Sec. Gates' real worry about who serves
Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered a speech at Duke University last week on the all-volunteer military that shouldn't be overlooked. He's worried there's a widening gap between the armed forces and the nation they are called upon to defend. When there was a draft, those conscripted into service came from all walks of life, every socioeconomic stratum and every region of the country. Today, not so much. And that presents an unsettling reality: most Americans have the unsettling luxury of having no personal connection to the nation's longstanding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many have complained about this. Every year since the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) has introduced a bill to reinstitute the draft because the Korean War vet with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart believes "[t]hose who support the United States going into war would feel more readily the pain that's involved, the sacrifice that's involved, if they thought that the fighting force would include the affluent and those who historically have avoided this great responsibility." MSNBC's Joe Scarborough talks about the disconnect and bemoans the absence of shared sacrifice all the time. And it was Gates' turn to voice his concern at Duke.
"[F]or most Americans the wars remain an abstraction. A distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally," he said. "Even after 9/11, in the absence of a draft, for a growing number of Americans, service in the military, no matter how laudable, has become something for other people to do." Gates noted that studies had shown one of the biggest factors in getting people to join the military was growing up near those who have or are serving. He said this has been most pronounced in the South and Mountain West and in small and rural towns across the country. Compounding the problem is the Pentagon's own basing decisions. Gates pointed out that "a significant percentage of the Army" is now posted "in just five states: Texas, Washington, Georgia, Kentucky, and here in North Carolina."
The Pentagon chief isn't calling for a draft. Gates knows it would be politically impossible (see, Rangel). He also said compulsory service would be "highly impractical given the kinds of technical skills, experience, and attributes needed to be successful on the battlefield in the 21st century." But later he cautioned, "there is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally, and geographically have less and less in common with the people they have sworn to defend."
To mitigate that risk Gates urged more elite universities such as Duke to allow ROTC programs on their campuses and for those students to actually choose service. Many colleges and universities bar the ROTC because of the military's shameful and discriminatory ban on gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces. The wheels are in motion to get rid of "don't ask don't tell." All that's needed is for the Senate to pass the bill that would repeal it. Once that happens, gay people who love this country will finally be able to serve openly and honestly. And Gates will finally get access to more elite institutions and their students so that military service is no longer "something for other people to do."
| October 5, 2010; 6:59 AM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
Save & Share: Previous: Are Michelle Rhee and Vincent Gray playing chicken?
Next: Germany's terror mosque
Posted by: uh_huhh | October 5, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: mightysparrow | October 5, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Fergie303 | October 5, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mfkpadrefan | October 5, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: greg19 | October 5, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: edismae | October 5, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: knjincvc | October 5, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: uh_huhh | October 5, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: texasnative46 | October 7, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse