Buried in all the mainstream media coverage this week over new terrorist bombings in London, space shuttles that didn’t launch, the trashing of Karl Rove and the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice was a little-noted item about reenlistments in the U.S. armed forces exceeding expectations. USA Today offered some prominence to the story, but it was widely ignored by most of the Fourth Estate. Perhaps that’s because it’s a "good news story."
According to the Pentagon, all of the services are meeting or exceeding their reenlistment requirements — though the Army acknowledges shortfalls on new recruits. Through the end of June, the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard all "made their end strength objectives" and the Marine Corps actually went 2 percent over its new "accessions" goal. Enlisted accessions are those who are new additions to the enlisted strength of a military service. These are young Americans — virtually all of whom are high-school graduates — who have signed an enlistment contract and are beginning basic training. That’s good news for the "All Volunteer Force" in what one recruiter called "a fairly hostile environment."
Unfortunately, all the "hostiles" aren’t in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some are politicians, some are in the media and others are part of the old, anti-military, "Blame America First" crowd.
Last month Democratic California Senator Diane Feinstein’s assessment of the war was "that everything seems to be going the wrong way." Illinois’ liberal Senator Dick Durbin likened the men and women of America’s armed forces to those of Cambodia’s Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. New York Congressman Charlie Rangel actually proposed legislation to "bring back the draft."
The mainstream media has been even worse. The New York Times‘ Chris Hedges described those serving in today’s military as "poor kids from Mississippi or Alabama or Texas [who could] not get a decent job or health insurance." CNN’s Eason Jordan claimed that U.S. troops in Iraq had killed journalists after having them "arrested and tortured." And for months, the press beat the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo stories like rented mules.
Now, add to these insults new injury from the old left. Last week in Washington, the Center for American Progress hosted what they called the Campus Progress National Student Conference. Bill Clinton was there. So was my former media colleague Paul Begala. Other attendees included former Clinton chief-of-staff John Podesta, Congressman Barney Frank and a handful of conservative students from the Campus Leadership Program and Young America’s Foundation. One of them kindly brought me one of the "publications" handed out to participants — an anti-military, anti-American screed entitled "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste: A Guide to the Demilitarization of America’s Youth and Students."
The editors of this "enlightened" journal claim that the "glorification of the military ignores the fact that most positive change in the United States has come from people standing up to the government, big corporations, and other forms of organized violence and crime." It then offers tips on how to protest all things military.
The highly successful Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program is attacked in a spread entitled, "JROTC: What the Hell Is It? And, What Does It Want?" The conspiracy theorists who crafted the piece breathlessly suggest, "Young people in the hood are targeted because their lives are not valued by the U.S. Government."
Another article claims that "the $600+ billion the U.S. spends each year on maintaining a huge war-making machine cuts into the things that really matter to young people — education, the environment, the arts. Our schools are thrown open to military recruiters while the money needed to buy books, maintain buildings, and pay teachers is dwindling."
In rhetoric reminiscent of the ’60s, the authors claim that our military is "about sacrificing what makes us human for the powers of force and violence … We hold that the strength of a democracy comes from its free and democratic institutions, not its capacity for violence." Another piece blasts requirements in the "No Child Left Behind Act" that schools accepting federal education funding must allow military recruiters the same access they grant to business and college recruiters. The writer then cynically asks: "Could it be in the military’s best interests to keep schools under-funded and keep college financial aid to a minimum?"
A piece extolling an anti-ROTC "sit-in" at the University of Puerto Rico includes praise for Iraqis who are "resisting occupation" and ends with a clarion call from the past: "We must fight the insanity of war from every angle. This requires ending all ROTC programs and their recruitment activities on our college campuses."
For those of us old enough to remember what it was like to come back from a war that we had won on the battlefield but lost on our college campuses and in the corridors of power, all of this sounds ominously familiar. Back in the ’60s this kind of rhetoric helped to alienate America’s citizen-soldiers from the citizens they served.
Current reenlistment rates indicate that those who are serving today — and those who are volunteering to serve tomorrow — still believe that this country is worth defending. Thankfully, in this war where every American is a terrorist target, there are still enough bright, tough, young Americans willing to stand up and fight.