"Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
. . .But we in it shall be remember’d; We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."
With such Shakespearean exhortation on the eve of Agincourt, King Henry V led his beleaguered English troops and the nobles fighting beside them to victory against a numerically superior French army.
In 21st century America, however, the band of brothers marching in harm’s way will not share the ranks with the solons, celebrities, or their scions who comprise America’s elites. Missing will be names like Pelosi, Clinton, Bush, or Boxer. Also absent on the roll calls will be a media Sulzberger, Matthews or Brokaw, a sports Rodriguez or Manning, a corporate Gates or Trump, or a celebrity Hilton or Baldwin.
A fairly bipartisan consensus has developed that we need significant increases in the size of our active military, approaching 100,000 new soldiers and Marines. Even these numbers are understated, given the additional replacements for the current overworked forces who, having done their share of service and sacrifice, will opt to return to a more stable and secure civilian life. The need transcends the short-term Iraq War requirements, as a growing queue of villains in Iran, China, North Korea, Venezuela, and despots yet unknown vie to challenge America’s security in coming decades.
Contrary to the rants of Charlie Rangel and John Kerry on the "loser" qualities of today’s military, our fighting men and women, the few, are among the most educated, talented, patriotic and heroic group ever to wear the uniform. Rosy recruiting scenarios painted by Pentagon bureaucrats notwithstanding, even the current numbers can’t be met without further lowering standards, increasing maximum age limits, contemplating illegal aliens, and accepting more women, often placed in combat situations. The Guard and Reserves, providing over half of the total force and 40% of the combat burden, are not even included in these programmed increases. Their recruitment and replacement problems are soon to unfold as multiple mobilizations wear them out.
From whence then will come these new warriors, given that one valid solution, the draft, is politically toxic? Well, there is one untapped reservoir of high quality candidates. The time has come for America’s elites, the leaders in politics and business, in sports and entertainment, to start showing leadership in the most important of a nation’s endeavors, its defense.
At the start of World War II baseball’s best pitcher, Bob Feller, enroute to Chicago to sign his contract for the coming season, instead drove to a recruiting station and enlisted in the Navy. Soon following him were Hall of Famers Warren Spahn and Ted Williams, and eventually hundreds of other star athletes. Fortyish actors Clark Gable and Henry Fonda, and 30-something Jimmy Stewart traded stardom for combat. The Kennedy brothers, Joe and John, Teddy Roosevelt’s son, and all four of Franklin Roosevelt’s sons also joined the ranks.
Provoked by Pearl Harbor, which killed fewer Americans than the September 11 attacks, American leaders and elites were at the head of the line in signing up to ensure our survival. Two generations later in an equal if dissimilar struggle for our survival, that same segment of society, which lives most lavishly in the security that its predecessors and today’s middle class warriors preserve, has opted out of the hard work. It is ironic that British Royals like Price Harry and Prince Andrew will fight to place themselves in the front lines with the commoners in Iraq and the Falklands, but their American equals consider themselves too important to do likewise.
Imagine these leaders of finance and business, of politics and entertainment, tossing off their mufti and sayind, "Follow me." If their skills and smarts are truly that valued, shouldn’t these elites want to exploit them in the most important and difficult enterprise a human can undertake? With such leadership by example, recruitment would be easy, and a draft moot. When average citizens see those they otherwise emulate in deportment and fashion don the uniform, military service might again be viewed as a civic duty and a noble calling.
In America’s current hour of need, the exhausted middle class has gallantly put service before self. History shall acclaim their accomplishments. Now it is time for the ruling class to step up, lest these "gentlemen…now-a-bed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here."