Last week, criminal military charges were filed against eight soldiers for involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, and assault, among other charges, for the death of Pvt. Danny Chen. Chen shot himself in Afghanistan after being subjected to what some say were assaults and ethnic taunting from his fellow soldiers.
Chen was a 19-year-old Chinese American born in the United States, from New York City. He told his parents that he wanted to become a police officer after fulfilling his duty to his country. His parents, Chinese immigrants, naturally feared for their only son’s life, but they accepted the possibility that he could die protecting his country.
However, they could not have been ready to face the reality of their son’s death.
In letters, Chen first told his parents that everyone was making fun of him for being Asian. As the harassment continued, Chen’s letters became more somber. He wrote that he was running out of jokes to volley back in response to the ethnic tauntings. As part of a hazing ritual, Chen’s superiors apparently forced him to crawl on the ground while they threw rocks at him. Chen’s family said his tormentors also forced him to do pull-ups with a mouthful of water, forbidden from spitting it out.
Compared to Blacks and Latinos, whose presence in the military closely reflects the wider population, Asians are a bit of a minority. According to the Pentagon, in 2008, new military recruits only made up 1.8 percent of all recruits. At the time, the population of 18- to 24-year-olds of Asian descent made up 4.15 percent of the total population of 18- to 24-year-olds.
It is sobering to realize that some of our military servicemen and servicewomen aren’t protected from within. This is not just an Asian American issue, but an American one. Danny Chen’s death has been publicized widely, but there is a large number of men and women who are being brutally bullied that we have not heard about.
According to the Organization of Chinese Americans’ New York chapter president, Liz Ou Yang, Asian American soldiers generally think that diversity training in the military is not effective. We need to change this.
One positive aspect of this tragedy, however, is the fact that the Army has been pretty proactive so far in getting justice for Chen. It took only three months after Chen’s death for the Army to charge the eight soldiers.
Justice for Chen means that we will be one step closer to preventing this from happening again. It will take time, but it will also mean a safer environment for everyone in the U.S. military. Asians may feel more comfortable enlisting, and in turn, have a greater presence in our military. (end)