Diversity is important in the military for the same reason it is important in the workplace. In a society as racially and culturally complex as ours, homogeneity within individual establishments is usually unhealthy. It fosters narrow-mindedness and exacerbates divisions. It's limiting. Strength lies in tapping people with a variety of perspectives from a variety of backgrounds. The Navy, historically the most elitist of the military services, finally recognizes that.
Only 12.5 percent of naval officers are minorities at a time when the overall minority population is growing rapidly; by 2000, minorities will comprise 30 percent of the population. At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, one of the toughest education institutions in the country, 18 percent of the students are minorities. The Reserve Officers Training Corps, Officer Candidate School and the Enlisted Commissioning Program, which together produce the majority of naval officers, are finding it somewhat easier to recruit minorities; 25 percent of this year's graduates in each of those programs are black, Hispanic or of other ethnic background.
The Navy's plan to increase the number of minorities represents the most serious, intense recruiting effort in recent memory. Generally speaking, the effort involves a reallocation of existing resources; the Naval Academy, which has the most difficulty finding qualified minority students, will spend about $740,000. Some, especially blacks and minorities who once suffered in the Navy, may view this as long overdue atonement for past wrongs. Others may abhor it as a form of affirmative action. Both viewpoints are misguided.
Though the Navy will tell you it is committed to fairness, this effort isn't designed to rewrite history. The military is a pragmatic institution, and it recognizes that it operates more effectively if its leaders reflect and understand the various perspectives of the population they're assigned to protect, as well as the population they must lead; 31 percent of Navy enlisted personnel are minorities.
The Navy's recruiting plan does not involve preferential treatment. The requirements for admission to the academy would be as strenuous as ever, the standards for promotion unchanged. The Navy wants to create a more diverse corps of officers by looking harder for qualified candidates. It's the right way to pursue a worthwhile goal.