his State of the Union address, President Bush
declared the nation still at war; but that's not
part of the nation is at war -- a slice of America
where patriotism runs deeper than pockets, where
parents don't belong to country clubs and children
don't attend exclusive private schools. The duty
of defending the nation has largely fallen to
the less affluent; the all-volunteer military
is disproportionately drawn from blue-collar homes.
the war on terror were as important as the president
claims -- and the threat of Islamist fanatics
a danger that will confront us for at least a
generation -- you'd think that military service
would have taken on more urgency among Americans
of all income brackets. But it hasn't. There has
been no marked upturn in military recruitment
since the terrorist atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001.
a draft, affluent Americans have felt free to
turn their attention to other matters -- the stock
market, the tax-deductible Range Rover, the children's
chances for admission to an exclusive college.
The deaths of more than 500 American soldiers
in Iraq have stirred little comment among the
chattering classes, whose children are not at
are forgetting," said Charles Moskos, a military
sociologist at Northwestern University. "We're
not losing the sons and daughters of America's
leaders, but basically minorities and working-class
all-volunteer military, unlike the Vietnam-era
draft, doesn't draw from the poorest of the poor,
either. High-tech weaponry demands recruits who
are literate and disciplined. White recruits tend
to come from families with a median income of
$33,500 a year, while black recruits tend to hail
from families with a median income of about $32,000
and the loosening of civic ties have dampened
the sense of duty that might otherwise compel
children of the middle class to join the military.
You rarely see graduates of Harvard, Yale or Emory
signing up for the Marines. They're headed for
Wall Street or law school. Nor is it typical for
children of the affluent to dream of attending
a military academy.
are, of course, exceptions. Midshipman 3rd Class
Mitchell Clement is at the Naval Academy after
graduating from one of Atlanta's trendy private
schools. His father, an architect, is a Vietnam-era
veteran. Midshipman 2nd Class Christina Hayes
is the daughter of former Atlantan Dennis Hayes,
who invented the PC modem.)
have abandoned the "ancient republican tradition
that citizenship entailed a duty to contribute
to the nation's defense," writes Boston University
professor Andrew J. Bacevich, a graduate of the
U.S. Military Academy, in his analysis of U.S.
power, "American Empire."
the high regard that middle-class Americans accorded
to those volunteering for military service was
akin to that which American Catholics felt for
fellow believers who embraced the celibacy of
religious life: a choice worthy of the highest
respect, it was also peculiar to the point of
being unfathomable. For most people, that choice
was one that they preferred to see someone else's
son or daughter make," Bacevich writes.
because other people's sons and daughters were
going off to war, Congress voted overwhelmingly
to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq. Perhaps
for the same reason, Congress now seems unconcerned
about the increasingly clear evidence that the
president made false claims in promoting this
Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, a critic of the Iraq
war strategy, has noted the lack of combat experience
in the White House and among the Defense Department's
were my contemporaries. They should have been
there [Vietnam], and they found a way not to serve,"
Zinni has said. "And where are their kids? Are
their kids serving? My son is in the Marines."
far, patriotism among the affluent classes has
amounted to sticking an American flag decal on
the tax-deductible Hummer. But a continuing war
on terror -- if, indeed, the threat is as grave
as the president says -- will require greater
sacrifices from all Americans. There simply are
not enough blue-collar soldiers to do all the
fighting and dying for the rest of us.
Tucker is the editorial page editor. Her column
appears Sundays and Wednesdays.
Posted: January 27, 2004