<< The Body Politic

Who serves?

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Ann Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, has a provocative op-ed in the WSJ today debunking common myths about military demographics. In an attention-grabbing lede, she writes:

It should no more be necessary to write this article than to prove that there were Jews killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11. And yet the mythology refuses to die. Just last week, two well-educated and well-known writer acquaintances of mine remarked in passing on the “fact” that those who serve in the U.S. military typically have no other career options. America’s soldiers, they said, were poor and black.

Marlowe proceeds to rip apart these assumptions, relying on data collected by the Heritage Foundation. (For those skeptical about Heritage’s findings, take a look at this column by Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell, this study by military scholars David and Mady Segal [p. 24], this study by RAND researcher Beth Asch [p. 10], or DOD’s own numbers. They all tell the same story.) So why do these myths persist? Marlowe suggests one explanation:

One reason is lack of firsthand exposure to the military: Doing a journalistic embed with American troops or visiting a U.S. military base—or simply having some friends in the military—would disabuse my acquaintances of their beliefs.

This detachment is the result of a withdrawal of our urban elites from military service. And it suits the interests of many members of the urban elite to believe that the military they do not join is composed of poor, uneducated victims of an unfair society.

Marlowe is right that urbanites have little contact with the military, but that detachment is as much a result of the withdrawal of the military from urban areas and the Northeast. As my colleague Gary Schmitt and I noted in another WSJ op-ed, current recruiting policy means that military service is essentially left to the imaginations of city youths. It shouldn’t surprise us that what they imagine is so far from the truth.