Rich AWOL from Military
Kathy Roth-Douquet, who has never personally served in the military but is married to a Marine officer, laments the fact that the children of the wealthy tend not to serve in the armed forces.
Thanks to Sen. John McCain’s youngest son checking into Marine Corps boot camp, the number of Congress members with enlisted children will skyrocket a whopping 50 percent. He joins the armed forces with two other enlisted and a few officer children of those serving in Congress in this nation at war, meaning that in all, about 1 percent of U.S. representatives and senators have a child in uniform. And the Capitol building is no different from other places where the leadership class of this country gather — no different from the boardrooms, newsrooms, ivory towers and penthouses of our nation. Less than 1 percent of today’s graduates from Ivy League schools go on to serve in the military.
Indeed, one of McCain’s other sons is currently a midshipman at the Naval Academy, joining his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather in that tradition. Still, the idea that only enlisted service in the military really counts is rather odd. Further, as I’ve written before, the percentage of Members with children who have served in Iraq is actually higher than the national average and, given that most Members are older, one suspects the number who have grandchildren in the military is also relatively high. Indeed, I don’t have data for comparison purposes, but if even close to 1 percent of Ivy League grads go on to serve in the military, that strikes me as rather high for what is after all a smallish volunteer force.
Why does it matter? Because, quite simply, we cannot remain both the world’s great power and a robust democracy without a broad sense of ownership — of all classes but particularly the leadership classes — in the military. Our military is too consequential, and the implications of our disconnect from it too far-reaching. We are on the wrong path today.
While I don’t disagree that the military is “consequential,” it’s far from clear that we are in danger of losing our democracy, let alone our status as a world power. Indeed, our military is inarguably more robust now than during WWII, during the height of the all-class force.
Those who opine, argue, publish, fund and decide courses of action for our country rarely see members of their families doing the deeds these leaders would send them to do, deeds which have such moment in the world. These deeds hardly begin and end with the Iraq War — 200,000 U.S. troops are deployed in 130 other countries around the world, keeping it “flat,” in Thomas Friedman’s phrase. They train other nation’s security forces, help keep the peace, provide humanitarian assistance, rescuing Americans from Lebanon, standing ready to go to Darfur if sent, to go wherever the country calls on them for assistance — in short they do the complex work of the world’s sole superpower. Yet these doers are strangers to most of us, and the very missions they do are mysterious.
The intellectual class has very little grounding in almost anything you’d want to name–economics, business, technology, agriculture, manufacturing, medical science, the law, and so forth. That’s the nature of specialization.
When the deciders are disconnected from the doers, self-government can’t work as it should. Most of these decisions about whether and how to use the U.S. military are hard, and we need to be as best equipped to make them as possible. We need to be intellectually capable — have real knowledge about what the military in fact does, but we also need to be morally capable, which means we need a moral connection to those Americans we send into harm’s way. Moreover, we need the largest pool of talent from which to draw those troops. Military work must not simply become fee for service.
Frankly, I’m not sure three years’ service as a junior enlisted soldier really does much to help one appreciate the fundamentals of grand strategy.
A Duke University study demonstrates that it matters whether civilian decision makers have military experience: A review of U.S. foreign policy over nearly two centuries shows that when we have the fewest number of veterans in leadership and staff positions in Congress and the Executive branch, we are most likely to engage in aggressive (as opposed to defensive) warfighting. And we are most likely to pull out of conflicts early.
A study by the eminent military sociologist Charles Moskos shows that the population of a democracy is not willing to sustain military engagements over time if the leadership class does not also serve in the armed forces. Its lack of service sends a signal that the conflict is not vital, or worthwhile. Since we don’t know what conflicts will come — or which party will be in power when they do — these findings should matter to all of us.
I’d have to read the studies in depth to understand the methodologies. My strong suspicion, however, is that the results are an artifact of the types of wars we’re fighting rather than who’s in charge. The list of wars that the United States have fought that took any substantial length of time for which we sustained broad support: World War II. End of list.
Almost all other wars we have fought have been either short or messy and controversial. The leadership during Vietnam consisted almost entirely of WWII and Korea vets and yet support nonetheless collapsed. Post-Vietnam wars have been fought in the shadow of Vietnam and, unless short and painless (e.g., Desert Storm, Grenada) been quite controversial.
Only in the last twenty years or so have most of our civilian leaders been non-veterans. But being a veteran doesn’t innoculate a leader from lack of public confidence.