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July 25, 2005
The Gray Lady Impersonates Kos

The New York Times published a rather offensive opinion piece by Standford history professor David M. Kennedy today, in which he describes our military as "mercenaries" and decries the dangers of the volunteer armed services:

THE United States now has a mercenary army. To be sure, our soldiers are hired from within the citizenry, unlike the hated Hessians whom George III recruited to fight against the American Revolutionaries. But like those Hessians, today's volunteers sign up for some mighty dangerous work largely for wages and benefits - a compensation package that may not always be commensurate with the dangers in store, as current recruiting problems testify.

Those who sign up for the wages and benefits must find it somewhat disappointing, as neither matches what one can receive with an above-average public-school education. Ask our military families how good they have it on those oh-so-attractive wages and benefits. A private makes between $14 - 16k. Even a sergeant with six years of experience only makes a base salary of $25K, which puts them at the same wages as a full-time worker at $12 per hour -- almost entry level everywhere for office jobs.

But people in the service get bonuses, some will point out, and cost-of-living allowances. True. However, the bonuses are not as lucrative as one might imagine and come with significant strings attached. The allowances only get paid when the soldier, sailor, or Marine live off-base. The bonuses come with specific intentions, such as college education -- which one could also acquire through scholarships without enlisting in the service. Bonuses usually require specific job assignments and an extended enlistment, meaning their financial impact gets spread out across several years.

People enlist in the services not for the cash and bennies, but primarily to serve their country. The notion that men and women choose the service because of the pay and benefits demonstrates a willful ignorance of the facts or sheer uninformed conjecture, unfortunately unsurprising for an academic these days. It recalls the words of Markos Moulitsas Zuniga who dismissed four American contract security workers butchered by Iraqis as mercenaries unfit for our sympathy:

I feel nothing over the death of mercenaries [sic]. They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.

Kos' post received vociferous ridicule, and rightly so, but at least Kos distinguished between contractors and active-duty servicepeople. Kennedy doesn't even bother to do that much, deciding that somehow those who volunteer to defend the US and expect some sort of minimal compensation for their efforts have nothing but the monetary motive in mind.

What does Kennedy propose? The Rangel solution -- a draft:

Some will find it offensive to call today's armed forces a "mercenary army," but our troops are emphatically not the kind of citizen-soldiers that we fielded two generations ago - drawn from all ranks of society without respect to background or privilege or education, and mobilized on such a scale that civilian society's deep and durable consent to the resort to arms was absolutely necessary. ...

The life of a robust democratic society should be strenuous; it should make demands on its citizens when they are asked to engage with issues of life and death. The "revolution in military affairs" has made obsolete the kind of huge army that fought World War II, but a universal duty to service - perhaps in the form of a lottery, or of compulsory national service with military duty as one option among several - would at least ensure that the civilian and military sectors do not become dangerously separate spheres. War is too important to be left either to the generals or the politicians. It must be the people's business.

Once again, we have academics attempting to transform our military from history's most efficient and effective armed forces into a social program. We learned thirty years ago that compulsory service creates more disciplinary problems, law enforcement issues, and greater social stress. We spent a decade transforming our services into a highly motivated fighting force, one that could fight anywhere and anytime with high speed, superior logistics and production, tactical supremacy, and tightly coordinated strategic planning.

Instead of appreciating that outcome while allowing Americans a free choice to serve their country -- upholding our basic traditions of freedom by avoiding conscription -- Kennedy instead wants us to strip people of their freedom to choose and force them into uniform so that he can feel better about the balance of economic strata in our military services.

Jack Kelly at Irish Pennants (and a brilliant columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) has a solution for Professor Kennedy. If he wants better socio-economic representation in the services, he can start by "telling your students at Stanford that they should enlist." At the least, he can campaign to get places like Stanford -- which also hardly represents the socioeconomic composition of America -- to stop blocking ROTC programs and recruitment efforts. That might address the problems that Kennedy decries and allow more exposure for young men and women to the "noble calling" of serving this country.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 25, 2005 3:40 PM

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» Eight-Year-Old More Intelligent Than Columnist from Les Enfants Terrible
I would submit that our military is far less removed from civil society than...say...David Kennedy. [Read More]

Tracked on July 25, 2005 6:58 PM

» Meanwhile, the left craves the draft from Posse Incitatus
Captain Ed has a great takedown of a typically moronic New York Times Op Ed by Stanford Professor David Kennedy in favor of a military draft. [Remind us never to send our kids to Stanford to study history. They will [Read More]

Tracked on July 26, 2005 11:09 AM

» Breaking a sweat from OUPblog
There has been vigorous discussion of David Kennedy’s NYTimes Op-Ed (07/25/05) on right-leaning blogs this week, with opinions ranging from the scandalized to those who actually read Kennedy’s piece, like those at Sadly, lost in much ... [Read More]

Tracked on July 30, 2005 9:11 AM

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