By JAMES TARANTO
Today’s Video on WSJ.com: James Taranto talks to Ed Crane about the outpouring of reader responses to Charles Rangel’s disparaging comments about the military.
Responding to Rangel–IX
We were left with so many unpublished letters about the U.S. military that we thought we’d take the opportunity of the holiday-shortened Christmas week to publish some more of them. We begin with one from Robert Eleazer, who tells us about a bit of recent history of which we’d been unaware:
I spent 25 years in the U.S. Air Force from 1974 to 1999 (not counting 4 years of ROTC from 1970-74). Although my family could not afford to send me to college without financial aid, and although I did not get a military scholarship, I joined because I wanted to serve my country–and the urgency to do so seemed greater to me at a time when the military was unpopular in some circles.
We need to recall that we would know about the attitudes of some leaders towards the quality of people who serve in the military even if the Vietnam War had never occurred, and if we did not have Kerrys and Rangles to remind us.
Robert Strange McNamara’s attitude toward the U.S. military was well illustrated by an experiment he imposed on the armed services in the 1960s. Project 100,000 was a plan to place 100,000 retarded people and other mental cases in the military. Presumably, McNamara thought that these people had mental abilities compatible with military service.
Some of the senior officers I served under had the misfortune of having to deal with McNamara’s experiment. A decade later they still shook their heads in dismay.
This sounded too crazy to be true, but sure enough, we found a February op-ed piece by Kelly Greenhill of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government that describes the program:
Four decades ago, during the Vietnam War, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara created Project 100,000, a program intended to help the approximately 300,000 men who annually failed the Armed Forces Qualification Test for reasons of aptitude. The idea behind Mr. McNamara’s scheme was that the military would annually absorb 100,000 of the country’s “subterranean poor”–people who would otherwise be rejected.
Using a variety of “educational and medical techniques,” the Pentagon would “salvage” these Category IV recruits first for military careers and later for more productive roles in society. Project 100,000 recruits–known as New Standards Men–would then return to civilian life with new skills and aptitudes that would allow them to “reverse the downward spiral of human decay.”
Mr. McNamara further concluded that the best way to demonstrate that the induction of New Standards Men would prove beneficial was to keep their status hidden from their commanders. In other words, Project 100,000 was a blind experiment run on the military amid the escalation of hostilities in Southeast Asia.
Some 150,000 NSM were inducted by 1968. The experiment proved not just foolish but deadly:
A Project 100,000 recruit who entered the Marine Corps in 1968 was two and a half times more likely to die in combat than his higher-aptitude compatriots. After all, they tended to be the ones in the line of fire.
But Project 100,000 recruits fared poorly outside combat as well. . . . Research conducted in the late 1980’s revealed that across the services Project 100,000 recruits were reassigned at rates up to 11 times greater than their peers. Likewise, 9 percent to 22 percent of these men required remedial training, as compared to only one to three percent of their higher-category counterparts in the Army, Air Force and Navy.
So the false Rangel-Kerry description of the current volunteer military as a provider of dead-end jobs to losers was, at least in part, an accurate description of the draft-era military–and by design. It’s particularly perverse that Rangel calls for instituting the draft (albeit he votes against it) as a way of “solving” this problem, which in fact has not existed for 35 years.
Steve Draper explains why he enlisted:
Every one of these stories reminds me of my own.
I am your now stereotypical top-of-class full-ride law school graduate veteran. I secured all sorts of jobs that seem to indicate intelligence, working in various sorts of litigation with a major defense firm. Now, I am in senior management and am an equity participant in a multinational construction firm. But 20 years ago, I was a private in the United States Army.
A graduate of the Special Forces Qualification Course, I met many bright people in the Army. I met people who were extremely intelligent. I met people with vast stores of wisdom. I met them in higher concentrations than in any other setting I have ever experienced. I met them on equal ground, wearing the same uniform, obeying the same oath. And now those people are spread across all dimensions. My comrades who stayed in, those who left, my grandfather who is now dead but who once shared admiration for my military accomplishments and I for his, my father who gave me his silver jump wings to wear when I graduated jump school more than two decades after he did–we all share an experience that, to a person, is deeply felt and sincere. And this experience does not have one damn thing to do with “opportunity” when opportunity is defined as money.
I think the representative must have misspoken. He must have meant that those who forgo “opportunity” to serve should be treasured assets who should be carefully and reluctantly deployed. This would have supported his argument on Iraq. And even if we disagree on the practice, we would agree on the premise.
But generally, there is the notion that the military is nothing but underclass idiots. Sure, they can deploy thousands of miles away and coordinate military assaults that are so precise and so technically driven that relatively small concentrations of our troops can defeat an entire nation’s organized army in days. But still, they are manipulated idiots, according to the popular theory. This is wrong. Even if you disagree with the president’s decision to attack Iraq, or more wisely the implementation of our plan after military victory over the Iraqi army, this does not mean the troops doing the work are idiots. Most of them are not; many of them are quite smart; almost all of them are decent folk who understand that the concepts of freedom and justice must be secured on the ground if they are to be real.
For me the service of my father, my grandfather, even General Washington called me to serve too. I wanted to earn the right to be in the same class of people as these men. Money could come later, when the important things were done. I have never, ever regretted that choice.
Robert Drake didn’t join by choice, but he found military life anything but a dead end:
I was drafted in June 1967, as a high school dropout. I went to Vietnam as an infantryman, in November 1967. I was a high school dropout because I had no parental direction or discipline. I got both in the service.
After being wounded in Vietnam and spending six months on the burn ward at Brooke Army Medical in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, I was transferred to Fort Hood, Texas. I got my high school diploma while at Fort Hood and re-enlisted to get into Air Defense Artillery. I did not go to school for this military occupational specialty; I had to learn about Nike Hercules and self-propelled Hawk missiles while on the job. I spent the next seven years learning my job while stationed at Highlands Army Air Defense Site in New Jersey and at Grafenwohr, Germany.
I spent the next 25 or so years working for the Postal Service and raising a family, I’m a blue collar kinda guy, but I’m no dummy. Upon my retirement from the Postal Service after 9/11, I was too old to go back in the service and help out with the terrorist problem so I did the next best thing I could. I secured a job with the state of Pennsylvania and became a police officer–that’s right, a first responder in homeland security–and I graduated 16th in my State Police Academy class. I’m no rocket scientist, but I’ll serve this country till my dying day if need be.
Laura Townsend captures one reason the Rangel and Kerry comments are so infuriating:
I was outraged by the Rangel crowd’s depiction of our military as unintelligent for many reasons, and many of them obvious. Some of the brightest folks I have met have served in our armed services, and I think I’d recognize intelligence when I’m in confronted by it–I got into college at age 12 myself.
But I’m also mad about the issue from two other perspectives. One, the ability of liberals to be so inherently hypocritical and get away with it, which relates to reason No. 2: I was raised that involvement in polite society meant you shouldn’t judge hardworking folks for their intellectual acumen. It should be enough that they are contributing. If Republicans were demeaning the intelligence of Hispanics working the counter at McDonald’s, we’d have no end of the outcry about insensitivity and stereotyping.
For my money, whatever your IQ, if you choose a job in which you may have to dodge bullets and sidestep land mines and bombs on behalf of other people, you deserve respect. Rangel and Kerry and those who insinuate that individuals without other choices join the military had better watch out. I’ve always heard that those who can’t lawyer, lead or otherwise cut it, run for office.
Jeremy Leese overcame his own mother’s resistance to his desire to serve:
I’d like to have 20 minutes with Rep. Rangel so I could explain to him how wrong he is. I’d like to tell him how my mother begged me not to enlist in the Army. How she insisted I was too smart and that we had money to pay for any college I wanted to attend. But I enlisted anyway, and my heart was broken when she wept when she realized I could not be deterred from joining.
I would like to try to explain to him that the proudest day of my life was they day I learned I was going to be given the opportunity to serve my country in the first Gulf War with the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment.
I would like to let him know that after I left the Army and graduated with a B.S. in computer science, my only thought was receiving a commission as an officer in our military so I could continue to serve.
And I would like to try to explain to him why I cried soon after learning that a medical condition discovered at my physical meant I had lost the slot in officer candidate school I had been selected for. I want to try to explain to him why that was the worst day of my life, even though it meant I would be taking a job in the private sector that paid twice the money I would have made as second lieutenant.
I want to believe I could make him understand how wrong he is about this. Being allowed to serve with some of the finest Americans I have ever known was the greatest honor that I could ever receive.
Master Sgt. Jacqueline Davis is no dummy:
For what’s it’s worth, I have a tested IQ of 136, which, the Internet tells me, makes me in the top 2.5% of the U.S. population. My degrees, courtesy of the GI Bill, are in history and anthropology. I am a Florida cracker, grew up below the poverty line, and am the first person in my family to graduate from college.
I joined the Army in July 1971. I joined the Army Reserve in 1974, two days after I got out of the regular Army. I “retired” from the Reserve in May 2004–32 years and 10 months altogether. (Reservists don’t get retirement until age 60.)
I joined the Army because I was tired of school (summer honors classes, scholarship to Florida State), because I didn’t have any real job skills and I knew I would eventually want to finish my degree. The Army trained me to type, which has guaranteed me a job my whole life, gave me responsibilities and experience beyond what a normal 19-year-old female would get in 1971, and provided me with the GI Bill.
I joined the Reserve because it was a worthy thing to do and I enjoyed being around military folk.
I stayed in the Reserve during the crisis in Iran. I had two small children by then, and really had to search my soul to discover what I would do if activated. I decided that the Army had lived up to its promises to me, and it might be time for me to live up to my promise to it. And I didn’t see too many other people looking to support our government.
I didn’t get called up, and I still stayed in. I realized we also serve who stand and wait–I’d be there when and if the Army wanted me.
I came close to being called up during Desert Storm.
I did get called up for what was supposed to be the last rotation into Bosnia.
I did get called up for the fifth rotation into Afghanistan. I was a grandmother celebrating her 52nd birthday at Bagram Air Base. (I got a roll of toilet paper as a gift. It was a very thoughtful gift from some Vietnam vets.)
I joined because I wanted to take advantage of what the Army had to offer. I stayed because the most important I have done in my life is to be part of that thin line that stands between the unique, amazing dream that is America and those who would destroy it.
Rangel and Kerry’s attitudes are shared by some young people, as evidenced by this story from the Daily Collegian, student newspaper of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst:
A University of Massachusetts anti-war activist wants to restart the draft and throw military recruiters off campus.
“I think it’s inherently immoral for [the ROTC] to be recruiting on campus, given that they’re basically recruiting people for the occupations overseas,” declared Jeffrey Napolitano, Graduate Student Senate president and member of the UMass Anti-War Coalition. . . .
“Universities should not support military aggression on their campus,” Napolitano said. “I think it’s fundamentally in opposition to the role and purpose of a university.” . . .
“If there is going to be a military, then there needs to be a draft,” he said. “It’s a democratic way of ensuring that the military is representative of the people,” and a potential brake to adventurous politicians seeking to stoke conflict without citizen review.
So he doesn’t want his peers to have the option of joining the military through ROTC, but he does want to force others to join. This email from Lt. Col. David Dawson serves as a nice rejoinder:
For the past 20 years I have been telling people the following: “I attended a New England prep school (Loomis Chaffee) and an Ivy League College (Cornell). Since I joined the Marine Corps, I have associated with a better class of person.”
No doubt. More to come; in the meantime, you can catch up by reading the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth installments in this series.
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