And now, the BBC has found another way in which the U.S. “sustained racism abroad” during the war:
Papers unearthed by the BBC reveal that British and American commanders ensured that the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 was seen as a "whites only" victory.Much of the Free French fighting force (65%) was African, and they had made tremendous sacrifices:
By the time France fell in June 1940, 17,000 of its black, mainly West African colonial troops, known as the Tirailleurs Senegalais, lay dead.But the U.S. and the U.K. were dismissive of their service. When the liberation of Paris seemed possible in 1944 and Charles de Gaulle insisted that the French lead the liberation,
Many of them were simply shot where they stood soon after surrendering to German troops who often regarded them as sub-human savages.
Allied High Command agreed, but only on one condition: De Gaulle's division must not contain any black soldiers.To create the “whites only” illusion,
In January 1944 Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith, was to write in a memo stamped, "confidential": "It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consist of white personnel.”
Allied Command insisted that all black soldiers be taken out and replaced by white ones from other units.In a sense, this is not surprising for the U.S.—a nation that had always downplayed black military personnel’s service, that relegated black service people to menial duties, that until World War II, excluded them from certain branches of the military. The degradation of African Americans military service went so far that, in 1925, the Army War College issued a report detailing why African Americans were unfit for combat and could never be pilots.
When it became clear that there were not enough white soldiers to fill the gaps, soldiers from parts of North Africa and the Middle East were used instead.
But this seems somehow, particularly low, that in the midst of what was supposed to be a great triumph, the U.S. took the time to strengthen and assert policies that were supposed to be the very antithesis of what it was fighting for.