In today’s military the first thing any service member learns when he or she begins training is that they are professionals and are expected to act accordingly. These are professional warriors who have volunteered for their job. They have not been torn from the bosom of civilian life by a national conscription. Civilian comparisons to their job can be made with law enforcement, fire fighting and emergency medical services, among others. Why then has there been a growing cry concerning the so-called non-representational character of military service?
The answer lies in great part in the unwillingness of people against the U.S. invasion of Iraq to recognize that the job being done by service personnel is a life they have chosen — the profession of arms. One expects the civilian world not to understand the character of that form of career, but not individuals such as Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Ret., principal aide to Colin Powell when the latter was Secretary of State.
Apparently continuing earlier feuds with Pentagon and White House staff, Wilkerson has been widely quoted recently for his remarks aimed at emphasizing a separation of the nation’s socio-economic classes to the detriment of those young people currently in the military. “It’s like watching a different reality,” he’s said. “Nothing could better illustrate the alienation of America’s armed forces from the college-going Americans.”
One wonders exactly the intent of Wilkerson’s statement. It appears there was a calculation to have an impact on the debate over the plan to “surge” more troops to Iraq as opposed to swiftly reducing the force currently there. Apparently he wished to underline the inappropriateness of the war on the basis that those fighting it didn’t involve what he considered a proper cross section of the military-age American public. Where has Wilkerson and his media friends been since the creation of the all-volunteer armed force?
The entire point of having a volunteer army was to satisfy the need for a capable military without maintaining the Selective Service draft, which had caused such division during the war in Vietnam. It’s been a successful, albeit extremely expensive, system for thirty years. The enlisted personnel are nearly all high school graduates and the officers are virtually all college graduates, at a minimum. This is a very costly, but elite, segment of military-age American women and men.
As pointed out in a recent column by Edward Luce in the American edition of the British-owned Financial Times, casualty lists show a predominance of white servicemen and women from small town America. By implication, Luce seems to suggest white people from small Midwestern and Southern communities had been forced through social and financial disadvantage to join the military. This, according to Luce, is supposed to reinforce Wilkerson’s sense of socio-economic disparity rather than crediting the strongly patriotic and well-educated aspect of middle America.
Perhaps retired Col. Wilkerson is not personally politically motivated and did not intend to insult our Army enlisted personnel by referring to current IQ requirements as “one level above imbecility,” as he is quoted in the FT article. Perhaps Mr. Luce was just amazed to find that poor minorities had not been disproportionately sacrificed as the press often has suggested.
Perhaps the devoted service of middle class Reserve and National Guard troops, in particular the various technical cadre and heroic medical contingents, did not come to their attention. And certainly these two individuals cannot be faulted for not recognizing the proportionately high, though still classified, casualty count among our extraordinarily well-educated special operations troopers.
Perhaps we should excuse stupidity and willful mischaracterization. Perhaps we should, but perhaps we shouldn’t. And perhaps we just can’t!