Factbox-North Korea cites race in US military over Travis King case

(Reuters) – North Korea has said that detained U.S. soldier Travis King, who is Black, complained about mistreatment and racial discrimination in his country and the military.

The United States has acknowledged challenges of racism and a lack of diversity in its armed forces over the course of history. The following are answers to some questions about diversity in the military:


The military has long argued the need for a well trained, cohesive and racially diverse force that reflects the make up of the United States.

During the U.S. Civil War, the military created the “United States Colored Troops” that mostly consisted of African- American troops.

During World War Two, more than one-and-a-half million African-Americans served in the military, from the Pacific to Europe.

But there was still widespread discrimination and Black troops were only accepted if there were openings at training bases designated for their “racial category”.

Predominantly African-American units distinguished themselves in combat in both World Wars, among them the Harlem Hellfighters, a New York-based infantry regiment that was one of the most decorated American units in World War One and the Tuskeegee Airmen, African-American fighter pilots who flew dangerous missions over Europe during World War Two. Another highly decorated infantry unit was comprised of second-generation Japanese American volunteers.

In 1948, President Harry Truman signed an executive order banning the segregation in the military. While there was significant resistance to the order from the military, it was largely integrated after the end of the 1950-53 Korean war, according to the National Archives.


About 20% of the U.S. military is African-American and overall 40 percent are people of color.

Although the military is diverse in lower ranks, it is largely white and male at the top. As of 2021, only two of 41 four star generals and admirals were Black. And some parts of the military, including specialized jobs, such as pilots, have a stark lack of diversity.

A Reuters investigation in 2020 found deep skepticism about whether coming forward with credible allegations of discrimination in the military will be beneficial.

Nearly a third of Black U.S. military servicemembers reported experiencing racial discrimination, harassment or both during a 12-month period, according to 2017 results of a long-withheld Defense Department survey that underscore concerns about racism in the ranks.


Despite the lack of diversity in the military’s leadership, the Pentagon will soon have a Black defense secretary and top general for the first time.

General Charles Q. Brown, the chief of the U.S. Air Force, is expected to be confirmed by the Senate to be the next chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lloyd Austin, a retired Army general, became the first Black defense secretary in January 2021 when President Joe Biden picked him.

Last year, a commission created by Congress recommended new names for nine bases that honored Confederate officers. It was part of the military’s decision to re-examine its history through the lens of race following nationwide protests over the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black civilian.

But officials acknowledge more needs to be done.

A 2023 Government Accountability Office report said that the representation of women and employees from historically disadvantaged racial or ethnic groups in the Pentagon’s civilian workforce remained unchanged over the past decade.

White extremism in the military has also started to receive more attention after current and former military servicemembers were found to have participated in the siege of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 2021, which was aimed at stopping the certification of Biden’s election victory over then-President Donald Trump.

“One of the key strengths of the American military is our diversity and fighting for a common cause and we must get better,” General Mark Milley, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in 2021.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)