The U.S. Military and Civil Rights Since World War II

by Heather Stur


Racial and ethnic minority groups comprised 40 percent of active-duty U.S. military in 2015, a 15 percent increase since 1990.

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Cover image for The U.S. Military and Civil Rights Since World War II

September 2019


Pages 155
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Military History/Armed Forces
  Race and Ethnicity/General

Through examinations of U.S. military racial and gender integration efforts and its handling of sexuality, this book argues that the need for personnel filling the ranks has forced the armed services to be pragmatically progressive since World War II.

The integration of African Americans and women into the United States Armed Forces after World War II coincided with major social movements in which marginalized civilians demanded equal citizenship rights. As this book explores, due to personnel needs, the military was a leading institution in its opening of positions to women and African Americans and its offering of educational and economic opportunities that in many cases were not available to them in the civilian world.

By opening positions to African Americans and women and remaking its "where boys become men" image, the military was an institutional leader on the issue of social equality in the second half of the 20th century. The pushback against gay men and women wishing to serve openly in the forces, however, revealed the limits of the military's pragmatic progressivism. This text investigates how policymakers have defined who belongs in the military and counts as a soldier, and examines how the need to attract new recruits led to the opening of the forces to marginalized groups and the rebranding of the services.


  • Includes an introduction that offers historical context for understanding the U.S. military's relationship to social change
  • Provides an in-depth examination of race, gender, and sexuality within the U.S. military since World War II
  • Includes a conclusion that explores the future of military progressivism
  • Engages contemporary military issues of interest to students and educators
Author Info

Heather Stur, PhD, is associate professor of history and fellow, Dale Center for the Study of War and Society, at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her research focuses on the intersections of war and militarization on societies, politics, cultures, and international relations. She is especially interested in issues of women, gender, and war. Her publications include Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era; chapters in America and the Vietnam War: Re-examining the Culture and History of a Generation and Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era; and articles.

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