Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Elites and Military Service

John Noonan at MilBlogs links to an Op-Ed over at, written by Frank Schaeffer and Kathy Roth-Douquet, authors of the forthcoming book, AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service – and How it Hurts Our Country. (To be published by Collins Books, of Harper Collins, due out May 2006. Available on Amazon.)

The title of their book takes care of summarizing their point of view.

John suggests a command decision to deal with the AWOLs:

Okay, easy fix fellas. Allow ROTC back at Ivy League schools. Seems like an easier solution than whining about this ambiguous "privileged class."

Another poster at MilBlogs, Steve Schippert goes John one step farther, arguing (“energetically”):

…that any collegiate educational institution expressly disallowing ROTC activities be 'expressly disallowed' federal funding of any type.

I followed the links to the site of one of the authors, and downloaded the sample chapter. I skimmed a bit of it, and just from what I read, I have to agree with the many reviews available online. This from Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution:

"For such a provocative and hard-hitting book, AWOL is also rather fair and balanced — and generally quite persuasive. Best of all, Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer are constructive and forward-looking, with an excellent concluding debate between the authors about the pros and cons of mandatory national service versus other options for bringing the "upper classes" back into the nation's armed forces."

What Schaeffer and Roth-Douquet describe in their book, and summarize in the Op-Ed, is that American elites no longer view military service as an option, much less an obligation or duty of an involved citizenry.

I find this the height of hypocrisy of many of the same intellectual and cultural communities that are the most opposed to the war in Iraq, or the Global War on Terror.

It is one thing to maintain a principled opposition to a war, or military operations, or other use of military forces to meet national security objectives. It is quite another thing altogether to fail to acknowledge any meaning or purpose for national defense. To not attend to what kind of military we have, what it is used for, or who will serve. To dismiss and disrespect those who serve in their place.

After the Holocaust, those cognizant of the absolute brutality and inhumanity of Nazi genocide said, “Never Again.” Our National Guard division, mobilized to deploy to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom, carried into the combat zone a banner honoring the memory of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and United 93 with the motto, “Never Forget.”

It seems to me, far too many of our elites live by the motto, “Never serve, never fight.”

Yet my other two examples are as vivid a testament as to why we need a strong defense (supported by a strong military), as any that should be necessary.

Personal confession time. I come from a family that always wanted to climb into the elites that this book indicts. No one in our family, to my knowledge or within any known familial connection, served in the military since the Civil War. (Until me, that is.)

I still have great difficulty communicating with my family on anything military related. My big sister swears by anything written by Sy Hersh, and “who the heck is this Gryehawk guy and why should [she] listen to him?” My Mom was an Adlai Stevenson Democrat who hated Richard Nixon from 1952 on (think “Checkers”). My Dad was a reluctant Republican during Vietnam, but the release of the Watergate tapes and impeachment proceedings shocked him into opposition. My parents recently celebrated their registration as Democrats in their retirement community, as they’ve struggled to maintain a RINO political orientation, but Iraq was “the last straw.”

They have no experience with anything military, and until I joined, and contrary to all their expectations (and preferences), served over 20, they never knew anybody who served. (Not well, anyway.)

Does it matter that I have first hand experiences to share, or exposure to more ground truth? Not at all. I’m just as deluded by the Neocons as all those other hapless souls who think Patriotism means obedience and following party lines.

Why do our elites think that they do not need to serve? Why do they think that military service is only for others, preferably the economically or intellectually disadvantaged?

In their Op-Ed, Schaeffer and Roth-Douquet make the point of distinguishing military service from a political perspective:

Some people consider their reaction against military service to be a political statement. However, military service is not a referendum on political activity. “Should the country engage in this war?” is politics; “Shall I serve my country because it asks for its members to serve?” is patriotism. It is a gesture of profound citizenship to declare that; “I will take part in this country and its collective decision-making, because someone needs to do it.” It is also an affirmation that there are bigger truths than simply what seems true (or fun) “to me.” also has a podcast of an interview with the authors.

UPDATE: I lost my train of thought earlier. Think of this as part two.

Why do I serve?

I enlisted first time around because I had language skills the Army needed, and they had the job I needed. But from that point on, something kind of stuck. Something to do with giving something back. When 9/11 happened, and later a Guard mobilization, it seemed to me that I had never been asked to sacrifice anything in nearly 20 years of service. It was my turn.

It’s ironic that I think I learned my sense of Patriotism and service foremost from my family, and constant reinforcement of “doing the right thing,” being honest, caring about other people. The longer I served, the more I understood the quiet dedication of my father, valuing integrity and honesty above almost anything, following through on his commitments. Never very religious, when I was little, he committed to a monthly allotment to a church building fund. Then we left that church and never went back, not to any. Yet for years afterward, Dad kept sending his check for the building fund, because, well, he said he would. That was enough.

During my deployment, I read a great book by Os Guinness, The Great Experiment: Faith and Freedom in America. I also read Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln and Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy. Perhaps you see where I’m going. I steeped myself in the great credos of America, in the principles of our founding, the basis of our liberty. Sitting where I was in Tikrit, seeing the noble efforts of so many fine men and women, and so many courageous Iraqis too, I grew in appreciation for the reality of the saying, “freedom isn’t free.” Or the motto of the Mudville Gazette, “Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

My attitudes have changed since I first joined. Let’s just say I look at what so many of my peers sought, some gained, and I just can’t get motivated to want what used to be so attractive. God is in my life now, and many of the gifts He made possible. Sure, my faith, but gifts that I had to value and appreciate to receive, and keep. A beautiful wife. Fine children. Bonds and bonding. True friends. A committed life.

I cherish what this country has made possible for me and the people I love, even those who don’t value or appreciate as I do. Or see so much wrong they never seem to see any of the right. That they can crab and complain and huff and bluster about the Administration or the war, only underscores the greatness of this country. Our willingness to suffer all manner of cost or consequence, be stung by the shameless barbs of those who so readily receive of our largess, our service, even our blood.

We are a great nation, in spite of the many of the affluent, comfortable, spoiled and pampered who think they owe nothing in return (except their taxes).

I remember watching a talk show many years ago. There was a classics scholar, who was teaching the classics during World War Two. He described how the Allies approached classics scholars and asked them if they would like to participate in the liberation of Greece from the Nazis. They had to train hard, many would be killed, but many of them jumped at the chance. To be part of history, restoring a vital piece of ancient world to liberty.

He made the argument that young people should be forced to leave school at 18 and send the next 2 years anywhere else. Working. Traveling. Serving their country, in the military or Peace Corps. Then, after two years, be allowed to go to college. He said they’d have learned a few things, they’d be more ready, they’d be more responsible. I think he was on to something.

National Service? Maybe, although I’d prefer we just develop a cultural appreciation for that ideal, backed up by politicians, leaders, teachers, artists, and entertainers who would elevate and celebrate that same ideal, instead of crudities and selfish wants.

Links: Mudville Gazette

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