Thursday, March 23, 2006

Slate slips 
Slate editor Jacob Weisberg demonstrates that the 4th estate is capable, once in a great while, of a glimmer of self-awareness - he recognizes the deep, yawning cultural divide between the warrior and civilian class. In his essay, "Rough Draft," (The third Slate article with that title in three years), Weisberg writes:

In the upscale sectors of American society, there remains a primal antipathy to military culture, which has only been heightened by revelations about torture at Abu Ghraib and ongoing discrimination against gay people in the armed forces. The real "two Americas" are not rich versus poor or religious versus secular but military versus civilian.

His observation is correct, though I think his view is colored by Manhattan/media glasses. For example, there are plenty of upscale people in Dallas, Omaha, Billings, and Nashville who harbor no such antipathy. Indeed, many business and community leaders and opinion makers in these cities themselves have military experience. Weisberg doesn't speak for the "upscale." He only thinks he does. In reality, he speaks for high-gloss coastal media - and however well-meaning, indirectly establishes its inflated sense of self-importance.

I have a couple of other problems with the piece:

Finally, the young men who might be called do not want to contemplate having to kill, die, or be maimed in a war that inspires little idealism.

Man, Weisberg needs to get out more. One read through the milblogs, or a sharp-eared walk through the billeting area of any effective unit in Iraq would establish the existence - underneath the usual soldier's gripes and complaints and concerns of home - of a strong undercurrent of idealism - a sizeable contingent of soldiers who do believe that the US is genuinely doing good work, is genuinely promoting the interests of freedom and democracy. Money and neccessity might motivate the first combat tour. It does not motivate the second and third. It does not bring retention rates to an all-time high. The only thing that does, in the face of real bullets, are the twin engines of unit cameraderie and esprit de corps and a cause perceived in the ranks as just.

This idealism is also reflected in the pool of new recruits joining my own unit, who are themselves responding not just to new recruiting incentives, but also to the new marketing slogan I see on National Guard recruiting posters: "Defend Freedom."

When I speak with these terrific new soldiers, they want to be up to the challenge of doing exactly that.

Just because Weisberg, as a product of coastal media culture, doesn't respond to any ideals that don't involve freedom of the press doesn't mean what we're doing in Iraq inspires little idealism. It just means that Weisberg is, again, confusing the moral sense of a nation with the stunted moral sense of the professional cynics currently infesting our national media.

Once again, young people without good opportunities in life are handling the fighting and dying for those with better things to do—only this time, there is not even a pretense of shared responsibility for defending the country.

What a snobbish, elitist, condescending, and out-of-touch thing to say.

Some of my troops come from rough backgrounds, sure. Others are suburban white boys. One of my E-4s has two college degrees. I went to the Tank Commander's Course alongside a Staff Sergeant with a PhD in economics. One of my specialists in Iraq ran his own engineering firm. One of my Pfc's runs his own contracting company and pulls in 6 figures per year, easily. My battalion maintenance chief made close to six figures when he deployed to Iraq. Another E-4 I served with in Iraq, a veteran of both the Canadian and U.S. armies, ran his own computer networking firm stateside when he was deployed, earning near six figures.

These are all just off the top of my head, and all excluding the officers.

Some of these soldiers are screamingly intelligent - and many of them can sharpshoot me to death on almost any subject (except, thankfully, convoy operations and training doctrine. I still have them there!) Many of them could be doing anything they wanted. They chose the challenge of the profession of arms - not because they were limited, but because they were called to service.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney react angrily to any suggestion that a draft might be needed, because they know that the prospect of conscription would make their decision to invade Iraq even more unpopular. Having lived through Vietnam and shirked the draft themselves, they understand that if people anywhere near their own station in life were forced to fight, any remaining support for wars of arguable necessity would dry up and blow away.

Right. The President, a former Air Force officer and fighter pilot with years of commissioned service, "shirked the draft."

The argument could possibly be made regarding Cheney (though I'm curious to see if Weisberg ever made the same observation regarding Clinton). But when Weisberg conjures this tired canard to smear Bush with, he reveals himself to be either stupid about the military, or an incredibly sloppy thinker, who's allowed himself to be steeped so long in the cesspool of cynicism we call the national media that he can no longer reliably examine his own reflexive assumptions.

Splash, out


These sorts of articles just make me sad. The enlisted Marines I served with included some of the finest human beings I've had the pleasure to meet. My experience with them led me to conclude that about all college does for you is make you four years older. One other note on the Air Force service of President Bush, flying jets back in those days was a dangerous thing. It's a dangerous thing now. One of my classmates was an instructor pilot in Corpus Christi, TX. He was one of the guys who taught my little brother to fly in primary, and he died in a training accident, along with the student naval aviator. As far as I am concerned, President Bush did his duty back then.
My 18 year old son(124 GT, 31 ACT, with an academic scholarship to LSU, an Eagle Scout and member of the student council) leaves for basic this summer. He will be a third generation paratrooper. Me and my Dad both used the GI Bill to get degrees. Me in Environmental Engr, him in Petroleum Engineering. So where exactly does the idea of people with no hope but to fight and risk it all come from? Did I mention that my baby brother did 10 years in the Navy and my great grandfather was gassed in the trenches in France in 1918?
Got to your essay via Blackfive. I'm an old guy now who volunteered back in the 60's. It's pretty clear to me that the media elites at Slate simply rationalize their craven fear with articles and snide contempt for real folks from real places west of the Hudson. Thanks for all you and the other Real People are doing!
Well, even though our current President was in the Air Force, you do have to question why he wasn't on active duty. I know it's not popular to be critical of anyone's service, and trust me...I would rather have a President who had been in uniform at all versus the option of none, but you have to give some creadence to the fact that there is something strange about his appointment to the Texas NG. I don't quite buy the rosie picture painted during the elections...but he wore the unifrom...so that is a step better than the alternatives.

As far as the "elite" don't serve non-sense...it is a moot point. Not even really worth anyone's time in attacking. Too many fine men of uniform have done the research and proven everything wrong about the off-collar arguments about the rich not serviing, the educated not serving, the lack of middle-class in uniform, and the over-abundance of poor black kids in war torn graves. Every serious attempt to show the truth displays that we are, and have continued to have a military in both times of peace and war that is representative of our culture. All groups are represented in comparison to their percentage of our population...from the different ethnic groups to the different financial classes.

I was an enlisted man in the 82nd ABN...now I am the Information Officer at mid-sized community bank in Louisiana. I did go to college (for a while) but ended up following my need to be a warrior. The jury is still out on whether I achieved that in peace...but now I am no more in a financial or cultural need to join the military then before I did. But I am better for the service, and that reward was far from monetary.

I think that the argument is devoid of data...the fact is that they can't figure out why we do it at all...much less in times of war. They can't figure out what motivates any one to serve...the only thing that they can wrap their heads around is money. Money must be why any one serves. And the data is over whelming to dispell that myth as well...there aren't too many jobs in the world that don't pay better than what an E-1 can expect right out of high school....

Insightful post. However, don't be so sure that Weisberg would be much more enthousiastic defending the first amendment - sadly, persons like him are too busy trying to "pass" for the power elites they desparately want to curry favor with than to make any "stand" for some "principle" - at least until their elites tell them it is OK. I live in coastal southern California (6th generation - claro si') and my state should be considered Purple, at best - because it sure is not solid "blue."
This is as ignorant a statement as that LA Times columnist who said he did not support the troops. The fact that they do not personally know someone serving means that the "elite" aren't there. First, by any stretch graduates of the service acadamies have to be considered in the same class as Ivy League and small liberal arts collge graduates. I know several Harvard and Yale grads serving, some who had to commute while they were in ROTC. If I wanted to show my ignorance on a topic, I don't think I could think of a better way than this joker did.
you do have to question why he wasn't on active duty

Why? Millions weren't, at that time. And millions did what he did - serve in the NG.

you have to give some creadence to the fact that there is something strange about his appointment to the Texas NG

Nah. And so what if he did? You actually had a better chance of dying as a Delta Dagger pilot than as an infantry officer in Vietnam.
I am an Air Force Rescue Helicopter Pilot with a combat tour in Afghanistan and two in Iraq. I head out to Iraq again in a few months. I am a former Marine and Naval Aviator. I also am a typical liberal jewish guy from Manhatten's upper east side, although my single mom worked two jobs to keep us there. Guess what? all manhattenites do not think like Mr. Weisberg. I joined the military because of the challenge and the desire, since as far back as I can remember, to fly. I have loved serving in the military since day one. I got out and was out for seven years, I had a great job in the theater business that most people would kill for. I was bored to death and thankfully, I was able to get back in the military. I am confident saying that I could have done whatever I wanted to career wise, but I chose the military because (shock of shocks) I like it and I like the idea of serving a nation that gave the son of an immigrant, who sadly died when I was very young and a single mom, a chance to do whatever he dreamed of doing. There are real people east of the Hudson, a lot of them. Even in New York City. By the way, I never met anyone in three branches of the military and 23 years, who came in because they could not get a job. To Mr Belzer, I say...You are a Putz! Educate yourself on a subject before you pontificate on it.
I've met a few journalists, and they were all pretty darn clueless...and completely in denial regarding the reasons why they have lost their reputation.
Well, even though our current President was in the Air Force, you do have to question why he wasn't on active duty.

Actually, he was, for about as long as a draftee would be. It takes about two years to go from new recruit to qualified fighter pilot. Then did the "weekend a month and two weeks a year" thing until he'd more than fulfilled his contracted service requirement.

Oh, and the TANG appointment --- actually, qualified pilot candidates weren't easy to come by, and the ANG had a direct national defense role: they did continental air defense (remember the USSR?) while the Regular Air Force was overseas.
I can't believe people are still prattling on about TANG. Mr. Bush pulled some strings to get into TANG and toward the end didn't show up. BFD. Bentsen kid did this as did the sons of thousands of other well connected people
Remember Clinton. What the man did as a 22 yo has nothing to do with the here and now. Posting bs like the comparison of NG pilots and infantry officers in combat only hurts your argument
'...better things to do...' uh yeah. I really envy Paris-the-slut-Hilton and her woes. She isn't someone I would consider dying for or fighting for in the sense of worth.

However, even the elite benefit from the sacrifices the military makes, so in our Republic-turned-Democracy, she benefits, as do Babs Streisand and Alec Baldwin and the rest of their ilk. Unfortunately, I don't see them leaving this country to partake of a better, right?
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