Military Recruiting: The War Within The Wars

Saturday, August 20, 2005 at 07:54 AM

The Bush administration to date refuses to recognize that it has a military problem beyond the immediate problems in Iraq & Afghanistan: how to get enough "volunteer" soldiers to conduct these and future wars.  The well publicized failure of most military branches to meet recent recruitment goals both: (1) reflects the failure of mainstream Americans to support the war in the most personal way possible, by actually fighting it; and (2) appears to be resulting in a military that is now accepting substandard recruits.

On the first point, Vanity Fair magazine has a very good piece in the September issue, by Michael Bronner titled "THE RECRUITERS' WAR."  Army and Marine recruiters are now under intense pressure to do the impossible: convince enough young men and women to voluntarily join when there is an excellent chance of being sent to Iraq, and to ensure that they recruit only those people who meet the military's guidelines on physical, mental, and social fitness.

Despite the legal requirement that the military now have access to students' names, addresses, and home phone numbers, the willingness to join just isn't there.  Recruiters, most of whom are military "lifers" who care greatly about there military careers, are now under intense pressure, berated and threatened by their superiors, and, often, get removed from their jobs to the detriment of their careers.

Not surprisingly, the article depicts a recruiting environment in which the recruiters do everything in their power to get potential recruits in, no matter how far the recruits are from meeting the military guidelines on such things as diseases, drug use, and single parenthood.  Assuming that these guidelines have some purpose, that they predict actual problems in performing military service, we're not only producing too few soldiers, we are also producing many unfit ones.

And, of course, the underlying problem is that too few people support the war in the sense of being willing to serve.  That includes the many, many, Republicans of military service age who verbally support the war's purpose-of-the-month, but limit their support to speech, either oral or keyboarded onto right wing web sites. Bob Herbert pointed this phenomenon out in his NY Times column titled "Blood Runs Red, Not Blue" (8/18).  As Herbert rather eloquently put it, "If the war in Iraq is worth fighting - if it's a noble venture, as the hawks insist it is - then it's worth fighting with the children of the privileged classes. They should be added to the combat mix. If it's not worth their blood, then we should bring the other troops home.  If Mr. Bush's war in Iraq is worth dying for, then the children of the privileged should be doing some of the dying."