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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

In war, Washington is a sacrifice-free zone

By Mark Shields
Creators Syndicate


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WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- Let us pause on the eve of war to reflect on who the Americans are who will die. In any war, nearly all of the fighting and nearly all of the dying are done by the youngest soldiers who hold the lowest rank.

Of the 58,152 Americans killed in the Vietnam War, three out of four were between the ages of 17 and 22, and three out of four were under the rank of staff sergeant—corporals and privates.

Today, there are 1,182,412 enlisted men and women on active duty in the United States military. It is from their ranks that the vast majority of all American combat casualties in the next war will come.

If you need further proof of the complete separation of the people in power in Washington from the people at peril in the Persian Gulf, just consider this:

Not one of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives has a son or a daughter on active duty in the enlisted ranks of this nation's military.

Sgt. Brooks Johnson of the Army's 101st Airborne (187th Infantry), who has already served in Afghanistan and before that in Kosovo, Bosnia, Korea and Germany, is the only American enlisted man now on active duty who is the son of a member of Congress. His father is the incumbent senator from South Dakota, Democrat Tim Johnson.

A wise and just manpower policy is the foundation of our national defense. The all-volunteer army, it was agreed by its supporters, was to be a peacetime service. Any major military engagement was to be the signal for resumption of the military draft.

The argument was straightforward: If the stated goals of the nation were worth fighting and dying for, then we must not hesitate to ask all Americans to shoulder the duty and the risk of that fighting.

That is most certainly not the case today in proudly "classless" America. In 2002, the American Establishment—political, economic and journalistic—has no personal stake in the men and women who defend the United States.

To be fair, Air Force Maj. Bill Bunning, an officer, is the son of the Kentucky Republican senator, and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, has a son and namesake who joined the Marines after September 11 and is now a second lieutenant .Only one congressman, Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton, has two career-officer sons (whose names Skelton will not provide to the press) on active duty, an Army major who won the Bronze Star in the first war against Iraq and a Navy commander.

Back when the nation had a draft, fully three out of four high-school graduates and three out of four college graduates served in the military. Then, a full third of college graduates were found in the enlisted (non-officer) ranks. Then, too, in World War II and Korea the nation accepted combat casualties and deaths for causes judged to be in the vital national interest.

The country's pre-eminent military sociologist, Northwestern's Charles Moskos (himself, a former Army draftee), offers a more interesting explanation. "The answer to the question of what are vital national interests is found not so much in the cause, itself," he says, "but who is willing to die for that cause."

Moskos adds, "Only when the privileged classes perform military service, only when elite youth are on the firing line, does the country define the cause as worth young people's blood and do war losses become acceptable."

The all-volunteer force all but ensured that the children of the elites—political, social and economic—would not be found in the military and would be almost totally missing from the enlisted ranks, those who do most of the fighting and the dying.

Moskos concludes that "citizens accept hardships only when their leadership is viewed as self-sacrificing."

The war against Iraq, to listen to our confident leaders, contemplates no home-front shortages and no rationing, and would impose no civilian sacrifice—not even the petty inconvenience of asking Bill Gates to forego his scheduled tax-cut.

The tragedy is that nobody at any Washington dinner party tonight—liberal or conservative, Bush appointee or Democratic holdover—personally knows any enlisted man or woman now defending the nation. Absent the resumption of a draft without deferments, what we have is a guaranteed formula for both an indefensibly unjust military manpower policy and a national unwillingness to accept any war unless it is virtually casualty-free.


Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.


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