Has the Military Lost Touch with Society?

In a few weeks, about the time final grades are posted at the community college, one of my students will invariably ask, “What do you think about me joining the military for a career?” The short answer is always the same: “No, no, no, no!” NO.

As someone who has seen both sides of the Navy and Marine Corps, enlisted and officer, for 36 years of active duty; and who will all too soon be buried in his dress blues, at the foot of  his free government tombstone, resting beneath service ribbons ranging from the Good Conduct Medal,  the Combat Action Ribbon, and the Legion of Merit, with the Navy and Marine Corps Parachutist insignia thrown in, I have some “moral capital,”  and some skin in the game,  which qualifies me to have an opinion. And that’s all this is – an opinion. 

Don’t sign up, unless, like the iconic Mississippi blues singer, Robert Johnson, there’s a “hell hound” on your trail; or some judge gave you two choices, and boot camp is the best option; or perhaps your heart is so broken that there’s no hope of recovery and she’s never coming back, ever; or maybe you want to get on the other side of the world to escape your creditors (which won’t work, by the way); or you just  simply,  absolutely, positively, unequivocally have no place else to go.  And then it’s still a bad idea.

I suppose that sounds a little fishy, coming as it does, live and in print, from someone who owes everything he has to the military; someone that his high school classmates voted “Least Likely to Succeed;” someone that a recruiter took a chance on because he scored well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) qualifying test. Someone that the military picked up, cleaned up, smarted up, focused up, and sent on his way. But I have my reasons a student should stay in school.

While the United States military is rightly regarded as the best in the world, there’s “something rotten in Denmark” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4). Our military is increasingly becoming a catch-basin for the poor, the marginalized, the under-privileged, the under-class, the left behind of America. The all-volunteer military population today is terribly skewed in terms of race, socio-economic status (SES), and geographic input.  I watched it happen over the years.

Take race, for example. In 2018, racial and ethnic minorities made up 40% of active duty military personnel, trending up from 25% in 1990. In 2018, African Americans made up 17% of active duty personnel, considerable higher than their 13% percent share of the population. While there’s nothing wrong with this, and minorities are as patriotic as anyone else, it does reflect economic inequality and a lack of opportunity in the civilian world. 

The military has come a long way since President Harry Truman integrated the armed forces on 26 July,1946.  My complaint is not that minorities are over-represented in the armed forces; it is that such a dangerous lifestyle is too often the only option for the poor but ambitious young person.

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