Phi Beta Cons

ROTC and the Chattering Class

While perusing ACTA’s blog, I ran across this item highlighting an op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education by 2LT John Renehan.  Entitled “Why I Serve,” the column is worth reading in full, but this portion I found particularly interesting:

Such broad absence from service on the part of the country’s elite cannot be justified by its opposition to the Iraq war. The wisdom of invading Iraq is irrelevant to the question of what we should do there now–and many people in both main political parties agree that a U.S. military presence in Iraq remains critical. What we have here is a bona fide national burden, and the privileged classes have largely excused themselves from it. 

No recruiting effort, however heroic, can fundamentally change that. It can only be done by individuals, influenced by ideas, choosing to influence others–by persuasion or (most persuasive of all) by example

In my own (admittedly limited) experience in the Army Reserve, it is not exactly the case that the “privileged classes” have excluded themselves from service.  In fact, the officer corps is largely made up of people from middle class and upper-middle class backgrounds, and it tends to contain some of the most well-educated, motivated, talented, and intelligent people you’ll meet.  It is not even the case that the military is no longer reflective of the wider population.  As I’ve pointed out before, the military is far more diverse — both racially and ideologically — than any elite university. 

 

Unfortunately, we tend to get the impression that the military is somehow alienated from American culture because the one subset of our privileged class that DOES shun the military — the bicoastal chattering class — has disproportionate control and influence over the media, our universities, and other cultural institutions that transmit knowledge and information.  Military service is alien to them, not to the rest of us.   My own experience is illustrative of the difference.

 

I made the decision to join the reserves when I lived in Philadelphia (I was president of FIRE) and primarily interacted with the so-called “cultural elite.”  When I told my friends of my decision to join, they were universally supportive, but for many I was the only person they ever knew who had enlisted.  When I moved back to Tennessee, I moved in the same socio-economic circles, but the attitude was quite different.  I wasn’t “special” or “unusual” anymore.  The attitude was less “Why are you doing that?” and more “What took you so long?”

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