Last week, after nearly nine years of fighting, America’s most recent war with Iraq ended. The remaining American soldiers left Iraq yesterday, rolling into Kuwait in a huge convoy, hooping and hollering all along the way.
More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians died throughout the engagement, and more than 4,000 American soldiers. All of the dead will be missed, but one stands out today because of the time he was killed: Army Specialist David Hickman, an African-American from North Carolina, the last U.S. soldier to be killed in Iraq.
Hickman, only 23 years old, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded and tore through his armored truck, causing him internal brain hemorrhaging. At first doctors were able to stabilize him, but then they couldn’t, and Hickman’s dreams of returning to his family around Christmastime ended. Hickman was killed on November 14, just weeks away from the war’s end.
People of all colors died unnecessarily in Iraq, but Hickman’s death is a reminder of the high costs African-Americans pay in war. According to Defense Department statistics from 2007, despite the fact that Black military enlistment is on the decline in the United States, Blacks are still slightly overrepresented in the armed forces, accounting for 15.5 of the military, though they are 12.8 percent of the U.S. population. That means that Blacks, who must struggle with all sorts of oppressive forces in America, are also being asked to die for America at disproportionate rates.
Granted, America’s military is no longer a draft system, meaning no Black American is actually forced into service. But the reasons many people join the Army or the Marines is to earn money for college or obtain other educational and career opportunities. Because many Blacks don’t have traditional advancement opportunities — good schools, family college funds, etc. — it makes sense that so many would turn to the military for a leg up. It’s a choice, but it’s a choice fraught with lots of racist historical baggage.
Worse still is that when Black veterans return from war, many have lives worse than the ones they led in the military. Of the 131,000 homeless veterans in America, a full 45 percent are African-American.
I thank every soldier, regardless of color, who was willing to fight the Iraq war for those of us unwilling to. Their service is appreciated. But I’d ask that before we enter into the next war, America really thinks hard about who it’s sending into the violence and chaos. Whose lives do we consider expendable?
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(Photo: AP Photo/News & Record, Lynn Hey)