Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Black Military Leadership

BOND: I had the good fortune a little while ago to attend a briefing conducted by Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld. Somebody raised the question of the long-term shrinkage in the military.


BOND: The Rumsfeld plans for a smaller military. And the person asked, "What effect is this going to have on the ability of African Americans to go through this institution and emerge as leadership figures, either through a whole career or just a brief period, a brief stay?"

THEUS: Yes, yes.

BOND: And he assured us that while the larger number would shrink, the individual numbers, the percentages would stay the same, really be no change. Now, true or not, it does strike me that the combination of factors has combined to make the military less an option than it was, say twenty years ago, thirty years ago for advancement, for progress for a first career followed by, in many cases, by a second career.

THEUS: Yes, yes.

BOND: Do you think that's so?

THEUS: I think this -- that because of the evolution of civil rights, equal opportunity, the desire of corporations to have a number of African American and other minorities in those organizations, representative of our society -- that African Americans, as with other minorities, no longer have to rely on the military as a road to success. This is unfortunate because it cuts back on our selection, but we're able to have the input, shall we say, that we would get otherwise. So I think that is -- it is a problem, it's an issue, but it's also something that is healthy for our society in that it proves that we have now made the society open enough that African Americans can seek positions and advancements in career areas other than in the military.

BOND: But if it's true, and I think it is, that the military provides leadership training --

THEUS: Oh yes, yes.

BOND: In addition to everything else, it provides leadership training and if that becomes less of an option --


BOND: Does it mean that the opportunities for new leadership figures to emerge is thereby diminished? I mean --

THEUS: Yes, you're quite right, you're quite right, I certainly agree with you and it's one of those things that I guess -- I guess it's one of the things for which we have to pay, the fact that we have made it easier for them to advance --

BOND: A trade-off?

THEUS: -- a trade-off is the word I was seeking there. Yes, and so I'd say, yes, because the military did provide and is continuing to provide a source of leaders, people who have learned leadership, have advanced, demonstrated that they can perform and they can move into the civilian community, the civilian environment, and do a great job of it. So I do see that pool being reduced of people in that area.