November 29, 2005
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. and Tim Kane, Ph.D.
Or was the decision made so freely? Could it
be that unscrupulous Pentagon recruiters duped them, taking
advantage of their poverty, their lack of education and the bleak
futures they share as members of the USA's urban underclass?
That's the view of some critics, such as
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who writes that "very
few" of the soldiers fighting in Iraq "are coming from the
privileged economic classes," and that there would likely be no war
if rich kids had to fight. According to Rep. Charles Rangel,
D-N.Y., social equality demands reinstatement of the draft, which
he justifies by asserting that "the most privileged Americans are
underrepresented or absent." Herbert concludes that there is
"something very, very wrong with this picture."
What's "very, very wrong" with the
Rangel-Herbert picture is that it has no factual basis.
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.
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.
Allegations that recruiters are
disproportionately targeting blacks also don't hold water. First,
whites make up 77.4% of the nation's population and 75.8% of its
military volunteers, according to our analysis of Department of
Second, we explored the 100 three-digit ZIP
code areas with the highest concentration of blacks, which range
from 24.1% black up to 68.6%. These areas, which account for 14.6%
of the adult population, produced 16.6% of recruits in 1999 and
only 14.1% in 2003.
Maintaining the strength and size of our
all-volunteer military isn't always easy. But Americans step up
when their country needs them. To suggest the system is failing or
exploiting citizens is wrong. And to make claims about the nature
of U.S. troops to discredit their mission ought to be politically
out of bounds.
Tim Kane is an Air
Force veteran, and James
Carafano is an Army
veteran. Both are research fellows at The Heritage
First appeared in USA Today
They all volunteered. The U.S. soldiers pitching in with hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast and those fighting and dying in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere decided, on their own, to serve their nation.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director
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