Dunn: Is ‘Woke’ a four-letter word?

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Now that Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Mike Bost (R-Ill.) are appointed as Armed Services chair and Veterans Affairs respectively, they’ve vowed to end “wokeness” in the military. Before they begin, perhaps we should first ask them what they mean by “wokeness.” We’ve heard the word fairly frequently lately but “woke” is being used as a four-letter word and while I concede that it does, indeed, consist of four letters, I do not agree that it is a bad word and that wokeness is harming our military.

Most dictionaries define “wokeness” as “the quality of being alert to and concerned about social injustice and discrimination.”

Is it really a bad thing for the military, which has a very long history of acts of racial violence and discrimination within its ranks, to be alert and concerned about social injustice and discrimination?

We’re talking, after all, about a military that was segregated by race at the time my father, father-in-law, uncle and aunt (a nurse) were serving during WWII. Racial conflicts were so bad during that era that we had the Battle of Bamber Bridge at Ye Old Hobb Inn in England in response to white US officers trying to enforce Jim Crow rules and the local townspeople responding by posting “Black Troops Only” signs at all three pubs. (The townsfolk noted that the behavior of the black troops was significantly better than the behavior of the whites, who viewed pubs as equivalent to American bars.)

The resulting gun battle between members of our American forces — black against white — left one black American soldier dead, five soldiers and two MPs wounded, and — of course — several black soldiers were then court-martialed.

Integration of the troops didn’t solve the problem of racial incidents in Vietnam, where black and white troops were not formally segregated. In 1970, there were 1,060 reported cases of violent racial conflicts.

At Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, they had the worst “race riot” in the U.S. Army’s history on the same night that Neil Armstrong made his famed “One small step for man…” moon walk.

As recently as 2021, newspapers carried reports of members of our military reporting a culture of deep-rooted racism and discrimination despite this so-called “wokeness” that our conservatives fear is reducing recruitment efforts.

According to the Heritage Foundation, which seemingly drives many conservative policies and efforts, “wokeness in the military … acts as a disincentive for many young Americans in terms of enlistment and it undermines wholehearted support for the military by a significant portion of the American public at a time when it is needed the most.”

So our younger generation is declining to enlist not because of low unemployment rates in the private sector, a strong job market, and increasingly competitive benefits in the private sector? It’s due to our younger generation not wanting to be forced to work alongside and treat as equals those of different race, gender and backgrounds?

I know it’s traditional for us older folks to complain about youngsters today but I really think our younger generation is better than this. After all, most of our public schools strive to offer an equal education for all regardless of race, gender and culture.

And if the American public is unwilling to honor the service of those who look or act differently than many of us older folks usually associate with members of the armed forces, then I have fortunately never observed this.

I never served, but I spent 33 years in the DoD (Department of Defense) working alongside veterans and active-duty personnel, many of whom also occasionally volunteered to serve overseas in Iraq and other countries as civilian support for our military. If anything, I saw improvements within the ranks up to and including the date of my retirement in 2015.

When I started, all the commanding officers at the satellite offices for which I provided computer support were middle-aged men. But by the time I retired, I’d provided support services for an increasing number of black and female COs who were held to the same standards as their traditional white male counterparts by those who worked for them.

Yes we had diversity training, but it was a very small part of our overall training and basically boiled down to the Golden Rule of treating others as you wanted to be treated.

And that’s what being “woke” really means: Recognizing that all of us are worthy of being judged not by the color of our skin, not by the religious beliefs we hold, and not by our gender, or even which football team we support. It’s about abilities and character rather than making assumptions based on prejudices about “those people” and being their allies when we see others who are not “woke” and making unfair and unfounded judgments about them.

If being “woke” is a bad four-letter word then I guess we need to add another adjective to the list of bad four-letter words: “Fair.”

Maybe more people will support “being woke” if we start referring to it like that — being fair.

A lifelong resident of Hancock County, Linda Dunn is an author and retired Department of Defense employee.

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