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  1. #1
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    Default New Army of the Unemployed

    New Army of the Unemployed

    Proponents of the all volunteer military need to open up their wallets

    by Jane Burns


    Last week, as the House and Senate voted on non-binding resolutions opposing the sending of more troops to Iraq, many politicians felt obliged to express their support for the troops already there. That was nice, but if they really mean it, they should give the troops a pay hike and boost their educational benefits. Money says “I love you.” And while there are many reasons why young men and women volunteer to risk death or dismemberment on the battlefield, money, dare we say, may be chief among them.

    It is necessary to watch one’s language in such discussions. William Arkin, who writes an on-line military affairs column for The Washington Post, demonstrated that recently when he used the word “mercenary” in a post critical of active troops who told an NBC news crew they expected Americans to support the war: just supporting them wasn’t enough. “But it is the United States, and the recent NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary—oops, sorry, volunteer—force that thinks it is doing the dirty work,” he wrote. After thousands of emails poured in, many hateful and ugly as only anonymous on-line comments can be, some listing Washington Post advertisers to be boycotted, the Post’s ombudsman wrote a column distancing her paper from Arkin, who disingenuously apologized: “Mercenary, of course, is an insult and pejorative, and it does not accurately describe the condition of the American soldier today. I sincerely apologize to anyone in the military who took my words literally.”

    Explaining that he had used the “M” word to purposely inflame, surely Arkin recalled the infamous exchange between General William Westmoreland and economist Milton Friedman, who successfully championed the volunteer army. Testifying before President Richard Nixon's Commission on an All-Volunteer Force, Westmoreland supported the draft, saying he did not want to command "an army of mercenaries." Friedman, a member of the 15-person commission, easily got the best of the general: "I don't like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries. If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general. We are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher."

    We are allowed a mixture of motives in choosing how we earn, but to do something just for the money, unless we are desperate or work in financial services, is venal. And yet frank examinations of what it takes today to muster a voluntary military to fight the war on terrorism do not flinch from the primacy of money. Timed to Veterans Day last November, the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute—funded by the Annie E. Casey, Ford and W.K. Kellogg foundations to study rural families and communities—issued a report (pdf) finding that in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers from rural areas are dying at higher rates than those from big cities and suburbs because enlistment rates are higher in rural areas. And that, in turn, authors William O’Hare and Bill Bishop found, is because of fewer “good job” opportunities in rural America. “Industries that have traditionally sustained rural people and places—farming, timber, mining, fishing and manufacturing—are employing fewer workers than they have in the past,” they wrote. “Communities distant from urban areas and with few scenic amenities are struggling with low incomes, a low skill labor force, limited access to services, and weak infrastructure.” Enlistment in the Armed Forces, they concluded, “can provide rural youth with a path to greater future opportunities that includes gaining new skills and learning about other places and cultures.” They’re far from describing rural enlistees as “mercenary,” but the picture of economic opportunities (“new skills”), otherwise not available or affordable, is clear.

    While rural youths may look to the military for job skills and training, those on the college track may be attracted by the promise of lightened loan burdens. In an article entitled “Saving the All-Volunteer Force,” published in the May-June 2005 issue of Military Review, Dr. Charles C. Moskos—a former draftee and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Northwestern University, a designated Honored Patriot by the Selective Service System and recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, the Army’s highest civilian decoration—promoted the concept of short tours of active duty with money for school. “A definite, albeit limited, market exists of college graduates who might volunteer for military service if the active-duty commitment is only 15 months and comes with generous educational benefits,” Moskos wrote. In an Oct. 2004 survey of Northwestern students, he reported, 11 percent said serving as prison guards in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo would be a “very likely option” if their student loans were forgiven and they received G.I. Bill benefits for graduate school. (Italics mine.) Moskos had done his homework: “The average college graduate today leaves with about $19,000 in debt,” he wrote. “Forty percent of college graduates state they intend to go on to some form of graduate study. A higher percentage of youth now go on to graduate school than went to undergraduate schools during the post-World War II years of the original G.I. Bill. The average debt of a student who attends graduate school is $38,000.”

    This did not sound like the Charles Moskos who, shortly after 9/11, co-authored an article entitled “Now Do You Believe We Need a Draft?” in the November 2001 edition of The Washington Monthly magazine. “It's a shame that it has taken terrorist attacks to awaken us to the reality of our shared national fate,” he and Paul Glastris, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, wrote. “We should use this moment to rebuild institutions like the draft that will keep us awake to this reality even as the memory of the attacks fades,” they rhapsodized.

    Yes, there were moments after 9/11 when we did briefly believe in a “shared national fate.” But when the Federal Reserve chopped interest rates, real estate became the shared national pastime. Now, as the housing bubble deflates and threatens the entire economy, for many the debt burden is so high, the tight-rope of our access to affordable health care so perilous, the cost of post-high school education relative to family income and savings so great, that if we are not in it for the money, we risk perishing. So why shouldn’t we have troops in it for the money? Let the training programs and the educational benefits be more generous and real, not misrepresented in the jargon and small print of today’s recruitment programs and enlistment agreements. Don’t call it a mercenary armed forces. But when our shared national fate has been monetized, we are all in it for the money.

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    Last edited by FRED; 02-26-07 at 10:25 PM.
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  2. #2
    ASH's Avatar
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    Default Re: New Army of the Unemployed

    I am an unusual member of the American military. In the civilian world, I work at a high-tech startup company as a designer of semiconductor optoelectronic devices (chiefly sensitive photodetectors) and as a project manager; I have a BS in chemistry from Caltech and a Ph.D. in materials from UCSB. As a Marine reservist, I am a lance corporal (an enlisted rank near the bottom). I shipped to boot camp about ten days after completing my Ph.D. in June of 2003, at the age of 28. Since then I have had plenty of training (I have called in fire from a destroyer at a target range on San Clemente Island, and I have 8 static line jumps under my belt), but I have never been activated for service overseas. I will drop to the individual ready reserve in June.

    I recognize that anecdotal evidence concerning my own motivations cannot be very illuminating about the state of the military in general. However, I do offer this observation, which may be broadly applicable: in addition to an economic difference between urban and rural areas of the country, THERE IS A CULTURAL DIFFERENCE. I grew up in the sticks -- Pleasant Hill, Oregon is essentially a wide spot in one of the highways that runs up into the Cascade mountains from the interstate. In my youth, many of the families in the area worked in the timber industry. I live a relatively cosmopolitan life now, but I grew up rural. From my experience, I can tell you that rural culture tends to be a bit more patriotic -- and a bit less cynical -- than urban culture. (I make no statement here about whether or not some level of cynicism about our leaders is justified -- only that I think cynicism is lower in rural areas.)

    I don't deny that economic motivations influence some of my comrades in my reserve unit, but I should also note that many are motivated by thirst for adventure, patriotic enthusiasm, and a desire to do something that their society will applaud. This mindset, I think, may partly be learned in rural culture. I also think this is why I have managed to serve almost four years in the Marine Corps Reserve without being sent to Iraq. During this time I have served in two reserve units, from which roughly six separate deployments have been sent to Iraq. In every case, the deployments were smaller than the total unit, and they took volunteers first. My own attitude has been that you only have to volunteer once to join the Marine Corps -- after that, you'll be volun-told if they need you. Consequently, I haven't been one of those motivated devil-dogs raising his hand when they're looking for Marines to send on a deployment to Iraq. So far, in every case, there were enough volunteers that they didn't have to volun-tell anyone. Many of my buddies have raised their hand, and I have been privy to some of their motivations. I'd say the breakdown is that about 30% of them mention educational benefits and combat pay, and about 70% of them mention intangibles.


    Best regards,
    LCpl Huntington, Ph.D.
    Last edited by ASH; 02-26-07 at 02:54 PM.

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    Default Re: New Army of the Unemployed

    Lance Corporal,

    If you are a Marine, for whatever your reasons, I respect you, and if I were ever in a "tight" I'd want no one else but a Marine trying to bail me out, if that were a choice.

    I appreciate the insight of a well-educated Marine, thanks for the time to post it, and thanks for being a Marine.
    Last edited by Jim Nickerson; 02-26-07 at 05:24 PM.
    Jim 69 y/o

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    Default Re: New Army of the Unemployed

    Jim: Thank you for your kind words. As I noted, I cannot claim any special laurels for my service, as I have never been activated for deployment. The only service I have rendered to my country has been being willing and ready to deploy... a smaller sacrifice than most who wear the uniform. But, for what little I have done, you are most welcome.

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    metalman is offline iTulip Select Premium Member, Chief Cynic
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    Default Re: New Army of the Unemployed

    bump...........

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    Default Re: New Army of the Unemployed

    ASH,

    I applaud your patriotism, but the husband of my wife's close friend is an ex-Marine - embassy guard - who met his wife in Korea (He is Korean-American, she was going to school there)

    After exiting the Marine Corps, he then went on to serve several terms in Iraq but making 6 figures.

    For several years my wife and I have speculated as to what he was doing, it was only after his injury (likely due to an IED) that his service with Blackwater became clear.

    So clearly patriotism isn't the only motivation for our troops.
    Last edited by c1ue; 06-14-09 at 11:28 AM.

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    Default Re: New Army of the Unemployed

    I don't applaud anyone's patriotism. There is very little fighting "for our country" and a lot of American imperialism and murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Don't see much patriotic in that. Those who refuse to take part in the American military mis-adventures I think have the better story.

    Jane, that is a great article. Let's raise the pay for soldiers, and fire most of them so they can pursue a business or trade outside of killing innocents overseas.

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    Default Re: New Army of the Unemployed

    Quote Originally Posted by grapejelly View Post
    I don't applaud anyone's patriotism. There is very little fighting "for our country" and a lot of American imperialism and murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Don't see much patriotic in that. Those who refuse to take part in the American military mis-adventures I think have the better story.

    Jane, that is a great article. Let's raise the pay for soldiers, and fire most of them so they can pursue a business or trade outside of killing innocents overseas.
    The problem that I think most people have is the definition of "innocent". For me, the Iraqi people are no less innocent than I am. If I had an invading country coming in and destroying my entire world around me, in whatever fashion, be it sectarian violence, carpet bombing, etc...you can guarantee that I would be a jihadist in an instant. I would stand up and defend *MY COUNTRY* from foreign invaders at all costs. Most people do not realize that the Iraqis are no different than us and are just as "patriotic" except they are standing up for the sovereignty and sanctity of Iraq, just as many Americans claim to be doing for America.

    Why are we holding them to any different standard than we hold ourselves? Why are they labeled "terrorists" for standing up for their sovereignty when we are labeled "patriotic" for standing up for ours?

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    Default Re: New Army of the Unemployed

    Quote Originally Posted by grapejelly View Post
    I don't applaud anyone's patriotism. There is very little fighting "for our country" and a lot of American imperialism and murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Don't see much patriotic in that. Those who refuse to take part in the American military mis-adventures I think have the better story.

    Jane, that is a great article. Let's raise the pay for soldiers, and fire most of them so they can pursue a business or trade outside of killing innocents overseas.
    I agree, being a conscientious objector in the military is no cake walk either. Not only are you hated by the enemy, but now you're hated by your own team. I had it relatively easy severing my ties with the navy, although it was a difficult time in my life. I can't possibly imagine trying to get out while stationed on the front lines.

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    Default Re: New Army of the Unemployed

    Check out the documentary "The Conscientious Objector" 2004.
    The Conscientious Objector is a documentary which tells the true story of Desmond T. Doss, a World War II hero who never once touched a firearm. Served on the front lines in Okinawa, never handled a weapon and still won a Congressional Medal of Honor. But he sure had a rough time of it up until then. Quite a story he has.

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