Call to Action: Race in The Marine Corps: Let’s Have the Discussion

by Col Christopher Woodbridge, USMC(Ret)

Recent highly publicized incidents of apparent and alleged police brutality against African Americans and the equally publicized and politicized global responses ranging from organized marches, peaceful protests, and civil disobedience to violent riots, looting and revenge-based lawlessness have once again laid bare a flaw lying beneath the veneer of American civil society. Actual and perceived racial injustice are a lingering weakness that touches the entire nation and can even touch the Corps as a reflection of that nation’s society. 

The difference is that as a military hierarchy, the Corps has the responsibility to be better than society-at-large through the action and authority of engaged leadership. Some leaders and Marines believe that there is no such problem in the Marine Corps. This disagreement should indicate the imperative to discuss these issues head-on in order to make the Corps a more cohesive warfighting organization. 

The purpose of the Call-to-Action is to provide a forum—under the aegis of the Professional Journal—to have that honest, frank discussion in a respectful, fact-based and above all constructive manner. Problems identified through facts must be paired with realistic solutions.

The following articles are the first offerings in this discussion. More will follow and readers may add their comments to the “thread.”

One Tribe Requires Inclusion by Col Christopher Shaw

The Petersen Chair at Marine Corps University by Col Kenneth D. Dunn

Corps Voices Podcasts: LtGen Frank E. Petersen, “It’s Just Not Going to be That Way”

Based on these first offerings, here are some initial questions for the discussion:

Is the current paucity of African American officers at the rank of Lieutenant General and above an indicator of institutional racism in the Corps, or the result of a combination of factors that lead to a shortage of qualified officers?  Could both be true, and is there something else leaders should consider?

Are incidents of “racial micro-aggressions” indicative of conscious and unconscious racial bias in the Corps or are they symptomatic of a general rudeness and degeneration of civil behavior in the nation as a whole? In either case, how could the environment or “command climate” perpetuate these unacceptable behaviors?

What is the role of Professional Military Education and the Marine Corps Culture of Learning in building understanding on all sides of this issue?

What can individual Marines do to “police their own” to shape a cohesive environment of trust and inclusion? 

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