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About the Book

Beyond the Book

360 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 halftones, notes, index

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

ISBN  978-1-4696-1389-5
Published: February 2014

War! What Is It Good For?

Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq

By Kimberley L. Phillips

Awards & Distinctions

2013 Philip Taft Labor History Award

2013 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

African Americans' long campaign for "the right to fight" forced Harry Truman to issue his 1948 executive order calling for equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces. In War! What Is It Good For?, Kimberley Phillips examines how blacks' participation in the nation's wars after Truman's order and their protracted struggles for equal citizenship galvanized a vibrant antiwar activism that reshaped their struggles for freedom.

Using an array of sources--from newspapers and government documents to literature, music, and film--and tracing the period from World War II to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Phillips considers how federal policies that desegregated the military also maintained racial, gender, and economic inequalities. Since 1945, the nation's need for military labor, blacks' unequal access to employment, and discriminatory draft policies have forced black men into the military at disproportionate rates. While mainstream civil rights leaders considered the integration of the military to be a civil rights success, many black soldiers, veterans, and antiwar activists perceived war as inimical to their struggles for economic and racial justice and sought to reshape the civil rights movement into an antiwar black freedom movement. Since the Vietnam War, Phillips argues, many African Americans have questioned linking militarism and war to their concepts of citizenship, equality, and freedom.

About the Author

Kimberley L. Phillips is provost and dean of the faculty at Mills College.


“This work will be indispensable to understanding why so many black men and women serve, and how their service both advances and limits them. Essential. All levels/libraries.”

“An important new book. . . . Beautifully written, it is essential reading for anyone with an interest in race and war in U.S. History.”
--War Time blog

“A well-written volume, one worth reading.”
--Journal of American History

“Phillips delivers a new and refreshing view of the black freedom struggle, and the principal role that black veterans took in integrating the military and then taking the antiwar movement to the mainstream.”
--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“Required reading for scholars of the U.S. military and the (so-called) “long civil rights movement.”
--American Historical Review

“This book is an important examination of the connections between military service and the civil rights movement.”
--Southern Historian

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