Death of Asian-American Soldier Prompts Debate About Army Culture

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The death of an Asian-American soldier has prompted considerable debate about Army culture and the problem of racial discrimination. Eight soldiers have been charged in the death of Private Daniel Chen, who died of a gunshot wound to the head after allegedly being subjected to abuse and ethnic slurs.

A spokesman for the Department of Defense, Capt. John Kirby, has said there is “absolutely zero” tolerance for hazing and that the military was well-equipped to deal with such situations.

However, former Army Lieutenant Dan Choi said Asian-American soldiers were frequently isolated or teased and had little recourse, in the event they were harassed by other soldiers. He said it happened to him. “You see a lot of comments, and in my experiences I would walk around West Point and in my first year, very powerless, you would hear things like, ‘Do you want to get gook food?’”

“In the Army, you are taught that if you stick out then there will be consequences," Choi, who was active duty for five years, said on The Takeaway. "You know, you’re supposed to be just like everyone else. And if you look different, then you’re starting off with that additional burden and that stress from the get go.”

Chen was found dead in a guardhouse on October 3, from what the Army has called a self-inflicted bullet wound. It occurred after a period of intense hazing, including one episode when he was reportedly dragged across the floor and had rocks thrown at him, and was called "Jackie Chan." The eight soldiers were charged with manslaughter, negligent homicide, reckless endangerment and dereliction of duty.

On the website of Army Times, the majority of commenters in one discussion thread expressed outrage at the alleged behavior of Chen's fellow soldiers.

"In the Army, we have been told over and over again to care for each other," wrote one commenter going by the name Tatshyan Sihoe. "It really disappoints me to see this happen to one of our own. If we have to die let it be with the honor of the fight not from shameless bullying."

But on the Facebook page "U.S. Army Infantry," the discussion was less sympathetic, with some commenters using ethnic slurs for Asians or claiming that Chen had "pulled the race card."

"waaaaaaa they are making fun of me," the site's moderator wrote, "so im gonna shoot myself in the face."

Colonel James Hutton, an Army spokesman, said that despite the name of the page, it was not affiliated with the U.S. Army. He added the Army has standards for comments and does not tolerate discrimination. “I have no way of verifying who these people are. And it’s not an official site, so it’s not appropriate that I comment on the comments,” he said.


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Comments [15]


What kind of social retard would believe it’s simply coincidence that all these “jews” just happened to be perfectly in place on 9/11? Patriots, why are these TRAITORS and ENEMY COMBATANTS still walking around free?

Jan. 26 2012 07:34 PM
AnotherAsian from STOCKTON

THE FK is going on man, black ppl killing asian guys in stockton, white ppl in the army killing asian guys in the army, and our GIRLS dont even like us anymore, time to boycott to Canada my fellow asian brothers, we will be happy, and so will they u stupid FKSSGJDSOGJ.

Dec. 26 2011 12:26 AM
Michael2010 from NYC

Sadly other minorities have had to endure this for years and still little change. My cousin enlisted back in 1980 and recently retired and told me of so many incidences; and yet, you are there giving your life potentially for these same bigots.

Another cousin is still in the air force, moving up the ranks but is bigger in stature and a tae kwon do expert; so he's had to defend himself a few times just to at least be left alone by these amazing stalwart geniuses who seem to know every ethnic slur imaginable. What a world we live in, what a country.

Dec. 25 2011 03:49 PM
Bowerygals from NYC

Painting most everyone in the army as "less educated", "narrow-minded" and "less accepting of difference" is bound up in one's own "narrowness", inability to think clearly and inability to accept difference. The remarks regarding who enlists are code words for working class or raised poor people. Because there are no jobs, more working class people are forced to be employed in the only game in town. Fine to feel superior because you don't have that worry but it doesn't change the fact that there is no other work.

Every white person carries the affects of racism-different, unique versions of it. Other people's racism begs the question we all have to face: what do we need to do to get that poison out of our own minds.

The army probably provides more real opportunity to mix with people of different races and backgrounds than most jobs. Many firm friendships are built despite racism. But I assume we all have to question how wide our circle of intimates is? Class, race, ethnicity, religion...

And VL the arrogance is astounding. I assume you think of yourself as one of the "intelligent" ones? Sigh.
Oozing with superiority that you just don't have.

Dec. 24 2011 03:05 PM

Being educated has nothing to do with having a degree. Lots of smart, open-minded people are self educated. Those who are narrow-minded tend to stick with only the things and people and experiences that they know - and so feel threatened by what's different. The perfect breeding ground for racism.

John from office - it's a backhanded compliment, not a left handed compliment (unless you have a thing against lefties, too...)

Dec. 23 2011 02:53 PM

This is one more example that proves our family's RULES/MOTTO.

If anyone joins the military, they are giving up on their inheritance. This lesson is taught from birth and examples like this prove our correctness. There are more rules, too, such as, graduating from a good University, not getting marriage until you are 30 yrs, no issues with the police, etc.

One is free to make their own decisions, just as we make decisions to not allow bad behavior. I absolutely agree that people who join the military are not as intelligent or academically qualified as others.

A question for society: What are these people going to do when they get back without any skills that transfer to civilian life? ..or have disabilities, for which I fill no obligation to pay. It was an illegal war.

Dec. 23 2011 01:00 PM
Bowerygals from LES

..."he needed to get a pair"??? I do believe he enlisted to go to war. What's your definition of "getting a pair"? Writing to this blog?
Nice of you to "feel for the kid"...but what he needed was his fellow soldiers to be a united force so they could go fight the perceived enemy. If nothing else, this was an unforgivable dereliction of duty.

But others can knock off the arrogant remarks about who enlists in the army. "Less educated"? Like getting a degree makes you less racist? I think not.

Dec. 23 2011 11:36 AM
Trembley from Brooklyn, NY

So distressing and upsetting... And there are other stories about how hazing went bad, and influenced terrible behavior...

Dec. 23 2011 11:17 AM
corin from new york, ny

it's obvious where john from office comes down on the issue because he is a racist.

Dec. 23 2011 11:09 AM

john from the office- you are a moron.

Dec. 23 2011 10:53 AM
John from office


Thanks for the left handed complement. I feel for the kid, but he did not belong in the Army. It takes "narrow minded", poorly educated nonintellectuals to fight and die for any cause.

Dec. 23 2011 10:15 AM
K Webster from nyc

I"m not sure the issue here is hazing per se (no matter how onerous that is), but racism.

Teasing, bullying, hazing...all are done in the name of "toughening" soldiers for the unbearable, inhuman job of fighting in wars. Men in particular are trained to let such harshness slide off their backs. Leaving aside whose real benefit wars are fought for, soldiers take on the task assigned them and die in the belief that they die for a righteous cause.

But they endure "abuse" from their leaders and peers with the understanding that they are building a fighting team that no amount of battlefield punishment could break the unity of. A unit that becomes so committed to one another that they would literally die for each other. There is a deep love that is created that many have never known before.

But racism immediately negates that deep rooted love, immediately breaks the bond- a terrible betrayal. I doubt anyone could endure that level of abuse if they lose the "purpose" of it. If they lose the sense of "brotherhood".

And Chen didn't "play the race card". He killed himself rather than be in a terrifying place so utterly isolated among the people who were supposed to be his brothers. Heaven help them when they realize what they've done.

Dec. 23 2011 09:53 AM

The problem is systemic - the military wouldn't have done anything, even if he had complained. The army is filled throughout the ranks with people who tend to be narrow-minded, less educated, and unaccepting of differences. They would have agreed with john from office who very articulately expressed that the Daniel "needed get a pair." Very intellectual comment.

And let's face it, this was not just "teasing" - this was consistent harassment driven by racism. Racism is racism, pure and simple, and unfortunately, in this soldier's case, it led to the very worst consequences.

Dec. 23 2011 09:41 AM
John from NJ

Of course teasing can be hurtful. In the military maybe he couldn't have just walked away but he could have complained or sought other help from within the military if it was all about the teasing.

We can't start punishing people by charging them with a crime when they say something that we think is wrong or hurtful. Then someone else will start deciding what we can say and whether we have the right to say it based on whether they approve of it or not.

Freedom of expression or the lack of it goes both ways.

Dec. 23 2011 07:57 AM
john from office

Any organization has some kind of teasing or hazing that goes on. It is common behavior. This soldier sounds like he did not belong in the military, he was too thin skinned. Being called Jackie Chan and teased is not a reason to kill yourself. He needed to get a pair.

Dec. 23 2011 07:20 AM

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