Just days before Congressman Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) renewed his push to reinstate the military draft, my 18-year-old nephew announced his intention of becoming a Naval officer. “I don’t know that I’ll make a lifelong career of it,” Michael said. “But my country is at war. I owe my country, and if I don’t serve, I’ll always regret it.”
It’s a noble motivation for service to be sure, but here’s what Rangel said about Michael and others like him during a FOX News interview, this past Sunday:
If there’s anyone who believes that these youngsters want to fight, as the Pentagon and some generals have said, you can just forget about it. No young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits. And most all of them come from communities of very, very high unemployment. If a young fellow has an option of having a decent career or joining the Army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq.
Rangel is flat wrong when he suggests that service in the military is not “a decent career.” He may however be right about one thing: Most people don’t want to fight for a bonus or an education opportunity, because a desire to fight for one’s country goes much deeper than that.
Fact is: Most of the “young, bright individuals” who do want to fight — and who overwhelmingly join the frontline combat units — are not looking for bonuses or education benefits.
Michael certainly isn’t. He doesn’t need them. His grades are excellent. His SAT scores are high. He’s articulate, creative, analytical, and physically fit. He’s a former track athlete. He’s never had a problem getting or holding a decent afterschool job. He has a wonderful girlfriend and a loving, financially stable family. In short, he has the opportunity to do — and be — anything he wants. That also means he is the perfect candidate to fly Navy jets, learn to skipper a submarine crew, or command a SEAL Team. And trust me, he’d be thrilled for the opportunity to do any one of them.
Michael is not some anomaly either. I know many young people just like him: Some are in high school. Some in college. Some are patrolling the mean streets of Baghdad and Baquba as you read this.
What Rangel is doing is an attempt to manipulate the vast majority of Americans, many of whom don’t know any different. It’s simply propaganda 101. By calling for the draft — when he knows his bill will never pass — Rangel is hoping to deceive his constituents and the American public at large into believing that those who are actually doing the fighting are members of the impoverished class with few educational or job opportunities. His deception is a subtle, collateral means of further condemning our efforts in Iraq. It also condemns the military, the current administration, and it deceives the public into believing that the creation of another enormously bloated federal bureaucracy (chock full of social-engineering programs and entitlements) would be preferable to the highly skilled professional all-volunteer armed forces we have today.
Rangel surely knows the things he is suggesting about the military are not true. But he also knows — as any good propagandist knows — that if those things are repeated often enough, the masses will begin to believe them despite the facts.
Here are the facts:
For at least the past 20 years, the military has been recruiting into the enlisted ranks young men and women of whom over 90 percent have high-school diplomas. (I specify “enlisted ranks” because almost all of the commissioned officers hold baccalaureate degrees, with many of the field grade and senior level officers holding advance degrees.) Today, between 93 and 95 percent of those enlisting into the military have high-school diplomas, compared to 75 percent of their military-age civilian counterparts. And approximately two thirds of today’s enlistees are recruited from the top half of the nation in terms of math and verbal aptitudes.
Additionally, seven percent of new enlistees have some college under their belts, and 11 percent of the overall enlisted-force has some college experience.
So the question may be, if there is such a high percentage of high-school graduates in the enlisted component, why haven’t they all gone on to get their college degrees? Fact is not all high-school graduates go to college, yet many of them do. Those who do, and are interested in a military career, are channeled — through the various officer-candidate programs — into the commissioned-officer component.
Rangel is also playing the race card, suggesting that the poorest among us, those with the fewest opportunities, and those from the inner city — which often means young black Americans and other minorities — are the ones bearing a disproportionate responsibility in terms of actually engaging the enemy in combat. In fact, the opposite is true, except in the case of Hispanic Americans who — like their white counterparts — overwhelming volunteer for frontline combat units like infantry and special- operations forces.
Let’s look at the actual numbers: A U.S. Defense Department document, “Who is Volunteering for Today’s Military,” states, “Through November 5 [of last year] African Americans represented about 17 percent of the force, yet accounted for 11 percent of deaths [in Iraq]. On the other hand, whites accounted for 67 percent of the force, and suffered 74 percent of deaths. The corresponding numbers for Hispanics were 9 and 11 percent.”
According to the document, “This pattern results from occupational choices young people make. For example, African American youth choose to serve in support occupations such as the health care field, which tend to feature valuable job training over bonuses or education incentives. These are the choices young volunteers make.”
Even so, “[black] representation has decreased during the wartime years,” says Tim Kane in his October 2006 report for the Heritage Foundation, “Who Are the Recruits? The Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Enlistment, 2003–2005. ”
Earlier this week, an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed to a recent University of Pennsylvania study that revealed, “Black soldiers have a lower ‘death risk’ than other soldiers, due primarily to the kinds of support units in which they tend to serve.”
As part of the ongoing program of deception, Rangel and his crowd also would have us believe that the military is struggling mightily to recruit young Americans into its ranks, particularly in the ground combat and special operations fields.
Fact is: Recruiting numbers are high and have been since before September 11, 2001.
With the exception of the Army, all branches have met or exceeded recruiting goals quarter after quarter. And the Army, though it has only dipped down into the 90-plus percentile group (still remarkably high), after a requirement to increase the actual numbers of new soldiers, is now meeting or exceeding goals every quarter.
And as far as specific ground-combat and special operations units are concerned, the always combat-ready Marine Corps — where every Marine no matter their occupational specialty is considered first-and-foremost a rifleman — has consistently exceeded its recruiting goals. And there is no scarcity of young men hoping to become Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, or Air Force Special Tactics commandos. The problem is the training is long and arduous, and most young men (women do not serve in infantry or special-operations units) don’t have what it takes to complete the toughest special-operations training programs.
Nevertheless, Congressman Rangel will no doubt continue to champion his call for a draft. He will do so — as he says — for the sake of equality. He will continue to twist the truth. He will continue to insult the motivations of young Americans like my nephew, Michael. And like his fellow Democrat, Senator John Kerry, who talks down to college students about “studying hard” and doing “homework” as if they are pre-teens; Rangel will probably continue to speak condescendingly of young adults as when he said on Tuesday [according to the New York Observer], “I spoke about the draft at Columbia, Harvard and Brown. These kids don’t even know there’s a war in Iraq.”
– A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans and on the West Bank. He is the author of five books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications.