This year marks the centennial of the beginning of the war to end all wars: World War I. I am currently reading a book by David Laskin titled The Long Way Home – An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War. In it, Laskin traces the immigrant experience in World War I. He notes that one in five American foot soldiers in 1918 were foreign born. Dozens of nationalities were represented, and many American soldiers spoke little or no English. The United States was forced to draft, train, and transport draftees in only a few months for a war that was going into its fourth year. Because the officer corps was almost entirely composed of English-speaking Anglo-Saxon Protestants, progress in formulating a cohesive fighting force from such a diverse group was initially very slow. It was only when the Army implemented the “Camp Gordon Plan,” requiring the officer corps to more closely reflect the diversity of the draftees, that an effective and cohesive fighting force was created. This diverse group of draftees acquitted itself so admirably that many commentators believe it turned the tide of the war.
The strength of any group that bands together for a common purpose depends on the manner in which it addresses, conciliates, and solicits diversity. I was reminded of this fact once again when I attended the annual Diversity Marquette Lawyer/Student Reception at Marquette Law School in September. Although I’ve always been proud to be an alumnus of Marquette Law School, I was never more proud than when I participated in this event at Eckstein Hall. To witness firsthand one institution’s commitment to diversity was compelling and inspirational. I know from attending the University of Wisconsin that its commitment to the American ideals of inclusivity and diversity is no less steadfast. Much like it did with the Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF) in 1918, diversity lends both strength and legitimacy to all our efforts.
The strength of any group that bands together for a common purpose depends on the manner in which it addresses, conciliates, and solicits diversity.
At the State Bar, we are attempting to foster these same American ideals of diversity and inclusion. We have created a State Bar Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee, ably chaired by Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Carl Ashley. In a recent interview, Judge Ashley remarked, “We want to institutionalize the issues of diversity and inclusion” (emphasis mine) within the State Bar. I can think of no better term for our goals regarding the American ideals of diversity and inclusion – we want to institutionalize them. I can think of no better way to institutionalize these two concepts than by having our State Bar leadership and committees reflect the diversity and inclusivity of our membership. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us to institutionalize diversity and inclusivity in our leadership.
Much like the AEF in 1918, the State Barwill not achieve its true potential as a force for the common good in our communities and in our country until our leadership reflects the diversity, the inclusivity, and the potential of our people.