Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Why Elites are AWOL

Patrick Poole of FrontPagemag.com has a review of the new book AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from the Military – and How It Hurts Our Country (HarperCollins), in which authors Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer analyze "a severe illness in our body politic, noting that the children of the cultural elite – whether from families involved in politics, business, academia or the media – have almost entirely abandoned the military, leaving the defense of our Country and our freedoms to the children of the working class."
Poole writes:

The authors present several sobering statistics to help illustrate the problems associated with the cultural elite abandoning the military:

  • Of the Princeton University Class of 1956, more than half of the graduates went on to serve in the military (400 of 750); in 2004, that number was less than one percent (9 graduates). Sadly, among Ivy League schools, Princeton is in the lead for ROTC participation.
  • During the 1956 school year, Stanford University had 1,100 students enrolled in ROTC; today, there are only 29.
  • In 1969, seventy percent of the members of Congress were veterans; in 2004, only twenty-five percent were, with that representation falling rapidly.
  • The percentage of members of Congress with children serving in the military is only slightly above one percent.
  • While the old political clans of the Kennedys, Roosevelts and the Bushes have had many family members previously serving in combat, none of these privileged families (Democrat and Republican alike) has any relative in the military today.

These statistics paint a bleak portrait of an entire class that has eschewed military service, which is problematic in itself, but particularly since this class comprises America’s opinion makers and cultural leaders. The authors identify several concerns raised by this almost universal trend:

We believe that the increasing gap between the most privileged classes and those in the military raises three major problems: It hurts our country, particularly our ability to make the best policy possible. It undermines the strength of our civilian leadership, which no longer has significant numbers of members who have the experience and wisdom that comes from national service. Finally, it makes our military less strong in the long run. (pp. 10-11).

What is most troubling is that this military desertion is neither an isolated nor a passive trend. The authors document a mindset amongst the cultural elite that is clearly anti-military. A testament to the outright contempt that many bear to our military is seen in the public response to an op-ed by the authors published a few weeks ago by the Boston Globe, A Call to Serve. The op-ed is a suggested commencement address that could be given by leaders of either political party promoting the virtues of military service.

But the Letters to the Editor to that op-ed demonstrate a virulent, almost rabid, reaction to the mere suggestion that Americans from all walks of life should feel compelled to serve in the military. One reader said that the innocuous op-ed was “sadly reflective of a seemingly ubiquitous primitive mentality”, and another attacked our civilian military leaders, saying “no clear-thinking, loving parents should entrust their child to these cynical ideologues.” These diatribes could easily be entries appearing any day on Daily Kos or the Huffington Post.

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