by Ted Rall
SAN DIEGO–“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,” claimed the authors of an oft-cited 2005 “comprehensive study” of the U.S. military commissioned by the Heritage Foundation.
“A pillar of conventional wisdom about the U.S. military is that the quality of volunteers has been degraded after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq,” said the conservative think tank. “Some insist that minorities and the underprivileged are over-represented in the military. Others accuse the U.S. Army of accepting unqualified enlistees in a futile attempt to meet its recruiting goals in the midst of an unpopular war.” These myths, insisted Heritage and its media allies, were propagated by antiwar liberals out to demoralize the country by attacking its troops.
Two years later, right-wingers trot out the Heritage troop survey as evidence that America is sending its best and brightest, rather than its down and out, to win Afghan and Iraqi hearts and minds. The GOP blog Newsbusters used it to rebut Rosie O’Donnell’s statement that most recruits enlist in the army to get an education: “Of course, facts don’t matter to Rosie O’Donnell.” But are these “facts” true?
The claim that U.S. combat troops come from richer families and enjoy higher levels of educational attainment than the average American defies both conventional wisdom and everyday observation. Active-duty soldiers earn less than their civilian counterparts. In a capitalist society low-paying jobs seldom attract people with higher educational credentials. A disproportionate share of blogs by soldiers serving on the frontlines are poorly written. High-ranking officers, even generals, come off as hick bureaucrats on television. Many troops believe they’re in Iraq to fight those responsible for 9/11 or to prevent them from invading the U.S. And a majority of soldiers are conservative Republicans, voting for Bush over Kerry by a 4-to-1 margin in 2004. (The most educated group of voters are liberal Democrats, 50 percent of whom have bachelor’s degrees or higher. Republicans tend to be less educated.)
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