[Marxism] 2003 -- NY Times Article on make up of US military...

David Quarter davidquarter at sympatico.ca
Fri Jul 9 02:05:36 MDT 2004



Military Mirrors Working-Class 
America
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER and STEVEN A. HOLMES [March 
20, 2003 NyTimes]

{PRIVATE "TYPE=PICT;ALT=T"}

They left small towns and inner cities, looking for a way out and up, 
or fled the anonymity of the suburbs, hoping to find themselves. 
They joined the all-volunteer military, gaining a free education or a 
marketable skill or just the discipline they knew they would need to 
get through life.
As the United States engages in its first major land war in a 
decade, the soldiers, sailors, pilots and others who are risking, and 
now giving, their lives in Iraq represent a slice of a broad swath of 
American society — but by no means all of it.
Of the 28 servicemen killed who have been identified so far, 20 
were white, 5 black, 3 Hispanic — proportions that neatly mirror 
those of the military as a whole. But just one was from a well-to-do 
family, and with the exception of a Naval Academy alumnus, just 
one had graduated from an elite college or university.
A survey of the American military's endlessly compiled and 
analyzed demographics paints a picture of a fighting force that is 
anything but a cross section of America. With minorities 
overrepresented and the wealthy and the underclass essentially 
absent, with political conservatism ascendant in the officer corps 
and Northeasterners fading from the ranks, America's 1.4 million-
strong military seems to resemble the makeup of a two-year 
commuter or trade school outside Birmingham or Biloxi far more 
than that of a ghetto or barrio or four-year university in Boston.
Today's servicemen and women may not be Ivy Leaguers, but in 
fact they are better educated than the population at large: reading 
scores are a full grade higher for enlisted personnel than for their 
civilian counterparts of the same age. While whites account for 
three of five soldiers, the military has become a powerful magnet for 
blacks, and black women in particular, who now outnumber white 
women in the Army.
But if the military has become the most successfully integrated 
institution in society, there is also a kind of voluntary segregation: 
while whites and blacks seek out careers in communications, 
intelligence, the medical corps and other specialties in roughly 
equal numbers, blacks are two and a half times as likely to fill 
support or administrative roles, while whites are 50 percent more 
likely to serve in the infantry, gun crews or their naval equivalent.
Sgt. Annette Acevedo, 22, a radio operator from Atlanta, could 
have gone to college but chose the Army because of all the 
benefits it offered: travel, health coverage, work experience and 
independence from her parents. The Army seemed a better 
opportunity to get started with her life and be a more independent 
person, she said.
Specialist Markita Scott, 27, a reservist from Columbus, Ga., 
called up as a personnel clerk in an Army deployment center, says 
she is now planning to make a career of the Army. "Oh, yes, I am 
learning a skill," said Specialist Scott, who is black. "I get a lot of 
papers that are not correct, and so I know I'm helping the person. It 
could be making sure the right person is notified in case of an 
emergency, or maybe I tell them, `You know, if you do your 
insurance this way, the money will not go directly to the child, but 
the child's guardian,' and they say, `Oh, I don't want it going to my 
ex.' "
Lt. James Baker, 27, of Shelbyville, Tenn., who is white, enlisted in 
the National Guard. The Tennessee Guard had no infantry units, so 
he chose artillery instead. "Artillery is exciting," he said. "I get to 
blow a lot of stuff up and play in the woods. The Army is the 
biggest team sport in the world."
Confronted by images of the hardships of overseas deployment and 
by the stark reality of casualties in Iraq, some have raised 
questions about the composition of the fighting force and about 
requiring what is, in essence, a working-class military to fight and 
die for an affluent America.
"It's just not fair that the people that we ask to fight our wars are 
people who join the military because of economic conditions, 
because they have fewer options," said Representative Charles B. 
Rangel, a Democrat from Manhattan and a Korean War veteran 
who is calling for restoring the draft.

Military Mirrors Working-Class America
(Page 2 of 6) 
Some scholars have noted that since the draft was abolished in 
1973, the country has begun developing what could be called a 
warrior class or caste, often perpetuating itself from father or uncle 
to son or niece, whose political and cultural attitudes do not reflect 
the diversity found in civilian society — potentially foreshadowing a 
social schism between those who fight and those who ask them to.
It is an issue that today's soldiers grapple with increasingly as they 
watch their comrades, even their spouses, deploy to the combat 
zone. "As it stands right now, the country is riding on the soldiers 
who volunteer," said Sgt. Barry Perkins, 39, a career military 
policeman at Fort Benning, Ga. "Everybody else is taking a free 
ride."

The Way It Was
The Vietnam War
And the Draft's End
The Vietnam War looms large as the defining epoch in the creation 
of what has become today's professional, blue-collar military.
It led to the creation of an all-volunteer force, when the Nixon 
administration, in an attempt to reduce opposition to the war, 
abolished the draft in 1973. 
Because the draft provided deferment to college students, the 
burden of being sent to Vietnam fell heavily on the less well 
educated and less affluent. And because of the unpopularity of the 
war, military service was disdained by many members of the 
nation's elite, leading their children to lose the propensity to serve 
that had characterized earlier generations of America's privileged.
As a result, the Americans who fought in the Vietnam War looked 
very different from the professional corps now fighting in Iraq and 
stationed around the globe.
The 2,594,000 troops who served in Vietnam between 1965 and 
1972 were younger, much less likely to be married and almost 
entirely male, according to a study of Defense Department data by 
Richard K. Kolb, the editor and publisher of VFW magazine.
The average soldier in a combat unit in Vietnam was 19 or 20 years 
old and unmarried, Mr. Kolb said. Of the 58,000 Americans killed in 
Vietnam, 61 percent were 21 or younger; of the enlisted men killed, 
only about 25 percent were married.
"I can only recall one guy I served with who was married, and he 
was about 30 and a lifer," said Mr. Kolb, who was a 19-year-old 
radio operator in Vietnam in 1970.
By contrast, the average age of the 28 men killed in the war with 
Iraq so far is 26, and 8 of the 22 enlisted men who died, or 36 
percent, were married.
In the Army, about 25 percent of enlisted men were married in 
1973. Today that figure has almost doubled. 
Another major difference, of course, is that few women served in 
Vietnam, and women were not allowed in combat units. Only 7,494 
women served in Vietnam, of whom 6,250 were nurses, according 
to the Defense Department. Of the 58,000 Americans who died in 
Vietnam, only eight were women, all of them nurses, and only one 
is officially listed as killed in action.
There were no female prisoners of war in Vietnam. By contrast, one 
female soldier has already been captured in Iraq and two others are 
listed as missing in action. Women are enlisting in far greater 
numbers today, especially since the Pentagon lifted many of the 
restrictions on women serving in combat. Fifteen percent of all 
officers and enlisted personnel are women.
The existence of the draft during the Vietnam War, and the war's 
growing unpopularity as the years passed without victory, also 
created fundamental differences in the makeup of the armed forces. 
Soldiers tended to enlist for single tours of duty and then go back 
quickly to civilian life, making for a higher turnover rate and less 
professionalism than the Pentagon boasts of now. Today, the 
average enlistee stays about seven years, up from less than two 
years in 1973.
But Mr. Kolb and other experts say the widespread idea that the 
Army in Vietnam was made up mostly of draftees is incorrect. In 
fact, only 25 percent of all American forces in Vietnam were 
draftees, compared with 66 percent in World War II.
"With me, it was not a question of whether I would enlist, but 
when," Mr. Kolb said. "I grew up in a small town, and my father and 
uncles had all served in World War II. Enlisting was what we did in 
my family."
Among the many myths of Vietnam that persist today, experts 
say, is that it was a war fought by poor and black Americans, who 
died in greater proportions than whites.

Military Mirrors Working-Class America
(Page 3 of 6) 
Although that was true in the early stages of the American ground 
war, in 1965 and 1966, when there were large numbers of blacks in 
front-line combat units, Army and Marine Corps commanders later 
took steps to reassign black servicemen to other jobs to equalize 
deaths, according to Col. Harry G. Summers Jr. in "Vietnam War 
Almanac."
By the end of the war, African-Americans had suffered 12.5 percent 
of the total deaths in Vietnam, 1 percentage point less than their 
proportion in the overall population, Colonel Summers wrote.
Servicemen from states in the South had the highest rate of 
battlefield deaths, 31 per 100,000 of the region's population, Mr. 
Kolb found. Soldiers from states in the Northeast had the lowest 
rates, 23.5 deaths per 100,000.
Since the end of the draft, that geographic skew on the battlefield 
has extended to the services as a whole. The percentages of 
people from the Northeast and Midwest have dropped, while the 
proportion from the West has climbed and from the South has 
skyrocketed — even after accounting for southward and westward 
population shifts in society at large. For the year ending Sept. 30, 
2000, 42 percent of all recruits came from the South.
Over all, Mr. Kolb said, 76 percent of the soldiers in Vietnam were 
from working-class or lower-income families, while only 23 percent 
had fathers in professional, managerial or technical occupations.
The disparity created by the Vietnam draft can be seen on the 
walls of Memorial Hall and Memorial Church at Harvard University, 
where the names of Harvard students and alumni who died for their 
country are inscribed. There were 200 Harvard students killed in the 
Civil War and 697 in World War II, but only 22 in Vietnam.
For Stanley Karnow, the journalist and author of "Vietnam: A 
History," who began reporting from Vietnam in 1959, the contrast 
with World War II was personal. When he turned 18 in 1943, he 
dropped out of Harvard and enlisted in the Army. In 1970, when his 
son turned 18 and became eligible for the draft, he was also a 
Harvard student. "We did everything we could to keep him out of 
the draft," Mr. Karnow said.
Signing Up
Recruiting Office
As Melting Pot 

If the nation's wealthy and more well-educated youth have shunned 
the military, others less privileged have gravitated toward it.
Compared to their contemporaries in civilian life, the armed forces 
have a greater percentage of minorities, a higher proportion of high 
school graduates and better reading levels. As a group, about 60 
percent of enlisted men and women are white; they tend to be 
married and upwardly mobile, but to come from families without the 
resources to send them to college.
While blacks make up about 12.7 per cent of the same-age civilian 
population, they constitute about 22 per cent of enlisted personnel. 
Perhaps most striking is the number of enlisted women who are 
black: more than 35 percent, according to Pentagon figures, 
indicating not only that black women enlist at higher rates, but that 
they stay in the military longer. In the Army, in fact, half of all 
enlisted women are black, outnumbering whites, who account for 
38 percent.
In Chicago Heights, Ill., the Marine Corps recruiting office was filled 
on Wednesday with the huffs and puffs of more than a dozen fresh 
young recruits, mostly wearing buzz cuts, doing crunches and chin-
ups.
The afternoon workout is a ritual for these newest marines, a 
gregarious group made up mainly of 17- and 18-year-olds who still 
have to get fitted for prom tuxes and graduate from high school 
before shipping out in just a few months. They resemble the 
American melting pot: Hispanics, blacks, whites, young men and 
one young woman.
Patriotism and the prospect of getting a chance to go to Iraq, 
where the action is, played a role in their decisions to enlist, the 
recruits said. But Lori Luckey, 24, a single mother of three girls, 
said the main reasons she signed up for the Marines were to get a 
chance at a career and the opportunity for advancement, to see the 
world, and to obtain a dental plan and other benefits

Military Mirrors Working-Class America
(Page 4 of 6) 
Others, like Myles Tweedy, 18, a high school senior whose baby 
face is adorned with a goatee, said joining the military was a family 
tradition. Mr. Tweedy's father was an infantryman in Vietnam, and 
his grandfather was in the Army as well. "Now it's my turn," Mr. 
Tweedy said. "It's something I knew I was always going to do."
Jonathan Lewis, 18, who said he enlisted for the benefits, and out 
of a sense of patriotism, said he figured he had less to fear as a 
marine in Baghdad than in the streets of Chicago, where he lived 
for 12 years until his family moved to the south suburbs.
"Being over in Baghdad, you've got a thousand people 100 percent 
behind you," he said. "Around here, who says you can't be going to 
McDonald's and that's it? Over there, you're part of everybody, 
you're with your friends and family, you're still safe."
Ms. Luckey has already made plans for her two oldest daughters, 
6 and 4, to stay with their paternal grandmother when she leaves in 
May for 16 weeks of basic training. Her youngest daughter, not yet 
2, will stay with Ms. Luckey's mother.
A corrections officer for six years, she says her job "was just so 
dead-end." She decided to resign in November and enlisted in the 
Marines, eyeing not just the benefits but also a fairer chance of 
advancement.
The Race Issue
Equal Opportunity
On the Battlefield
Though Hispanics are underrepresented in the military, their 
numbers are growing rapidly. Even as the total number of military 
personnel dropped 23 percent over the last decade, the number of 
Hispanics in uniform grew to 118,000 from 90,600, a jump of about 
30 percent.
While blacks tend to be more heavily represented in administrative 
and support functions, a new study shows that Hispanics, like 
whites, are much more likely to serve in combat operations. But 
those Hispanics in combat jobs tend to be infantry grunts, 
particularly in the Marine Corps, rather than fighter or bomber pilots.
"The Air Force is substantially more white, and the officer corps is 
substantially more white than Latino," said Roberto Suro, director 
of the Pew Hispanic Center, which issued a report last week on 
Hispanics in the military. "So you won't see Latinos flying airplanes 
over Iraq."
There are as many explanations for why Hispanics are flocking to 
the armed forces as there are individuals — but the explanations 
are not that different.
Specialist Joel Flores joined the Army five years ago on an 
impulse. Already in his late 20's, married and the father of two 
daughters, he was fed up with his sales clerk job at a crafts store 
in San Antonio, where he had worked for nine years. "They kept 
passing me up for management," Specialist Flores, 34, said. "I got 
tired of it."
So one Friday after work he walked into a recruitment office to ask 
about his options in the military. Two hours later he was signing 
papers to enlist. "When I saw that first paycheck, it was `Oh my 
God,' " said Specialist Flores, now an Army cook. His take-home 
pay was half what he had made at the store.
But he says he does not regret his decision even now, when he is 
among more than 12,000 troops waiting to depart Fort Hood, Tex., 
for the war in the Persian Gulf.
Specialist Flores, who was born in Texas to Mexican-American 
parents and was the first person in his family to join the military, 
has since re-enlisted. He says he has found a more level playing 
field in the Army than in the outside world.
He has moved up a few notches, from private to a specialist 
supervising other cooks, and says he wants to retire after reaching 
sergeant major. In the Army, he said, "It doesn't matter who you 
are if you can do the job."
For many soldiers like Specialist Flores, the military has not 
disappointed. Some complain about the low pay compared to what 
they could be making in the private sector, as well as the long 
hours and the time they spend away from their families.
But they say they have found a more egalitarian and racially 
harmonious society, one in which prejudice is trumped by 
meritocracy, discipline and the need to get along to survive.
Sgt. Nathalie Williams, 29, said that in her hometown, Tuskegee, 
Ala., her closest friends would probably be black, like her. At Fort 
Hood, they are black, Puerto Rican and white. "You can't judge 
somebody by their skin color," she said. "That one person who you 
don't like could be the person who saves your life."
                                                           Continued
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Military Mirrors Working-Class America
(Page 5 of 6) 
Sergeant Williams's father served in the military, and an older 
sister is also in the Army. She said she joined the Army in 1992, 
after graduating from high school, to seek exposure to different 
kinds of people and travel. A dream came true when she was 
posted in Hawaii for three years.
But Sergeant Williams, the wife of a nursing assistant and the 
mother of three children, now faces going to war. Her sister, a staff 
sergeant, is already in Kuwait.


What Lies Ahead 
A New Draft
Or a Warrior Caste?

For those who support a return to the military draft, the question is 
whether the wealthy and elite of America — the sons and 
daughters of members of Congress, among others — were meant 
to serve as well.
Charles C. Moskos, a professor of sociology at Northwestern 
University who has written extensively in support of a national draft 
for the armed services, domestic security and civilian service, 
argues that the military must represent every stratum of society.
"In World Wars I and II, the British nobility had a higher killed-in-
action rate than the working class," he said. "Our enlisted ranks 
resemble the British: they're lower- to middle-class, working-class, 
intelligent people, who are joining for both the adventure and 
economic opportunity. But the officer corps today does not 
represent American nobility. These are not people who are going to 
be future congressmen or senators. The number of veterans in the 
Senate and the House is dropping every year. It shows you that our 
upper class no longer serves."
Dr. Moskos said the pitfalls of having leaders who do not share in 
the casualties of war were common knowledge in Homeric times: 
"Agamemnon was willing to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia," he 
said. Today's military recruiters, he said, grasp what the ancient 
Greeks understood — "that nobody'll accept casualties unless the 
elite are willing to put their own children's lives on the line."
"I once addressed a group of recruiters and asked them, would you 
prefer to have your advertising budget tripled or see Chelsea Clinton 
joining the Army — and they all said Chelsea Clinton joining the 
Army," he said. "That would be the signal that America was 
serious about joining the military. Imagine Jenna Bush joining the 
military — that would be the signal thing saying, this is a cause 
worth dying for."
Dr. Moskos says support for the Vietnam War ended when it 
became possible for the elite to win draft deferments. Other experts 
on military demographics dispute this.
James Burk, a professor of sociology at Texas A&M University, 
acknowledged that few wealthy citizens today choose military 
service. "But if you say, is the all-volunteer force not representative 
of the country as a whole, I'd say it's more representative than the 
upper class," he said.
Dr. Moskos and others also suggest that the citizen soldier who 
serves out his term and then returns to civilian life is being replaced 
by a class, or caste, of career soldiers — even in frontline combat 
positions that do not require the expertise and experience of years 
of service. On top of that, experts say, members of the military are 
far more likely to have parents who served in the armed forces, 
suggesting that such a caste is self-perpetuating.
"To carry the logic further, why don't you hire a foreign legion and 
be done with it?" Dr. Moskos said. "Go out, hire foreigners, say 
they can join the American military and get a decent salary. Oh, no 
— maybe Americans should fight for America?"
Those who warn of a warrior class cite a study by the Triangle 
Institute for Security Studies in North Carolina showing that 
between 1976 and 1996 the percentage of military officers who saw 
themselves as nonpartisan or politically independent fell from more 
than 50 percent to less than 20 percent. The main beneficiary of 
this shift has been the Republican Party.
"The officer corps has always been more conservative," said 
Richard H. Kohn, a professor of military history at the University of 
North Carolina. "But even so, the change there is dramatic."
Dr. Kohn and other scholars worry that with fewer families having 
sons or daughters in the military, especially among the affluent, 
and with a high percentage of enlistees coming from military 
families, a potential cultural and political gap could open up 
between civilian and martial societies.

Military Mirrors Working-Class America
(Page 6 of 6) 
"One of my concerns is effective civilian control of the military," he 
said. "The decline in the number of members of Congress who are 
veterans is dramatic. Up until 1995 Congress had a larger 
percentage of veterans than there was in the general population. 
After 1995 it was less — and that's after the Republican takeover. 
That means there is potentially a less knowledgeable, less effective 
oversight from Congress."
Even among academics, to be sure, those concerns are narrowly 
felt. "When the troops come back, many of them will get out; they'll 
have some memories," said John Allen Williams, a retired Navy 
captain who is a political science professor at Loyola University 
Chicago. "A military that self-identified as different from, and 
possibly superior to, the civilian society it served, with a distinct 
set of values, and that might be willing to act on them opposed to 
civilian leaders? The thought that we could have that in this country 
is just inconceivable."
Both Mr. Burk and Mr. Williams say they support the idea of a 
draft, though they suggest it could never be enacted in today's 
political environment. 
Ask a squad of today's volunteer soldiers whether they like the idea 
of a draft, and you'll get a platoon's worth of answers.
Pfc. Michael Philbert, 18, had just finished basic training on 
Thursday and was browsing at Ranger Joe's, a uniform and 
equipment store outside Fort Benning, with his father and 13-year-
old brother. He said a draft was a bad idea.
"It sounds kind of fair," Private Philbert said. "It's not fair that some 
poor kids don't have much of a choice but to join if they want to be 
productive because they didn't go to a good school, or they had 
family problems that kept them from doing well, so they join up and 
they're the ones that die for our country while the rich kids can 
avoid it.
"From the other side, it's not someone's fault that they're born rich 
or poor. Just because someone is rich doesn't mean you have to 
yank them out of the comfort of their life just to get even. And most 
poor people are glad they had this kind of opportunity. They're glad 
they got in."
But Sgt. Barry Perkins, the military policeman at Fort Benning, 
who has been around the block a few more times than a buck 
private, said America's military — and its youth — would benefit 
from a draft that included both men and women. "If you look at 
today's society, teenagers are staying at home, not doing a thing," 
he said. "They need a productive life. It should be straight across 
the board. As long as you don't allow power, money and wealth to 
influence it, it will be straight across the board — it will be fairer."
Specialist Markita Scott, the reservist from Columbus, Ga., said 
she thought a draft was unnecessary. "Already with callbacks you 
can see the morale is down lower," she said. "They're like, `I had a 
job.' Just think if you had a whole draft of people who didn't want to 
be there. I think of that guy who threw the grenade — you wonder if 
there would be a lot more like that."


[END]




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