsupervised learning algorithm" to match his samples. How accurate were the matches?

The phenomenon of higher casualties for the ethnic minority, lower casualties for the whites, and improved interracial relations has another precedent: the 442nd regimental combat team during WW II was made up of Japanese-Americans (many of whom had volunteered -- or in some cases been drafted -- straight out of the internment camps where they'd been imprisoned since 1942). They incurred more casualties and won more medals than any other regiment during the war, many of them during their rescue of "the Lost Battalion" in the Vosges Mountains.

The Lost Battalion was a unit in the 36th Infantry Division, from Texas, and was surrounded by the Germans. The 442nd was supposed to be recuperating but after previous attempts to rescue the battalion had failed they were called in. They succeeded at breaking through the German lines and rescuing the 211 men in the Lost Battalion -- at a cost of over 800 casualties in the 442nd.,_World_War_II)

One battle or even one unit cannot change a country's attitudes single-handedly, but it can help. The veterans of the 442nd were declared "honorary Texans" by Governor Connelly after war. And President Truman directly addressed racial prejudice when he gave them a presidential unit citation (HST at 0:48 of the clip):

OTOH, the American Legion barred Japanese Americans from joining, until white officers prevailed upon them. And several west coast cities had neighborhoods that barred Japanese Americans until the 1960s.

Senator Daniel Inouye of the 442nd got a Medal of Honor and 50 years in the Senate for his bravery. His Wikipedia page about the combat reads like a Sargent Slaughter comic book.

Despite knowing about Inouye's war wound, including seeming him talking about it in various filmed documentaries, I hadn't known the full story about how he got it.

When he was awarded the belated Medal of Honor, I was thinking that he got it because he was a US senator who happened to get wounded.

But after reading the fuller story, yeah that was Medal of Honor stuff. E.g. I'd seen him talk about how his grenade was still in his right hand, which was dangling from his destroyed arm by skin and tendon. But not the part about how he managed to outdraw the German by grabbing the grenade and throwing it through the vision slit with his left arm.

Related to another topic that regularly comes up here in MR, about specialization vs being a generalist: ambidexterity can come in handy too.

2% and 3% changes in death rates? Is that within measurement error?

What about blacks "passing" as whites? How are they counted? Or people of mixed race?

Could such small changes in death rates be caused by a single horrific battle or circumstance? Or by North Koreans showing favor to whites but not blacks?

Has "economics" become a small branch on the tree of statistics?

A parallel: They say to get a history degree today you must study a really tiny subject and grind it down to death, which is one reason why larger histories are written by non-historians.

Econ majors: Please study money-financed fiscal programs, and if they will work, and if so under what circumstances.

Also, what are some methods for ridding ourselves of property zoning?

"What about blacks "passing" as whites? How are they counted?"

Current DNA testing shows that passing was pretty rare in American history. David Reich found that among 23andMe customers, individuals who self-identified as (non-Hispanic) black were 385 times as sub-Saharan as individuals who self-identified as (non-Hispanic) white.

Passing was difficult because it meant cutting public ties with relatives.

Soldiers in Korea war also made friends with Japanese, if it matters.

This paper is one more reason to burn down the universities and salt the earth

“In Midway of course the enemy fleets never saw each other visually, the first such naval encounter...”

Coral Sea was the first.

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