The military's recruiting problem

[Editor's Note: We bumped this blog post up to the Top Stories on January 18. This is the original version of the post.]

It should come as no surprise to any observer of modern Americana that US military recruiters are having a difficult time in meeting their quotas. Last year, the US Army fell 6,600 recruits short of its goal to enlist 80,000 new soldiers. An increase in recruitment incentives, including signing bonuses and increases in college scholarships, combined with the raising of the maximum enlistment age (to 39) and allowing high school drop-outs to be recruited, have not helped reverse the tide. Even the vaunted US Marines, the pinnacle of the all-volunteer US military which has prided itself on its ability to attract recruits with slogans like, "If every one could be a Marine, there wouldn't be Marines" versus money and other recruiting gimmickry, have failed to make their enlistment quota.

As recruiters struggle to overcome the national aversion to military service that has gripped the country, their superiors wrestle to pin down the underlying reasons behind this failure of the American people to heed the call of the trumpet. Some, like General Richard Cody, the US Army's Vice Chief of Staff, have turned the issue into one of fundamental patriotism. "This recruiting problem is not just an Army problem, this is America's problem," Cody is quoted as saying. "And what we have to really do is talk about service to this nation -- and a sense of duty to this nation."

Fair enough. I'd like to take General Cody up on the challenge, and talk about this so-called inability or unwillingness on the part of America to live up to any sense of duty to the nation by turning its collective back on joining the US military. Some observers of the recruitment crisis, including the recruiters themselves, have noted that a main reason for the drop off in numbers of new enlistees is the war in Iraq, and the growing casualty figures attributed to the fighting in Iraq. This line of argument seems to draw a direct correlation between the costs associated with being a soldier and the decision to enlist.

I frankly couldn't think of a greater insult to the American people than to put forward an argument along those lines. When one examines the employment picture in America today, firefighting is listed as one of the most dangerous vocations. And yet America's youth are lining up to compete for firefighting jobs, despite the dangers. The reason for this is that danger aside, firefighting is seen as an honorable profession, one worthy of the sacrifice entailed.

Americans aren't afraid to put their lives on the line for a worthy cause. It is not military service that is being rejected, but rather military service in support of a cause not deemed worthy of the sacrifice expected. The military today has degenerated into an entity that is viewed by many in the American public as no longer serving the larger interests of the American people, but rather the play toy of a political elite who use the US military as a tool to impose their ideology on others around the world, as opposed to "upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States," the mission assumed when one is sworn into military service.

It is not just the fighting and dying in Iraq that creates an image problem. The military today is involved in a variety of activities that not only insult American sensibilities abroad (such as the illegal invasion of sovereign states, and the illegitimate occupation and oppression of sovereign peoples), but also assault at home the very Constitution they are sworn to uphold and defend. Americans should not overlook the fact that the agency at the heart of the illegal warrant-less wiretaps that have been ordered by President Bush is the National Security Agency, or NSA, run out of the Department of Defense.

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