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GIs: not your average joes; what the military can teach us about race, class, and citizenship.

Like much of southeast Washington, D.C., 8th Street has seen better days. But at the corner of I Street sits one local landmark unscarred by age, crime, poverty, or neglect--a symbol, you might say, of tradition untouched by progress: the U.S. Marine Corps barracks.

Amid urban chaos, it is an oasis of order. A guard mans the gate; inside, crisply uniformed men and women move with purpose. The lush, manicured parade, maintained by a horticulturist and a staff of 20, spreads to the foot of the commandant's residence. From the band room drift sounds of the United States Marine Band--"The President's Own"--rehearsing a haunting classical refrain.

But not only the physical contrast to the surrounding streets is stark: Those who live within this haven's walls are a breed apart as well. The young enlisted Marines I meet, none older than 24, have poise and self-possession well beyond their years. They carry themselves with pride and speak in modulated tones, their words laced heavily with "ma'ams." Their answers are thoughtful. They have come, by and large, from the South, and from the working class, the children of seamstresses and social workers, farmers and factory workers. But from the first day of boot camp they abandon their inherited identities to be reborn into the military class.

They signed up for many reasons--patriotism, opportunity, challenge, to find their mettle. Corporal Gabriel Ford, 21, enlisted three years ago after growing up on a West Virginia farm and deciding college wasn't for him. His parents divorced early, and he wanted to make something of himself before making a commitment like marriage. The Marines promised to make the most of him. "They break you down to ground zero," he says, "and then build you up. You realize you can be a leader, that you have all these qualities that you never knew you had"

For others, the lure is practical. Corporal Adrian Santiago, 21, was born in Mexico and raised in Chicago, where a persuasive Marine recruiter snagged him on the cusp of high school and adulthood. The recruiter convinced him that the Corps offered what he wanted from life: the chance to travel; to grow up; to afford more education. Such blandishments may seem to have cultish echoes, but they all happen to be true. Indeed, they are time-honored reasons for military service. Chief Warrant Officer Joe Boyer says he signed up 20 years ago because everyone from his Illinois small town high school was "going to the farm or going to work at Caterpillar to make bulldozers." Neither option appealed to him; slaying dragons and seeing the world did.

Yet Boyer says civilians have told him he must have gone into the military because he was too stupid to do anything else. This white male Midwesterner looks at me and says, "I am a stereotyped minority." He's right. Among the well-educated and well-off, the perception persists that the military is the blue-collar option of last resort.

Twenty-five years ago, that notion had some merit. Once the educated began to evade the draft, and then were let off the hook entirely by the draft's end, the military became a place for people with few options. Drunkenness, drug use, desertion, illiteracy, and racial tension were rife. Forty percent of Army recruits were high school dropouts.

But beginning in the early 1980s, the armed forces began raising standards and requiring, if not a high school diploma, at least a GED (and only a tiny percentage of recruits have a GED instead of a diploma). Today, the caliber of recruits is the highest in history--more than 90 percent of enlisted men are high school graduates--and the services regularly turn away those who don't meet their standards. And because they have volunteered, recruits are truly committed.

If the raw material is impressive, so is the finished product. The military remains one of the few institutions in American life concerned with turning out good citizens who seek leadership, practice discipline, and believe in public service; and it has successfully tackled problems--most notably race and affirmative action--that continue to bedevil society at large. The military certainly isn't flawless, but it does have a lot to teach us. It's hard to learn at a distance, though, and the distance between the military and civilian populations has arguably never been greater.

All They Can Be

In 1989, Tenn Chowfren immigrated here from Jamaica. He had 19 years of life experience, a high school degree, and "no skills" So his parents did what desperate parents have done for generations: They encouraged him to enlist. In no time, he found himself in Army basic training. Soon, he not only had plenty of skills, but also what he calls "mental toughness," girded by a five-month deployment in Persian Gulf heat. He quickly ascended the ranks, then decided to go to college and become an officer. Today, he is an electrical engineering student at Howard University, as well as its Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) battalion commander. If he stays in the military, he will rise far. If he does not, he now has the skills and leadership experience "corporate America is looking for."

The military has always been an important force in assimilating and equipping immigrants like Chowfren for success. More remarkable, perhaps, is what it has done for a group of native-born citizens: African Americans. No group has benefited more from the upward mobility the military offers, because no institution in America has offered blacks more opportunity.

That's the thesis of All That We Can Be: Black Leadership and Racial Integration the Army Way, a new book by sociologists Charles Moskos and John Sibley Butler. Moskos and Butler trace the military's, and in particular the Army's, success not just in recruiting blacks, but in promoting them to positions of authority. Colin Powell is the most notable, but far from the only, symbol of that success. Seven percent of army generals are black; 11 percent of all officers; and 30 percent of enlisted men. The Army has made affirmative action work without quotas, without lowering standards, and without a white backlash.

Moskos and Butler identify several principles the army has relied on and civilian society could learn from. The first is to promote on merit--but only after enlarging the pool of qualified blacks from which to select. The army takes proactive steps to ensure that pool is big enough: recruiting heavily on historically black campuses, for example, and establishing education programs to bring the skills of potential recruits and officers up to par. Standards stay inflexibly high, which means everyone promoted has earned it--and everyone working under them knows it.

Moskos and Butler also stress that the army worries more about creating black opportunity than eliminating white racism. In truth, though, the nature of the military means that anything that gets in the way of mission accomplishment is unacceptable. Racism gets in the way. "From day one of boot camp," Marine Corporal Ford, who is white, tells me, "everyone is green" The military forces integration; in doing so, it illuminates why that ideal is still worth fighting for. Lance Corporal Tashawna Craig, a 19-year-old African American from Houston who followed her five uncles into the Marines, says growing up in the south made her wary when she saw the races freely mixing at boot camp. "I never thought I could work with [whites]," she says. She learned she could. "When I go home to the South I can feel the tension," she says. "I've never felt racial tension here."

Military race relations aren't perfect, of course. And if the peacetime benefits are high for blacks, so are the wartime costs: Blacks will be deployed in disproportionate numbers to their presence in the population (although a disproportionate number of blacks deployed are not sent into combat). That's why some black civil rights leaders look askance at military service: Upward mobility shouldn't require the willingness to strap on a uniform. That it too often does, however, tells us more about society than it does about the military.

The armed services also happen to be the only place, Moskos loves to point out, where blacks routinely boss around whites, who quickly learn that it's just like being bossed around by ... whites. The military isn't just providing lessons for civilian society, in other words: It is also shaping its charges.

In many ways. The military builds character--in the sense of resilience, courage, and leadership--by giving young people responsibility unimaginable to most civilians. At age 23,John Brown, a Marine second lieutenant now training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, will have under his command a group of enlisted men ranging from privates fresh out of recruit training to a staff sergeant with 10 years of service under his belt. "Some of the junior enlisted men will have personal problems," Brown says, "their wives still in high school, pregnant, with bills to pay. I will have to think things out to such a greater degree than I ever have before. I have to look out for them, help them take care of problems so the unit can function effectively" And military service will inspire an empathy--are his men cold? homesick? scared?--that he will carry into civilian life.

Brown will also acquire a deeply bred sense of ethics. The military operates under a code of honor most of us would find unsustainable. Write a bad check in the civilian world, and your bank subtracts $25 from your account. Do the same in the military, and your career may be over. The West Point creed reads, "A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do," but even shading the truth or resorting to technicalities is frowned upon. This isn't always lived up to in dealings with civilians--think of military spokespeople misleading the press in Saigon or Riyadh, or Col. Oliver North's star turn before Congress--but in intramilitary interactions, it is an everpresent ideal.

More profound; those in the military grapple with moral dilemmas most of us skirt: When should you put your life on the line for your fellow man? Is it ethical to put completing a mission before saving a life? Is it honorable to put saving your own life before completing your mission? "If you go to war," one former Army artillery officer says, "you are morally compromised. Your hands have stains you'll never wash off if you've killed someone or ordered someone killed" Anyone who might go to war must contemplate what justifies crossing a line civilian society considers unbreachable.

Then there's the discipline, which to most civilians seems both archaic (who cares if your pants are creased properly?) and arbitrary (why should you do what someone tells you just because of his or her rank?). In fact, the discipline is anything but arbitrary: In combat, you must react instantly, as a unit, and you must react correctly; discipline hones those reflexes. As Brig. Gen. Richard Stillwell lectures a class of cadets in Rick Atkinson's The Long Gray Line, "West Point is tough! It is tough in the same way war is tough."

The discipline is bearable because those giving the orders have survived the same trials, and thrived; and--the occasional sadistic sergeant aside--they generally have their underlings' best interests at heart. The trust is earned. And while complete deference to authority isn't something we want to replicate in civilian life, there is a virtue in learning to do things you might not want to, and learning that you can survive that, too. Those with military experience say it endowed them with unshakable confidence in-their ability to overcome any stress that civilian life has to offer.

Perhaps the greatest gap between the military and the civilian world is the relative weight each gives to rights and to responsibilities. American society is centered increasingly on individual rights, which in the American military are always subservient to individual obligations. People in the military learn self-discipline, but they also learn selflessness. That's what drew Major Ralph Peters into the Army 20 years ago. After growing up in a military family, he rebelled and became a musician. Then, in 1975, he was volunteer teaching at a refugee camp housed on a military base. He saw soldiers staying up until 2 a.m. to prepare for classes they were teaching the refugees; it was a sharp contrast to the "lazy, loudmouthed" civilians he knew. At age 23, he joined the Army.

Beyond the many things the military does daily in the service of society is the fact that its members have literally signed their lives over to protect that society. As our tolerance for military casualties diminishes, in the foreseeable future it is unlikely that thousands of men and women will have to give up their lives for us. But they are prepared to. As a result, they have thought deeply about what it is they are protecting: They are patriots, who will tell you emotionally that of the 20 countries they have visited, America, flaws and all, is the best; or about how they have seen people dying abroad for rights we take for granted. "People don't see the direct connection between their ability to walk around, have protests, vote how they want--and the military," says George Flowers, a Marine second lieutenant based at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. People don't, in fact, see the connection between the presence of a strong military and their right to disparage it.

A Corps Apart

Given that people in the military seem to have both bigger muscles and stronger moral fiber than many of us, it's no wonder that increasingly they exude disdain for nonservers and the mores they live by. Thomas Ricks of The Wall Street Journal provided a classic case study when he followed a group of Marines home from boot camp in 1995: They described their old friends as "losers." The Marines I met concur. When she first came back from boot camp, Tashawna Craig says, civilians suddenly seemed "so stupid, so silly," and most of ale "so undisciplined."

The Marines may be hard-core, but they are not unique. At Howard University, Army ROTC cadets with prior service as enlisted men express distaste and sometimes dismay at the behavior of their college peers, who talk in class, goof off, and party too much. Todd Mielke, a 23-year-old freshman who enlisted at 1% wants his degree so that he can become an officer, but he is palpably uncomfortable with civilian life. Among his pet peeves: the litter. In the army, you damn well pick up after yourself. "We've got really high personal standards," Mielke explains. But on campus, he says, people just throw their trash down.

The truth is that spending time around a group of Marines makes you very aware of your imperfections--from messy hair and tardiness to flabby thighs and white lies--which I suspect is one reason a lot of civilians keep a distance. (One Army officer I interviewed launched into a tirade on the terrible eating habits of civilians: They can't handle a knife and fork, they chew with their mouth open, and so on. I was thankful we were on the phone, and not at lunch.) Such standards of behavior are simply foreign to most civilians.

Which is why, more and more, those drawn to the military lifestyle are themselves the products of military families. Consider Lance Corporal Christina L. Wright, one of the young Marines at the Washington, D.C. barracks. Her stepfather was in the Marines; from the time she was five, he conducted room inspections while she stood at attention. From then on, she says, she knew that she too would be a Marine--as is her older brother; as, she expects, her two younger brothers will be. She doesn't like the city, doesn't trust most of the civilians around her, and will always be far more comfortable with the Corps. The 18-year-old's goal is to become the Marine Corps' first female sergeant major (the highest ranking noncommissioned officer).

Indeed, more of those joining the armed forces are also making a career of it, and the combination of these trends is troubling. We have inadvertently developed a professional military caste. "I'm concerned we're losing touch with the society we're supposed to serve," Joe Boyer says. Thomas Ricks wrote earlier this year that "It now appears not only possible but likely that the US military over the next 20 years will revert to a kind of garrison status, largely self-contained and increasingly distinct as a separate society and subculture."

Reversing this trend requires understanding how the last 30 years brought us to this point As society was shifting radically away from military values such as patriotism, and towards individualism and anti-authoritarianism, the proportion of that society serving in the military dwindled to a tiny minority. And most conspicuous in the nonserving majority, of course, were society's decision makers and opinion shapers.

High Class Dodgers

In his autobiography A God Life, Ben Bradlee recalls chomping at the bit to escape Harvard to go fight in World War II. Three decades later, another Harvard student and future journalist,James Fallows, was starving himself to avoid the draft, an experience he recounted in a 1975 Monthly story. Bradlee's enthusiasm was widespread among his classmates; so was Fallows's recalcitrance.

What happened? Well, Vietnam, most cataclysmically. Until approximately 1963, military service was a rite of passage for many young men, including those either born to the upper classes (Kennedys) or destined for the upper ranks of the meritocracy (Elvis Presley). It was fairly rare to find a government leader--or sports star, or movie star, or journalist, or businessman--who had not experienced military service. It was the moral thing to do, and a generational bond. Two-thirds of Charles Moskos's Princeton class of 1956 went into the military after graduation. Among the Princeton graduates drafted or enlisting around then Neil Rudenstine, now Harvard's president; The New York Times's R.W. Apple; sociologist William Julius Wilson.

But as the Vietnam war machine geared up, leaders began opening loopholes, notably educational deferments, that told the rich and educated they were exempt from the obligation to serve. As the war's ignoble character became apparent, the well-educated and well-off rationalized evasion as moral, and service as stupid or wrong. Meanwhile, those without the education or know-how for escape, or those who believed it was their duty, went to Vietnam. The result was the politicization of military service, and indeed of patriotism You were "with" America, or against it, in the military or opposed to it--and most young elites were opposed.

By 1973, when we officially instituted an all-volunteer force, the notion that not serving was the moral thing to do had been cemented. The system now reflected that Instead of selecting soldiers from the population as a whole, we would purchase a proportion of our youth on the labor market. That, naturally, changed even more who served--and who didn't. No longer would the children--or youthful versions of--Fortune 500 executives, Ivy League professors, senators and congressmen, and journalists have to evade service; they could simply ignore it, and they did. The military became middle- or working-class, or just plain poor. And so only a minority of the generation now assuming power in government, media, academia, and business has served--a circumstance that will become more dramatic as World War II and Korean War veterans retire or expire.

One sign that the privileged feel no obligation to serve is in the numbers signing up from Ivy League schools and similar institutions. In the Princeton class of 1995, for example, 13 graduates went into the military. It's not entirely surprising: The military doesn't bother recruiting at many elite universities, and campus culture militates toward Wall Street, law school and consulting, where the milieu is familiar and the pay bountiful. The few who are interested in public service opt for programs like Teach for America or the Peace Corps. Nor do campuses offer many role models of military service, because few professors are veterans. Moskos, for example, is the only one in his department.

Indeed, it is professors who have often led the charge against one of the few conduits for elites into the military: ROTC programs, which once drew significant numbers into the armed services. During and after Vietnam, many prestigious private colleges phased ROTC out in the face of student opposition. In the 1970s and 1980s, ROTC made something of a comeback. But then came the fight over gays in the military, and once again, ROTC programs became political sacrificial lambs. (Some campuses also barred military recruiters.) In 1991, 62 ROTC programs were closed. That certainly wasn't all due to the controversy over gays in the military (as tuition has risen, the number of scholarships the military can pay for has fallen) but some of it was. And this time, the opposition was led by professors--the same generation who had been students voicing similar opposition during Vietnam. Where ROTC survived, as at Princeton and Dartmouth, it was largely because students resisted professors' opposition to the program.

Expelling ROTC programs from elite campuses may send a message, but it also has costs. For many students, the loss of ROTC is a lost opportunity--an ROTC scholarship at a "Tier-1 Alpha" (i.e., expensive) school like Princeton can pay up to $20,000 annually. Ivy League campuses also have been a wellspring for more liberal-minded officers over the past few decades. The military is an inherently conservative institution, made more so by the end of conscription, which essentially meant the end of white liberals in the army. By bringing in students from diverse campuses, ROTC helped mitigate that homogeneity. "A lot of people in the military don't want Harvard grads," says Air Force Colonel Charles J. Dunlap. "They want people from conservative schools in the Bible belt. They don't want an insider with a different outlook--and that's very bad for a military in a democracy."

If elite service benefits the military, military service also benefits the elite, or at least broadens their horizons, by doing what public schools once did: integrate people of different socioeconomic backgrounds. "You learn arrogance in the Ivy League," says a former Army lieutenant who graduated from Princeton and is now a Harvard graduate student. "You learn humility in the army, because some guy from a college you've never heard of knows a lot more than you do." He describes working with young enlisted men from backwater high schools in Louisiana and being profoundly impressed by their motivation and intelligence. When he told them so, many said he was the first person who had ever told them they were smart.

That few similarly privileged youth share that experience is troubling, because they often grow up to be powerful adult leaders. Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service trains the elite of the foreign policy establishment, and it would seem logical that students have some interest in the military as a key foreign policy tool. Not so, as Richard G. Miles, a US. Army Reserve captain, found when he enrolled at the school. "The sum total of [my classmates] knowledge about military matters--ranging from tactics to tanks--came from movies and magazine articles," he wrote in Newsweek. The Princeton-educated former Army lieutenant says he joined the military partly because he was interested in a career in politics or diplomacy. "I thought it would be inappropriate to strive for a position where I would be directing the military without having been directed myself." That is an uncommon perspective among aspiring political leaders these days.

Close to 60 percent of men in the Senate are veterans, but only 36 percent of the House (and a fifth of the freshman class). Only 20 percent of Senate-confirmed Clinton appointees are veterans, and only 4 percent of the White House staff (a fact that understandably has aroused the ire of vets who wonder why the administration looks like America in every category except military service). And consider the roster of possible presidential candidates who avoided active military service: Clinton, Gramm, Quayle, Cheney, Forbes, Kemp, Gingrich. Says one Army officer: "If Clinton tells an 18-year-old to go fight, he expects him to go whether or not he thinks it's a good idea. Yet he didn't think Vietnam was a good idea, he didn't want to serve, and he didn't. I'm not saying he didn't make a morally responsible choice. But given what he does [command the armed forces] ... it's a problematic choice." The same applies to all those with similar pasts who want his job. And it explains why Dole keeps running on his war record: He knows it resonates with the generation for whom service was a moral obligation.

Civilian leaders not serving isn't just morally, but also pragmatically, problematic. For a civilian to command the military, he must have the military's respect. To earn the military's respect, he must understand military culture. Fewer and fewer civilian leaders do. Thus, the Clinton administration has been marked by a litany of real and perceived slights and faux pas. Officers mutter about how Clinton salutes sloppily, with a shame-faced demeanor. They have not forgotten the White House staffer who allegedly told Gen. Barry McCaffrey, "I don't talk to people in the military." They have not forgiven the administration for making gays in the military its number-one priority. They ridicule Clinton's attempt (under the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act of 1940) to use the president's role as commander-in-chief to delay Paula Jones's suit. Clinton managed to reopen old wounds when he said he felt "vindicated" in his avoidance of military service by Robert McNamara's concession that Vietnam was a mistake. And the perception that Clinton is morally challenged doesn't help his credibility in the socially conservative armed forces.

It is obviously important to have some leaders in government who haven't served, who have a skeptical attitude toward, not a vested interest in, the military. But it is crucial as well to have people in the White House and Congress who understand the institution,who know what questions to ask, as Dwight Eisenhower did, and who have the credibility to get answers. That's all the more true because at least some of the leaders who avoided service sometimes seem less skeptical about the military than guilt-ridden about their own past. "Thirty years later, now elected to positions of prominence, those who evaded service now buckle and fawn to demonstrate the depth of their regard for men in uniform," writes Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor at Johns Hopkins's School of Advanced International Studies.

Thus we have Bill Clinton, who somehow manages simultaneously to piss off and kiss up to the military. Eager to curry the military's approval, or fearful of incurring its wrath, Clinton has shied away from responsibly downsizing the military-industrial complex. Instead, there's hairy-chest beating, as the administration boasts about the size of its defense budget which, of course, has less to do with military readiness than making smart decisions about how to spend the money). And, as The Wall Street Journal recently noted, Clinton just can't say no to Veterans Affairs Secretary (and war hero) Jesse Brown, whose budget keeps increasing even as his department's hospital system is vastly underutilized.

What matters even more is whether leaders have children or relatives who are serving, or know people who do. There is no authoritative count of how many of the children of congressmen or administration officials have served, but by all accounts it's a tiny percentage. "Ask any group of male community leaders over age fifty how many served in the military," former Navy secretary John Lehman has written, "and eight of ten hands will rise; ask how many have children who have served and it will rarely be one or more."

Yet many of these leaders are deciding to send the military into risky situations, particularly in the post-Cold War era, when "military operations other than war" have become commonplace. Where our national interest is not at stake, but our "values"--a much broader rubric--are, will we sacrifice American lives? That's never easy, but it is slightly easier if you are sending abstract "brave men and women in uniform" rather than Bobby Jones from your hometown. Easier, too, when the bodies come back. Consider that of 220 Marines killed in the 1983 Beirut bombing, 78 were Catholic and 64 were Baptist, the denominations most common to the working class. There were two Episcopalians, two Presbyterians, and no Jews. Of the 19 Americans recently killed in the Saudi Arabian bombing, 10 were Roman Catholics, and five Baptists.

The same standard, of course, ought to apply to journalists who are exhorting the president to send troops for a peacekeeping or humanitarian operation. Yet many journalists expressing such opinions also have nothing--or no one--at stake. Many of those covering the operations also have no military experience. That doesn't make good coverage prohibitive, but it makes it harder. During the Gulf War, for example, reporters stuck to what they knew: They based themselves in five star hotels in Dhahran, and reported--literally--from poolside (although they didn't tell their viewers that). They allowed themselves to be herded around by a Pentagon whose assertions went unchallenged. k took a week, for example, for the press corps to wake up to the fact that the Pentagon's boast about an 80 percent success rate in air missions in the Gulf was based on "arriving at the target and delivering the ordnance," not whether the ordnance actually hit the target.

Off-base notions about the military don't just surface in nonfiction. The intellectuals who shape popular culture and public perceptions no longer do military service either. Herman Wouk, James Jones, Irwin Shaw, Norman Mailer wrote, and imagined, great novels about war and the army from experience. Most of today's novelists aren't serving--and neither are producers, screenwriters, or directors, which is why so many of today's miliary characters are caricatures. (Two recent movies, The Rock and Broken Arrow, both feature mad vets holding cities hostage.)

No wonder so many of us are so ignorant about today's military--and so many elites so dismissive of it. "Working-class folks respect the military because they constitute most of it," says Ralph Peters, who now works in the Office of Drug Policy. "But when I meet academics, or people in government or the private sector, they're absolutely astonished that I'm in the military and can also speak in complete sentences."

Peters not only can speak in complete sentences; he's actually quite brilliant. He is a Russia specialist--fluent in the language, conversant in the literature, authoritative on policy and culture. He has an M A. and four years of education beyond that. He is writing his seventh novel. Believe it or not, "military intellectual" is not an oxymoron.

The irony is that even as we fail to recognize the brains in the military, we imbue it with all sorts of other superhuman qualities, romanticizing what we don't really understand. The national hysteria over Colin Powell was akin to the second coming of Christ; somehow, we projected his ability to lick Saddam Hussein onto bad schools, drugs, the economy. Clinton boasted during the first presidential debate that he had "appointed a four-star general as drug czar...the most heavily decorated soldier in uniform when he retired," as if the correlation between a successful military career and the ability to deter drug use is perfectly clear.

This rosy, hazy view of the competent modern military encourages civilians to expand the military's purview into peacekeeping, drug interdiction, humanitarian intervention, riot control, disaster relief, even chauffeuring Olympic athletes, an inclination compounded by the fact that we now have a 15 million person military with no Cold War and no clear mission. A belief in the omnipotent military sends more soldiers into harm's way; it also gives a potentially dangerous level of political power to the military.

The combination of a powerful and self-righteous military and a naive and guilt-ridden civilian leadership isn't a good one. A military is crucial to a democracy but is not itself democratic, and we don't want a society in its image. What we want are civilians who understand and respect what the military is and what it does, and who share the burden of public service it increasingly shoulders alone.

Universal Service

John Keegan's masterpiece of military history, The Face of Battle, contains a striking scene from the battle of Waterloo. The British are defending a chateau against a fierce French onslaught when a British officer, Captain Wyndham, spots a French Grenadier clambering over the gate. Wyndham has a weapon in his hand, but rather than shooting the interloper himself, according to an eyewitness report, he "instantly desired Sergeant Graham, whose musket he was holding while the latter was bringing forward another piece of timber, to drop the wood, take his firelock and shoot the intruder." The blood would be on the sergeant's hands, which was exactly Keegan's point: The officer class had begun to find killing in battle distasteful and therefore were delegating the dirty work.

Waterloo is now battlefield lore, but this story has its modern permutations. Who gives the order to kill, and who executes it, isn't just a wartime dilemma. Any democratic society that wants to ensure its preservation grapples with the same decision--or ought to--on a daily basis, especially when the military is under civilian command. I'm certainly not in a position to condemn those who haven't served in the military; I didn't rush off to a recruiting office after college. But I think if we are going to ask others to do what we ourselves are unwilling to, we should consider the implications of an all-volunteer military. It's harder to do that when the military is an isolated abstraction.

The obvious solution, one this magazine has long advocated, is to resurrect the draft. That remains a noble ideal, but an increasingly impractical one. The military today is much too small to sustain the numbers universal conscription would churn up. Much of its operation also requires a technological sophistication that draftees would have difficulty acquiring in a year or two; there is less of a place for conscripts in an increasingly professionalized military. A draft, remember, might not just draw in the elite; it could also pressure the military to accept those it now prides itself on weeding out.

So how do we stem the growing alienation between civilians, especially elite civilians, and soldiers, and recover the class mixing, character building, and community sustenance that democratically distributed military service once provided? Various educational measures could improve civil-military relations: Require military officers to go to civilian graduate schools and civilian decision makers to spend time at military academies; preserve or restore ROTC on campuses, both to provide access to the military and because its mere presence can educate students about military affairs; and have undergraduates study military history and culture.

But we need to take more dramatic steps, especially as military service becomes less a calling than a ticket. Recruiters now rely more on appeals to bread-and-butter needs and aspirations than to patriotism and public service. "Are you in the market for skill training, a guaranteed salary, and money for college?" the phone message at one Army recruiting office asks. These are certainly valid reasons for joining the military, and pay and benefits need to be generous enough to lure good people and recognize the service they perform. But the danger is that gradually the civilian ethos of serving yourself will overwhelm the military ethos of serving the country, that young people anxious to compete with their peers and surpass their parents will shun the less lucrative returns military service provides.

Reversing this trend ultimately may have nothing to do with getting more people to serve in the military--and everything to do with getting more people to serve, period. The fact is, a tiny proportion of college graduates go into the Peace Corps or Teach for America. Most go to work for themselves--a fact those in the military, or considering the military, can't help but notice. People are simply out of the habit of serving.

As a remedy, Moskos and Butler propose national community service for young people. But since we can't afford a national service program for all young Americans, the best compromise may be a national service lottery: If your number comes up, you can do military service (if you meet the military's standards); or, as in Germany, you can opt for civilian service. Those going into the military will, of course, be putting more on the line; their compensation should reflect that.

Such a program could draw a wider pool of people into the armed services, including at least a few more children of the powerful and privileged. A lottery would also provide the military with more short-termers and fewer lifers, which would mean a healthy injection of skepticism and self-criticism by those whose careers wouldn't be on the line. For those serving, it could renew a national sense of obligation, an understanding that rights require sacrifice. It would impose discipline on its participants and demand responsibility. And it would throw together young Americans of every stripe.

National service is, of course, popular among neoliberals, but what surprised me was how many military people I talked to proposed it--indeed were passionate about it. This is, in part, because it would make those who volunteer for military service feel less alone in shouldering the burdens of citizenship. But it is also because they believe in duty, honor, and country--and understand that paying tribute to those words has little to do with wearing a uniform.


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Author:Waldman, Amy
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Nov 1, 1996
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