November 21, 2005

November 21, 2005 | Commentary on

Soldiering On

Sometimes, even empty symbolism can be harmful.

 

Unfortunately, quite a few voters in San Francisco don't seem to realize that.

 

If they did, they might not have approved Proposition I, a non-binding resolution that claims the city opposes allowing U.S. military recruiters in their public schools. Legally, the measure changes nothing, but it sends our service members a troubling message: You're not welcome here.

What a profound misstep now, with our country at war and the military as critical as it's ever been.

 

San Francisco's voters may have been influenced by a myth that's been circulating in recent years -- namely, that military recruiters prey on the poor and vulnerable and send them out to die.

 

Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., fueled this myth with a 2002 op-ed in The New York Times. "A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while most privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent," Rangel claimed. He recommended reinstating the military draft to rectify the imbalance.


There's just one problem: Rangel's claimed imbalance doesn't exist.


Tim Kane, a retired Air Force officer and an economist at The Heritage Foundation, studied where military recruits came from in 1998-'99 and where they came from in 2003. He found that, especially since 9/11, wealthier Americans have made up their fair share of U.S. military recruits. "There are slightly higher proportions of recruits from the middle class and slightly lower proportions from low-income brackets," Kane writes. "However, the proportion of high-income recruits rose to a disproportionately high level after the war on terrorism began, as did the proportion of highly educated enlistees."


In other words, when our homeland was attacked, Americans of all backgrounds rallied to the flag.

 

One of those men is Steve Kiel. A law student, he works at The Heritage Foundation and is in the U.S. Army Reserve.


He's been serving in Iraq this year and says he's received tremendous backing from people at home. "Throughout the year, I've been nearly overwhelmed with packages of things for the soldiers in my platoon, for the Iraqi soldiers and for the locals," Kiel wrote recently in an article on National Review Online. "My platoon and I received more than 160 care packages from an ongoing donation drive organized by a single cousin of mine."


Sadly, some people have suffered terribly to serve our country. I recently met two such men.

 

Staff Sergeant Jason Pepper lost his eyesight in an explosion last year outside of Karbala, Iraq. For his actions on the battlefield, he was awarded the Bronze Star with a V device for valor.

 

Staff Sergeant Dale Beatty, a North Carolina Army Guardsman, was wounded last November by anti-tank mines, losing both legs beneath his knees. After President Bush pinned on Sgt. Beatty's Purple Heart, his young son was asked what his father was getting for Christmas. "Two new legs!" the boy announced.

 

Both men are recovering in the Washington, D.C. area and are staying at Fisher Houses. The Fisher House Foundation has helped more than 70,000 families since 1990. It runs 33 houses at military and Veteran's Administration medical facilities throughout the country, supporting America's military, veterans and their families during medical crises. Instead of attempting to ban the military, the Fisher House people are finding ways to help.


These brave volunteers help prove something else that Kane observed in his paper. He found that Rangel's proposed solution -- a draft -- wouldn't help and might even hurt the military. "It is highly likely that reinstating the draft would erode military effectiveness, increase American fatalities, destroy personal freedom, and even produce a less socio-economically privileged military in the process," Kane writes.

 

There are almost a million brave men and women in our military. They are all volunteers, protecting their fellow Americans and asking for very little in return. The least we can do, especially during the holidays, is support them. San Francisco, are you listening?

Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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