Frankly, I don't have any problems with the paradigm pushed by the Left that the U.S. military is made up of kids escaping poverty (although the Left also likes to imply that these kids are stupid enough to be easily duped by the military as part of the escape package*). True poverty -- not the NY Times variety of "I'll have to cut back on some cappucinos" -- is vile. If the military offers an escape, if it offers education and skills, if it offers stability and discipline, that's fantastic.
My father ended up in the military that way. He was well-educated through 16 years at the Jewish school in Berlin, but he was lucky enough to have left Berlin in 1935, when he was 16. He then spent a few years helping found a kibbutz, which was killing labor and very dangerous, both from disease and hostile Arabs. My Dad was a bit of a malcontent, however, so kibbutz life didn't work well for him. He ended up starving on the streets of Tel Aviv. And then war started. The next day, my Dad showed up at the RAF recruitment office in Tel Aviv. As a Jew, he would inevitably have joined anyway to fight the Nazis, but his speed in enlisting was to get food.
My Dad loved the RAF. True, he faced some of the most horrible experiences the war had to offer, at Crete, at El-Alamein, and elsewhere. But what he found was stability, comraderie, adventure, money, food, and useful skills (which he took into the Israeli Army). It was not a dead end job for a dead ender. It was a useful, exciting, important job (with the attendant risk of death) for an intelligent person whose life had hit a dead end.
Of course, all of my ruminations are idle here, because the MSM (no surprise) has it wrong. The American military is anything but a dead end job for dead enders. Instead, it is filled with lots of affluent American men and women who are grateful for the benefits that have flowed to them in this country, and who have the patriotism and bravery to step forward and defend America:
According to a comprehensive study of all enlistees for the years 1998-99 and 2003 that The Heritage Foundation just released, the typical recruit in the all-volunteer force is wealthier, more educated and more rural than the average 18- to 24-year-old citizen is. Indeed, for every two recruits coming from the poorest neighborhoods, there are three recruits coming from the richest neighborhoods.
The modern military also follows the historic trend of having large numbers of recruits from rural areas:
Yes, rural areas and the South produced more soldiers than their percentage of the population would suggest in 2003. Indeed, four rural states - Montana, Alaska, Wyoming and Maine - rank 1-2-3-4 in proportion of their 18-24 populations enlisted in the military. But this isn't news.
Enlistees have always come from rural areas. Yet a new study, reported in The Washington Post earlier this month, suggests that higher enlistment rates in rural counties are new, implying a poorer military. They err by drawing conclusions from a non-random sample of a few counties, a statistically cloaked anecdote. The only accurate way to assess military demographics is to consider all recruits.
If, for example, we consider the education of every recruit, 98% joined with high-school diplomas or better. By comparison, 75% of the general population meets that standard. Among all three-digit ZIP code areas in the USA in 2003 (one can study larger areas by isolating just the first three digits of ZIP codes), not one had a higher graduation rate among civilians than among its recruits.
In fact, since the 9/11 attacks, more volunteers have emerged from the middle and upper classes and fewer from the lowest-income groups. In 1999, both the highest fifth of the nation in income and the lowest fifth were slightly underrepresented among military volunteers. Since 2001, enlistments have increased in the top two-fifths of income levels but have decreased among the lowest fifth.
So I'll say what I've said before: to those in our American military, rich or poor, academically oriented or not, male or female, of whatever race, color, or creed -- Thank you!
*An aside here is the constant theme running through the Left that kids, minorities, poor people, etc., are stupid and need the help of a Leftist government to protect them from the twin evils of capitalism and a conservative government. In connection with military recruitment, I've blogged about this point here