Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Why isn't the upperclass serving in the military?

There is no shortage of people pointing out that today's upperclass are not serving in the military. Ben Stein just ran another piece about this in Sunday's NYT. And you consistently hear about how only a couple members of congress have children in the military. Why is this? There is a tendency to answer by pointing to a sense of declining national responsibility that hasn't been strong since Brokaw's "greatest generation". But this answer really doesn't hold up to scrutiny and we are past a period where national responsibility was defined by serving in the military.

So what are the structural reasons for declining upperclass representation in the military? The all encompassing, obvious answer is that the military isn't attractive to many upperclass youth when stacked up against other options. Although the leadership, management and crisis response lessons learned as a Junior Officer are second to none, the military often doesn't give people that same amount of entrepreneurial freedom found in the civilian world.

Should the nation be concerned? No. The military is going to function well no matter its makeup; it doesn't need upperclass representation to work better, an argument that in fact smacks of elitism. The one argument often used is the "I care about my own" argument which states that if more members of Congress had children serving, the debate around going to war would be more considered. However, war's cost and its impact on the balance of power are probably already enough to hold Congressional attention.


DR said...

Would a broader representation in the military help it run better? Probably not. Would it make the burden of war more equitably shared across society? Yes. As a member of the class of society that doesn't serve I think it's a problem. I've seen peers openly state that if the draft was reinstated they would go to Canada. What does that say about the upper middle-upper class opinion of the military and of service in general. As for myself, as Rob wrote, there was always another option that I followed (and at 18, 20, 22 it's hard to see serving two or three years as a short stint), to a large degree to my lasting regret. Do we need to reinstitute the draft? Not necessarily, but we should figure out more ways to encourage national service and make it a real option to consider for all americans regardless of social or economic status.

Anonymous said...

do you ever wish you had stayed in the coast guard longer?

Rob said...

DR ... Your logic assumes that socio-economics force some people into the military because there is no other choice. I tend to think there is some level of choice at all levels, but understand your point.

Anonymous ... I miss aspects. Especially the camraderie ... it's hard to recreate in the civilain world.

DR said...

Rob, I agree there is certainly choice at all levels. I meant it from the other perspective, not that the lower end of the s-e spectrum has no other option but that the upper end doesn't seem to seriously consider it as an option (and not just for economic reasons, but social, cultural etc...) the pressure is on "go to school and start a career" why isn't there more emphasis on the military, or should I say, service option as part of that. My personal experience is that I kept saying, it was something I'd like to do but, I was in college or I would end up behind in my career or whatever. At that age committing 2-3 years seems like an eternity whereas now it's like the blink of an eye. I wish that I had someone who would have discussed it with me in the broader picture rather than, it being looked at as primarily for the "other people".