August 19, 2005

What's In A Label

One of the far left's problems is that, for all their "I support the troops!" rhetoric, many of them really don't like military people all that much.

Having a meeting of the minds between, say, a Marine NCO and an alpaca-clad, Volvo-driving, "Don't Park The Bus"-sticker-displaying, fashionably-austere, prematurely-gray Highland Park matron is a bit like putting a Bishop and a committed Satanist in the same room; they share little beyond a language; "common ground" will likely be very elusive.

Oh, they try to put a patriotic face on their discomfort; "Support the Troops: Bring Them Home", say the bumper stickers, leaving aside the fact that the troops seem to want to accomplish the mission for which so many of them died. Worse, they'll try to use the military as a club to whack people over the head; leftybloggers cavil about the "101st Fighting Keyboardists" and challenge College Republicans to join the military (even as, I suspect, they already do, in proportion far above the national average and, one suspects, miles above the average for leftybloggers), as if military service is the stakes in an obscene bar bet.

But underneath it all is contempt.

When widespread shortfalls made news earlier this year, comedian Bill Maher used the occasion to reinforce the stereotype that America scrapes its military from the bottom of the population barrel.

Quota-missing Army recruiters had, Mr. Maher quipped, "done picked all the low-lying Lyndie England fruit. And now we need warm bodies."

Ms. England, of course, is accused of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. And Mr. Maher isn't the first person to suggest that the U.S. military is mainly a refuge for the depraved or desperate. In a May 2003 graduation speech at Rockford College, New York Times reporter Chris Hedges said the nation's fighting forces are made up mostly of "poor kids from Mississippi or Alabama or Texas who could not get a decent job or health insurance and joined the Army because it was all we offered them."

There you have it - the military is the choice of last resort for people too poor or dumb for the "real world".

Bogus? Sure.

I also have a problem with the alternative.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist - or a has-been comic working as a hack talk show host - to know that the left's stereotype of the military is grossly deflated. The volunteer military, especially today, draws all types:

Ross Williams would like to see it, too, which is why the Princeton senior chose the Marine Corps, a ground force, instead of a more high-tech but remote branch like the Air Force or the Navy. "It's more personal. You interact more with the culture you're protecting," Ross said. "I didn't want to go into the service looking for a spot where I'd feel more comfortable. I wanted to choose the spot I'll get most out of."

If his resumé is any indication, Ross, 21, will give as much as he gets. At his high school in Oyster Bay, N.Y.—a small town he describes as "close enough to New York City that you could smell September 11"—he served as student body president and graduated third in his class with a 4.0 GPA. He also earned all-state honors in vocal competition and made the all-county team as a long-distance runner.

Now a Princeton political science major who rows for his school's nationally ranked crew team, Ross had originally been accepted to West Point. "But I was told by a couple of cadets that if I wanted any sort of academic college life, I should go to a different school."

God bless Ross Williams.

But I worry when I see that the conservative media needs to toss up Ivy Leaguers to validate the military. It's a trap that Hugh Hewitt, among many others, falls into - imputing value based on credentials. Assuming that a Princeton kid joining the Marines out of a sense of duty is any more remarkable than a high school graduate from the Oklahoma Panhandle joining the Army to get the hell out of the Panhandle, or a kid from Compton joining the Air Force to learn a trade.

Refuting Bill Maher isn't a matter of throwing grade point averages against the wall to see whose is better. It's a matter of showing him that despite a full-court media press focused on doom and wishing to spin defeat from whole cloth, kids not only join the military, but their older brothers and sisters are re-enlisting at very high rates.

Leaving Napoleon, South Dakota is no less noble than leaving Yale. It's all service.

Posted by Mitch at August 19, 2005 06:21 PM | TrackBack

I support public schoolteachers. I really, really do. The public schools are a mess, and, to be honest, most of the kids would be better off if they had never gone near a public school, but nevertheless I think public schoolteachers have made valiant sacrifices in trying and failing to educate children. It isn't their fault that these efforts are misguided and, to be honest, are a waste of time, effort and money. And yes, it would really be for the best if the mission of the public schools was reduced or if the public schools were disbanded altogether. But I support our public school teachers 110 percent!

Posted by: Terry at August 19, 2005 06:39 PM


I wish my son (who will be in Iraq in March, and who did quite well in school, thank you) was close enough to Maher to whack him upside the head.

Posted by: Psycmeistr at August 19, 2005 08:57 PM
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