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Patriotism Lite, Still Less Fulfilling

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SSgt Jason Rivera is a Marine recruiter in Pittsburgh. Thought he had a hot prospect. A high school student was interested in joining the Corps. So SSgt Rivera went over to the kid’s house.

It was a large home in a well-to-do part of the city. And things looked promising. American flags fluttered around the yard in support of the troops. The kid’s mom was wearing an American flag t-shirt when she met the Marine. And she declared, “I support you.”

But the flags and lip service were all the support mom wanted to give. She stopped the Marine dead in his tracks when he said he was there to talk about recruiting her son.

“Military service isn’t for our son. It isn’t for our kind of people.” –Unidentified Suburban Mother, quoted in the Post-Gazette

Military sociologists are calling this sort of thing “patriotism lite.” It’s part of a disconnect in which civilians see the military as a different class, that civilians shouldn’t have to sacrifice for a war effort, and that service members are paid to do a job — so do it and don’t complain.

Obviously, this doesn’t go down well with service members.

Terry Neal of the Washington Post takes up the issue of the affluent and military service. He looks at exit polls and finds that the affluent were the most likely to support President Bush in the last election.

Mr. Neal also finds that the affluent are the least likely to enlist.

He cites a couple of researchers. Robert Cushing — a retired professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin — tracked American deaths in Iraq by where they came from in the US. He found a disproportionate number of the war dead were whites from small, poor, rural areas.

But it isn’t the very poor who are sacrificing. They’re also left out.

David R. Segal — director of the Center for Research on Military Organizations at the University of Maryland — studied that trend before the Iraq War. He found that the very poor are excluded from military service because of criminal records or insufficient education.

Meanwhile, recruiters have relied on incentives, cash, training, and education to lure new recruits. Kids from more affluent families don’t need those things and are less likely to join.

And Army records themselves bear out both observations. They find that the affluent and very poor are under-represented in the Army. Crossposted at Watching Washington

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About Terry Turner

  • SFC Ski

    “Obviously, this doesn’t go down well with service members.”

    It probably does bother military recruiters, but rest of us just want those who wish to enlist to go ahead and enlist, and those who don’t wish to to do whatever it is they wish to do and let us go on with the mission.

    When it comes down to it, either parents will recognize 18 year olds as adults and allow them to make their own decisions after advising them, or not.

  • MCH

    That wasn’t Bobby (RJ) Elliott’s mother, was it?

  • Interesting story considering the actual statistics on the economic strata from which recruits are actually drawn, which don’t quite agree with what you’re saying here.

    You might want to check out this document which shows that although the total number of recruits declines as family wealth goes up, the percentage actually goes up because of those higher economic groups being smaller. So the per-capita recruitment in middle and upper middle income groups is actually higher than in most other groups. It also points out interesting facts like that recruitment is very, very low among both the very rich and the very poor, and that anglos are represented in disproportionatly large numbers in the armed forces.

    That said, the bulk of recruits seem to come from the middle and lower middle class, and joining the military is clearly seen as an alternative to college as a way of advancing education and future employment prospects. What I’d like to know is why anyone thinks there’s something wrong with using the military as a stepping stone to a better future career?


  • Mark the Sane and Sensible

    that’s easy, Dave. This country has been suffering from a sickness since the 1960s. Military honor, pride in the military, and respect for country and authority has all been threatened by cynicism and a sharp moral decline. Blame the 60s counterculture for it. They tried to ruin this nation for the rest of us who love it proudly and the institutions that made it great.

  • Yes, I’ve got that part, Mike. I understand the negative impression among the ignorant leftover fromt he 60s, but what I don’t entirely get are those people who think that it’s a bad thing for the military to offer opportunities for the underpriveleged to gain education, character and opportunity when it’s from joining the military. Isn’t that kind of advancement what we all want for the poor?


  • Mark the Sane and Sensible

    your are correct, dave, the military is all that, yet when the leftists view the military, it has no redeeming value, despite its fine educational programs for men and women who might not otherwise get he chance in civilian life. Plus, one receives a lifetime of free medical care if they put in enough years and get a decent pension to boot. The left knows this but won’t acknowledge it.

    Of course, this all plays into the popular theory that leftists are sufferers of a mental disorder.

  • As a business owner I appreciate the military making available a pool of potential employees who are disciplined, reliable and trustworthy. As the head of a department at a state agency my wife has also expressed appreciation that the military provides technically trained minority workers so she can meet affirmative action quotas.

    It’s a win-win situation as I see it.


  • We won’t be seeing the Bush twins, the Kerry daughters, Chelsea Clinton, or Trump’s kids rushing into a recruiting station any time soon. The current situation is never going to change if things stay as they are.

    That’s why Charlie Rangel (Congressman here in NYC) is pushing for a draft so ALL people are affected by war. That might change a few things up on the Hill and in the White House.

  • Rangel’s draft bill was just a stunt to try to make it look like Bush’s war had made a draft necessary. When it came up for a vote even Rangel didn’t vote for the bill.

    If we did get a draft it would certainly put an end to the Neocon’s dreams of empire building. With a draft all of the libertarian republicans would turn against any military intervention as well, and that would bury any possibility of future wars.

    But we’re never going to have a draft again, so the point is moot.


  • One of the points I’ve been trying to put forward in this series of posts (this is the third I’ve done on this topic) is the growing problem of a disconnect between civilians and the military.

    I see that as a real problem that could eventually threaten the all volunteer force we’ve relied on since the end of the Vietnam War.

    A volunteer force appears to work well in war if the wars are quick and decisive — or if peacekeeping missions are relatively non-threatening.

    The US military has been one of offensive movement since US Grant in the Civil War. We’ve always had problems if we force troops trained in that idea to hold ground defensively. They don’t like it and aren’t trained for what is basically a European approach to warfare.

    That sort of thing leads to recruiting and retention problems as we’ve seen in the post-invasion phase of Iraq.

    That’s further complicated by the lack of “real” support from civilians. Dave appears to be an exception — providing something concrete to veterans — a job.

    But it’s the lip service patriotism that’s beginning to grate on vet’s nerves. Not most of those serving or returning — but the Pentagon’s noticed the number of those troops complaining is rising. Just some. But last year it was none. That’s a problem that has to be addressed before the number of troops complaining reaches, say, half.