Froehlke, Robert F. "What U.S. Army Commanders Should Know."
Commander's Digest. Vol. 13, no. 4. Washington, D.C.: GPO, November 30, 1972. P. 4-6.
SuDoc No.: D2.15/2
Admitting from the start that "I have my prejudices," Secretary of the Army, Robert
F. Froehlke pointed out what he believed to be some of the most important factors in eliminating
racial tension in the armed forces. Also interesting were his comments focusing on symbolism.
Froehlke knew that the Confederate flag and the clenched black fist both had connotations well
beyond their physical manifestation. Froehlke also mentioned that the "two scare phrases
– 'reverse discrimination' and 'white backlash'...are both used frequently by individual
commanders as excuses for inaction."
Race Relations: What U.S. Army Commanders Should Know
By Robert F. Froehlke
Secretary of the Army
I want to make you aware of my complete official and personal commitment to the Army's race
relations and equal opportunity programs.
I am not an expert. As a matter of fact, I guess I am what I suspect most of you are. I am a
groping and coping, sincerely concerned person. I don't have very many answers. I have my
prejudices. Nonetheless, I do know that if this Army is to perform its mission, we must improve
our opportunities for equality and we must improve our race relations.
I stress "groping and coping" because, in this highly emotional area involving people,
I think it is inevitable that anyone who is sincerely concerned is going to be frustrated. We
need the kind of human beings who can grope and cope with this frustration. And we don't need
the smart alec who thinks he has all the answers. In these areas there are no pat answers.
They change from day to day. That is why it is so terribly important that our commanders be
sincerely concerned. That sincerity and that concern is what's going to make us move toward
better relations between the races and have more successful equal opportunity programs.
Why is our equal opportunity and racial harmony program so important? First of all, it is our
national policy. Secondly, and maybe we should put this number one, it is right. It is the
right thing for people to have as their objective. And, thirdly, it is smart from a manager's
point of view.
Involvement Is Key
There are various styles of management, but I suspect that whatever style you use in the 70s
there are certain key factors that are important for your success as a manager. One of the key
factors is involvement – including as many people as possible in the total management
process. Another key factor is to have those involved be involved not as individuals, but as
members of a team. A third key factor is concern, and particularly concern on the part of the
leader for the men he is leading.
The final two key factors are mutual trust – mutual trust among all the members of the
team – and fun. All members of the team that are concerned do have a mutual trust,
working together towards a common objective and achieving it. That adds up to fun.
As Secretary of the Army, I want you, as commanders, to know that, without reservation, you are:
to be determined to achieve the objective of good race relations and equal opportunity for all;
to be committed to developing and implementing plans towards these objectives. Finally, you
personally are to be involved in the implementation of the plans.
As a manager, I know that we have to put priorities on our various problems, put priorities
on objectives. Action on many of our objectives and problems we must delegate to good
subordinates. However... this is a non-delegatable responsibility.
Every commander must be personally responsible for the race relations and equal opportunity
programs within his command.
I am aware that this will create added burdens and I don't anticipate that commanders can do
everything. Both commanders and their staffs – equal opportunity officers in particular
– must share the burden in this area. Commanders, however, are personally responsible
and must personally make that fact known throughout their commands.
Thus far, I have stated our Department of the Army policy. I feel strongly about it, and you
should consider it as a requirement. Now let me discuss [other] areas... which... concern me.
Eliminate Racial Tension
First:... Do you have a problem back in your unit?... The answer is yes. Every man and woman
in this room faces a potentially serious racial situation in his or her unit. It is not enough
to say that we have improved on the situation, and that it is one we inherited from society.
Racial tension is the Army's problem. From whatever source we have received it, it impedes the
achievement of our objectives. It is you and I, not society, who must eliminate it from the Army.
I can recall, fairly early in '69, just after becoming an Assistant Secretary of Defense, I
visited with noncommissioned officers in one command who told me, "We have no racial
problems." That was a terrible error. Not only that they thought it, but more importantly
that they convinced top officers in that command. We must avoid a repetition of errors like this.
Second, I have a feeling that one of the biggest obstacles to resolving our problems of racial
tension is a credibility gap between commanders and the minority troops they lead. I believe
that one of the most significant causes of this credibility gap is an inability to empathize and
I define empathy to be the ability to look at the facts through the other man's eyes. That is
difficult to do. Let me use two emotional examples...
My first example involves the Confederate flag. For a WASP born and raised in Wisconsin, the
Confederate flag simply represents the state flag of Alabama. Normally, it wouldn't upset me a
bit to see the state flag on a barracks wall or on a car as a sticker. But here I think I have
developed a little empathy. I know that most blacks, when they see the Confederate flag, don't
see the state flag of Alabama. The black man sees a symbol of the white majority through
hundreds of years of doing things to his race about which he does not want to be reminded.
I suggest that the white man who understands this view when he sees the Confederate flag has
empathy with the black man.
Another example is the clenched black fist. I know, having talked with a number of black troops
about this, that the clenched black fist is a symbol of brotherhood, a symbol of fraternity, of
unity, of good common purpose. Yet I must tell you that this same clenched fist is often
interpreted by whites as the symbol of a black who wants to be segregated from the rest of
the citizens of the United States of America. Mind you, it's what the eye perceives it to
be that's important.
Here, I think in particular, is where Equal Opportunity Officers can be of invaluable aid to
the commander. Help the commander to have empathy. When the white commander jumps to the
wrong conclusion about a black symbol, for heaven's sake, tell him how it is, not what he
thinks it is. It is through this empathy that real communication among the races will become
Two Scare Phrases
In the area of race relations there are two scare phrases – "reverse
discrimination" and "white backlash" – phrases that, again, mean different
things to different people and, perhaps, which defy definition. I am chiefly disturbed by the
fact that they are both used frequently by individual commanders as excuses for inaction.
Let us consider "reverse discrimination." Frequently when I have asked about
implementing various possible affirmative actions, I have been told that such actions would
constitute "reverse discrimination."
I will never advocate discrimination in any form. However, I think we as commanders, when we
hear the flip phrase "reverse discrimination," should not immediately abandon our
affirmative action programs. For instance, searching diligently for a member of a minority
group who is competent and capable of filling a command position is not reverse discrimination.
And, fighting hard to be sure equality exists in your command is also not reverse discrimination.
The second alibi I often hear is the fear that an action will cause white backlash. I agree
that, to assure the success of our programs, white backlash should be avoided, at almost all
cost, but not at all cost. Almost everything that should be done, in my opinion, can
be done, and white backlash will be avoided if three conditions are present:
Men of good will (and the vast majority of human beings are men of good will), will understand
and will not resent a fair policy, firmly implemented, if it is candidly and honestly explained
- First, the policy is fair,
- Second, the policy is implemented in a determined and firm way,
- And, third, the policy and the implementation are candidly and honestly discussed.
Discrimination based on race is contrary to Army policy... What happens if we spot
discrimination? Often, when we do spot discrimination, the action that must be taken causes
commanders and managers some discomfort, if it's not a bad guy doing the bad thing as the result
of bad motivation, but rather good people doing habitual things for what they consider to be
right motives. What do we do when we spot discrimination under these circumstances? We
It doesn't matter whether good people are using habitual practices to achieve what they think
is the right objective. The rule is, when the commander spots discrimination, his responsibility
is to eliminate the practice and, if need be, the source.
You may wonder if this rule applies to foreign countries whose people discriminate against our
soldiers and civilians. Obviously, we have limitations in a foreign country, but we don't
condone their discriminatory practices and we will take whatever action is necessary, with
all powers within our means, to eliminate these practices.
In the United States, when the practices are generally approved by the community, commanders
must eliminate those practices to the best of their ability, not only by use of the off-limits
sanction, but also by seeing to it that the community firmly and publicly understands that
the Army will not condone these practices. Now, I am not suggesting that in these communities
you should use a bat and swing wildly. I think that you should use savvy. Nonetheless, in
matter of this sort, the sooner the objectional practice is eliminated the better.
Finally, what about the white commander, or, indeed, the commander of any cultural or ethnic
background who is very intelligent, very honest, has had an excellent record, but says that,
because of his background, he simply cannot accept other officers or other men who are racially
different as equals? I say that question is very simply answered; that man cannot serve as
an officer in the United States Army.
Expanded Opportunities For Women
For many years, women have been limited in their participation in all aspects of Army life. I
don't need to tell you that attitudes regarding women and their roles in our society have been
undergoing rapid transition. Our recent moves to increase the utilization of women in the Army
reflect these changing attitudes... For instance, I am sure that you are aware that Brigadier
General Mildred Bailey recently announced that the Department of Army has set as a minimum
objective doubling the size of the Women's Army Corps by 1978. I will predict that that
objective will be met and passed long before 1978. We have also expanded the number of
military occupational specialties for which women are eligible.
We are now also in the process of having women join men in advanced training. Women are now
participating in ROTC training. These are all very positive actions. The Army has recognized
the problem, and in its own selfish interest is solving that problem, while doing what is
right... There are a few MOS's (Military Occupational Specialties) that women may not fill
right now – those associated with fighting in combat or strenous physical demands. I
believe these restrictions are appropriate. The important thing to remember is that... the
Army is moving on every front to give women an equal share in the opportunity to serve their
You have an exciting prospect ahead of you. I remind you that as commanders you cannot
delegate the responsibilities for racial harmony and equal opportunity within your units... It
is vital to our national survival. It is vital to the ideals which our Nation has always
stood for. It requires commitment and the willing assumption of a heavy responsibility.
There is no panacea. Let me also assure you that as we chip away, moving towards a common
objective, we are going to have a very satisfying and rewarding experience.