The Left's Eugene Debs Syndrome

Recently Bill Maher remarked during his HBO show that the military recruits the dregs of society. This infuriated Congressman Spencer Bauchus of Alabama who said Maher’s comment borders on treason.

This is not the first time Maher has cast aspersions on the military. Nor is he alone in his opinion of military personnel as America’s societal residue.

Two years ago fellow liberal New York Times reporter Chris Hedges remarked during a commencement speech he made that the military consisted of, "boys from places such as Mississippi and Arkansas who joined the military because there were no job opportunities."

About a year ago Newsweek magazine wrote an article about Pat Tillman. The article, co-authored by Newsweek editor Andy Murr, stated, "American troops tend to be working-class or poor, disproportionately black, brown, or rural…"

When asked the source of this information, Mr. Murr’s said it was possibly "clips." He did not think it was a scientific study.

In that same edition of Newsweek, Anna Quindlen also repeats the canard. She cites as her source a cheer by the Radical Teen Cheerleaders, "Hey Bush/Who fights your war/Just minorities and the poor."

The New Republic editor Peter Beinart wrote in a piece about the military, "This week, the papers were filled with the heartbreaking story of Pat Tillman ….Tillman’s story is so moving in part because it is so anomalous. …the gulf between the military and the rest of American society is wider than it has been for generations."

What is Beinart’s proof of this gulf?

For one he states that," more and more, troops hail from the South and West, and from military families." Why this is more of a concern than the idea that more and more journalists may live in the Upper West Side of Manhattan is not known.

Beinart also states that, "Minorities, who in 1973 comprised 23 percent of new enlistees, today comprise 37 percent." Yet according to the Department of Defense, " In the enlisted force, African Americans were overrepresented among …active duty… (20 percent) relative to the 18-24 year-old civilian population (14 percent).

Twenty percent is about half of the percentage Beinart cites. Furthermore when compared to the percentage of the general population of that age group African Americans are only slightly overrepresented among military personnel.

Beinart also states, "According to a recent rand (sic) study, one of the best predictors of whether a high school senior will enlist in the military is the unemployment rate in his or her county" (emphasis added).

This is what the Rand study actually said, "Characteristics Significantly Affecting Enlistment. …A senior is more likely to enlist: The higher the unemployment rate in his county" (emphasis added). (Notice the subtle difference between Beinart’s statement of "will enlist" as opposed to "more likely to enlist.")

The Rand study also concluded something that Beinart’s article did not include – for obvious reasons. Rand noted that the county unemployment rate is not the only predictor of whether a high school senior is more likely to enlist. The Rand study also said that a senior is more likely to enlist, "If he plans to marry within the next five years" and "the higher his number of siblings."

Neither of these factors concerns a prospective enlistee’s employment status. Indeed among other factors the Rand study did state a high school senior was less likely to enlist, "The more months he’s been unemployed " and "If he has a low wage." (An interesting comment by Rand is that one reason that Southerners are disproportionately represented is that there is a disproportionate amount of military facilities in the South.)

Here are some quotes from the aforementioned Rand study and from the March 2003 Department of Defense report about military demographics "Population Representation in the Military for fiscal year 2001." These quotes are the antipodes of what the mainstream media and others are saying. In fact, the American public now knowing this truth will be even more admiring of the American military.

Regarding black officers: "Minorities appear to be proportionately represented and not on the decline within the commissioned officer corps. Although African Americans comprised a much smaller proportion of officers (8 percent) than of enlistees (22 percent), when compared to college graduates in the civilian workforce 21-49 years old (9 percent African American), African Americans are equitably represented in the officer ranks."

Regarding education: "Practically all active duty and Selected Reserve enlisted …had a high school diploma or equivalent, well above civilian youth proportions (79 percent of 18-24 year-olds)."

Regarding intellect: "Enlisted members tend to have higher cognitive aptitude than the civilian youth population, as measured by scores on the military’s enlistment test."

Regarding reading ability: "Like aptitude levels, reading levels were higher in the enlisted military than in the non-military sector. FY 2001 …active duty enlisted …had a mean reading level typical of an 11th grade student whereas the mean for civilian youth was within the 10th grade range."

All of these salient facts disprove the myths about military personnel. It is a lie that those who are in the military and those who are casualties are mostly poor and minorities. It is a lie, which can be traced to at least 1918.

The mantra of the poor boy fighting the rich man’s war was stated during Viet Nam. It was said during Korea. It was said World War II. In fact, the founder of the Socialist Party of America, Eugene Debs, made this claim during World War I.

In 1918 Debs gave a speech, which resulted in him going to prison, during which he said, "And here let me emphasize the fact — and it cannot be repeated too often — that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace. They themselves did not go to war anymore than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street go to war…"

Modern liberals seem to be afflicted by Eugene Debs Syndrome.

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