The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812, a new book by historian Gene Allen Smith, tracks the host of messy dilemmas involved in the question of arming slaves as he delves into a conflict which saw slaves actively recruited by both US and British forces. Many slaves viewed fighting as path to freedom – a gamble that paid off for some but certainly not for all.
While "The Slave's Gamble" is impressively researched, it intensely focuses on a short period of time and is written in a dry academic style. By contrast, "Double V" is an immensely readable book with plenty of modern relevance as today's American military considers who should be able to fight and how.
Bigotry and false hope mark "Double V," which begins with World War I. Back then, even a supposedly color-blind draft left African-Americans in the lurch when Southern communities conspired to make sure blacks got picked first. The reason? They wanted to get rid of them.
Filled with patriotism, despite their oppression here at home, black men fought overseas and were often heroic. The military paid them back by failing to promote them to officer status, placing many of them in menial positions, and ordering the French to not "spoil" black soldiers.
(The French thought that was bonkers and did no such thing. They referred to black soldiers as les enfants perdus, the lost children, because their army abandoned them. Other nations weren't so welcoming: During the early years of World War II, countries from Australia to Iceland objected to having black soldiers on their land.)