I came across a column written by a lady named Rosa Brooks on Yahoo News a couple of days ago, and I’ve been meaning to say something about it. I’ve heard this argument put forward online and in print media, and I want to respond. Brooks, by all appearances, is no dummy and has worked on behalf of a variety of worthy causes, which make her remarks even more astonishing to me. She is syndicated through the L.A. Times, which carried her column.
Uncle Sam to the liberals: I need you!First problem: there can be a difference between a liberal and a progressive, and mixing up the terminology is a bad way to start writing a column.
Getting progressives into uniform can close the military-civilian culture gap.
AS A NORTHEASTERNER and a child of the left, I grew up knowing almost no one in the military. Shaped by Vietnam and the Cold War, my parents' generation of progressives distrusted U.S. military power. As a young child, so did I. I remember cheering at the Central Park concert celebrating the end of the Vietnam War. A few years later, I marched enthusiastically with my family to protest Reagan-era draft registration requirements.So you’ve established your “liberal cred”…”bra” and “vo”.
But a lot has changed since then.…dramatic shift in time coming up - fast forward through a late 80s, "Thompson Twins"-"Tears For Fears" and 90s "Nirvana-Pearl Jam-Live" soundtrack in your mind for effect, OK?…
My own generation has been shaped not by the Vietnam War but by globalization's discontents: ethnic conflict and the rise of terrorism. With the post-Cold War fragmentation of the Balkans, the Rwandan genocide and a multitude of other brutal conflicts…Which almost all of us know of from watching them on T.V. as opposed to being actively involved…I’m only making the observation, not trying to be “snarky”.
…I — and many other young progressives — gradually came to see the U.S. military as an imperfect but indispensable institution for stopping humanitarian tragedies.Yes, but the problem is that once we show up on the scene, we are unable to leave without things degenerating even more or not without physical harm coming to our people.
Since Sept. 11, the military has seemed even more crucial. Indiscriminate terrorist attacks threaten every dream of peace, and combating globally diffuse terrorist networks requires an unprecedented mixture of criminal investigation and military force.It also requires leadership with a modicum of common sense, which we don’t have at the moment.
Although many progressives continue to regard the military with slight unease, no one imagines anymore that we would be better off without it. This week, the Washington Post reported on new classified military plans for responding to terrorist attacks in the United States — including potential nuclear, chemical or biological attacks so catastrophic that the military might be required to "take the lead" in responding, as one official put it. The term "martial law" was not used, but it was implicit.OK, so let me get this straight. She wants liberals, progressives…whomever…to join the military as a domestic force to fight against terrorism and help clean up after an attack. That’s an interesting idea, actually (though that should include conservatives, including the “Young Repugs” who want to “support the Iraq War” from the comfort of their living rooms and Friday happy hours at a local watering hole).
Such troubling scenarios would once have seemed the stuff of paranoid fiction. After 9/11, they seem far too plausible.
That's why I've started urging all the bright young liberals I meet to join the military.
I seem to recall, though, that we instituted an organization called The National Guard that had a duty to do something like what Brooks mentioned. But in one of the truly awful “bait and switch” tactics of Bushco, guard and reserve units have ended up seeing as much fighting and taking as many casualties as our regular volunteer forces. Please explain to me why anyone would volunteer for these great services after this cruel stunt from Bushco.
Sure, U.S. military policy is flawed in many respects. But that's not a reason for progressives to shun the military. On the contrary, it's one of the main reasons that liberals need to reexamine their long-standing aversion to military service.Uh…OK. So under this logic, I should jump off the Scudder Falls Bridge between PA and NJ into the Delaware River because, though it’s probable that other people who have tried this have been killed, I as a liberal might actually live? Sure…
There is a significant and growing gap between military and civilian cultures. While about a third of the general public identifies themselves as Democrats and another third as Republicans, a January 2005 Military Times poll found that 60% of military respondents were Republicans, 17% were independents and only 13% were Democrats.If you’re in the military, you’re going to gravitate towards the Republican party, regardless of what your orientation may be before you join. Your CO is going to try his or her best to shove it down your throat. The only possible exception could be if you are African American.
A generation ago, the military was far less partisan in its composition:It was also far less politicized. In my father’s time and into the ‘60s, the military was composed primarily of Democrats. Many of those men had fought in WWII when this country, flat on its back from the Depression, faced global domination. These were ripe conditions for the Democrats – again, not trying to be a smartass – and fortunately, they had a leader at that time who could galvanize public opinion in their favor (right, Itsez?).
A plurality (46%) called themselves independents, while only 33% were Republicans. On numerous key social and religious issues, military personnel today are far more conservative than the typical American.Again, this is due to the politicization of the military, among other factors.
In today's polarized political atmosphere, anyone who finds this troubling needs to be willing to work for change from inside the military, not just from the outside. Otherwise, the cultural and political gap between the military and civilian society will only widen.The military, in general, is like The Borg in the “Star Trek: Generations” series. Join us, and you will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. It’s totally foolish to think otherwise, or try to intervene from the outside (see Clinton, Bill, and “Gays In The Military”).
The Vietnam War-era draft pulled in a disproportionate number of poor young men because educational deferrals allowed elites to avoid service.You’re correct. Was that right? No, but the rich getting off the hook and the poor getting stuck doing the dirty work is as old as war itself.
But at least the draft covered the whole country. Today's volunteer military is drawn disproportionately from conservative Southern states and economically struggling rural areas.Interesting point, and I don’t know what to do about that. However, I don’t believe that encouraging people of a particular political, geographic or other type of persuasion/orientation/location to volunteer to get themselves killed in Iraq is the answer.
Meanwhile, many of the elite universities, which tend to be liberal, booted ROTC off campus in the wake of the Vietnam War. Today, the percentage of students from elite universities who join the military is minuscule.Again, I don’t know what to say about that other than that recruiters will tell you ANYTHING to get you to sign on the dotted line. I know someone who was told he would learn about computers after he enlisted. He got stuck in a motor pool for a year overseas and learned nothing that helped him obtain a job in his career.
Progressives should embrace military service because we can't afford to let the gap between the military and civilians grow.Uh, the gap would grow regardless of whether or not progressives joined because they would lose their political identity (or they would at least have to hide it).
It's deeply unfair to expect those Americans with the fewest economic opportunities to do our fighting for us.Yes, but again, that’s as old as war itself. Besides, under Bushco, more and more people, liberals/conservatives/whatever, are falling under the category of those with the “fewest economic opportunities.”
And as globalization and terrorism blur the lines between "domestic" and "foreign" affairs and between "civilian" and "military" affairs, having a military that is regionally identified and politically partisan poses real dangers to a pluralistic society.It’s already posed a danger because of how our service people consistently vote for Repugs on their absentee ballots. However, that is their right of course, assuming they are legitimate ballots.
Liberals should also remember that the military may have some valuable lessons to teach the rest of us. For instance, minorities make up more than a third of all military personnel, and 20% of the officer corps. That's a far higher leadership representation than that boasted by Congress or by most big universities and corporations. Unsurprisingly, most minority military personnel think that minorities are treated more fairly in the military than in civilian life. Wouldn't it be nice to transfer some of that racial egalitarianism to civilian culture?She’s going round in circles on this argument, as far as I’m concerned. Transferring “racial egalitarianism to civilian culture” is a concept that sounds like it came right out of a college textbook from Vasser or Sarah Lawrence. My guess is that some kind of intellectual “sharing of the wealth” is a good deal more complicated than she makes it out to be here.
Progressives need to get over their reluctance to serve in the military. Only when we're all willing to serve in the military will we have a military that can truly serve us all.I think she just wrote the script for the latest recruiting ad.
Let me just finish by saying this. The military can be a great way of life for the right young man or woman in this country (though I’m saying this in anticipation of that fine day, which is far off in the future unfortunately, when there is something approximating a ruling government in Iraq and all of our people are home). However, I don’t think anyone (including Charles Rangel) should try any longer to force it down someone’s throat. And if it represents the only opportunity for some people, I don’t know why I am supposed to feel bad because that is no longer the case for me.
One absolute final thought: I would propose that, instead of liberals/progressives entering the military to try to change things, we should be concentrating on supporting all of the service people who have turned to the Democratic Party as a result of Bush’s Iraq debacle, such as Paul Hackett. THAT is the best way to bring about change affecting the military – indirectly is the best way we can hope.