What Military Recruiters Are Doing to Fill the Ranks

News at Home

Mr. Palaima, recipient of a MacArthur genius award, teaches war and violence studies and ancient history at the University of Texas at Austin. He thanks Mr. David Hill for the reference to "The Recruiting Sergeant."

Good morning, good morning, the Sergeant he cried.
And the same to you, gentlemen, we did reply,
Intending no harm but meant to pass by,
For it bein' on Christmas mornin'.

But, says he, My fine fellows, if you will enlist,
Ten guineas in gold I'll stick to your fist,
And a crown in the bargain for to kick up the dust,
And drink the king's health in the morning.

For a soldier, he leads a very fine life,
And he always is blessed with a charming young wife,
And he pays all his debts without sorrow or strife,
And he always lives pleasant and charmin',

And a soldier, he always is decent and clean,
In the finest of clothing he's constantly seen.
While other poor fellows go dirty and mean,
And sup on thin gruel in the morning.

Says Arthur, I wouldn't be proud of your clothes,
For you've only the lend of them, as I suppose,
But you dare not change them one night, for you know
If you do, you'll be flogged in the morning.

And we have no desire to take your advance,
All hazards and dangers we barter on chance,
For you'd have no scruples for to send us to France,
Where we would get shot without warning.  (© Bob Dylan 1992)
The traditional Irish folk song"Arthur McBride" was written down in Limerick in 1840 and made popular again by Bob Dylan in 1992. In it, the young hero refutes and resists a military recruiter's false promises.

In mid-19th-century Ireland, recruiting sergeants preyed upon poor Irish boys, promising them adventure, honor, fine clothes and romance instead of pre- and post-potato-famine destitution. Poverty and ignorance have always been the military recruiter's best friends.

Irish recruits in the 1800's had to serve as battlefield fodder in the British army for eightpence a day. They were subject to cruel discipline, receiving 25 to 1500 lashes with a cat-o-nine-tails for offenses like changing out of their uniforms. Still for many, military life was better than starvation.

Seventy-five years later, little had changed. The British were now recruiting in Ireland for the war to end all wars. This inspired another anti-recuiter ballad entitled"The Recruiting Sergeant" written by Seamus O'Farrell. It was covered recently by the Pogues:
As I was walking down the road a feeling fine and larky oh
A recruiting sergeant come up to me, says he"you'd like fine in khaki oh
For the King he is in need of men, come read this proclamation oh
A life in Flanders for you then, 't would be a fine vacation oh"

"That may be so" says I to him"but tell me Sergeant deary-oh
if I had a pack stuck upon me back would I look fine and cheery-oh
For they'd have you train and drill until they had you one of Frenchies
oh it may be warm in Flanders but it's draughty in the trenches oh"

The sergeant smiled and winked his eye, his smile was most provoking oh
he twiddled and twirled his wee moustache, says he"You're only joking oh
for the sandbags are so warm and high the wind you won't feel blowing oh
well I winked at a caitlin passing by, says I,"What if it's snowing oh"

Come rain or hail or wind or snow I'm not going out to Flanders oh
There's fighting in Dublin to be done, let your sergeants and your commanders go
Let Englishmen fight English wars, it's nearly time they started oh
I saluted the sergeant a very good night, there and then we parted oh

Recruiters nowadays use the same techniques, but with a new sophistication that aims at making their targets more pliant and susceptible to their sales pitches. The hard sell and the gaps between promises and realities are still there. And our national economic policies ensure a steady supply of young men for whom the military is the main route out of poverty.

So long as that supply line exists, disapproval of our foreign wars will never reach the intensity of the Vietnam War period. Back then, even wealthy young men like our current president had their lives affected by the universal draft.

Austin American-Statesman reader Vic Blackburn (1LT, 82nd Airborne Division, 1968-1970) recently reminded me of Col. (ret.) David Hackworth's views on this subject:"Most recruits in the All Volunteer Force come from non-vocal, working-class families--a disproportionate number from the poor and from minority groups--while more privileged Americans are conspicuous by their absence." Soldiers drawn from a universal draft"keep all our citizens more closely involved and invested; they are our bottom-line deterrent to war."

While most parents of teenagers worry about sex, drugs, alcohol and music, parents in certain neighborhoods and school districts also worry about recruiters.

Army Adventure Vans: They're Flashy. They're Dangerous. They're Targeting 500,000 students. They're Coming To A School Near You. Marguerite Jones of Austin, Texas does. She called me about the sleek, two-million-dollar 18-wheeler military Cinema Van that pulled up outside Travis High School around Veteran's Day. In a scene resembling playground drug-pushing, her son William and his freshman peers were lured on board and offered free access to the most sophisticated high-tech battle-simulation computer games. All they had to do was give the recruiters their personal information. The kids were told by their school that they had to sign up to get credit for PE class.  Meanwhile the recruiters said they needed the information to prove to their superiors that they had been doing their jobs. Indeed.

The U.S. Army sponsored game"America's Army" and Kuma Reality Games use military battle simulation and retired military consultants to transport their targeted youth audience of 12- to 15-year-olds right into the Battle of Fallujah, Operation Anaconda, and Uday and Qusay's Last Stand.  These games are exciting and ultra-realistic, except in representing the real finality if the American soldier avatar should get himself killed or severely wounded.

At a recent week-long conference I attended at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, a video-game expert spoke of playing the Battle of Fallujah online while watching Marines on CNN do battle on the exact same streets. The video game Full Spectrum Warrior asks youths,"Do you think you have what it takes to become a nationally renowned squad leader?"  (Note: How many squad leaders from Iraq or Afghanistan do you think the average American can name?) It also touts the fact that it is based on a game commissioned by the U.S. Army.

The web sites that offer such games for a $9.99 monthly fee have direct links to military recruiting web sites. Imagine the lure of the plush van and sophisticated equipment for kids from homes that cannot afford computers.

Students in targeted schools are further invited to join Junior ROTC. Austin has Air Force Junior ROTC at Reagan, Akins, Westwood, Bowie and McNeil high schools, i.e., the lower-income, predominantly minority schools. The same pattern holds true acros the state, with Junior ROTC's in traditionally minority regions or areas of urban and rural economic stagnation. 

The Army Junior ROTC web site calls its version a"Character and Leadership Development Program." We might wonder why affluent suburban high schools like non-minority urban high schools do not need to develop these same civic virtues.

Further preying upon teenage insecurity and parental anxiety about their children's future, the military has devised the Delayed Entry Program. Seventeen year-old kids can sign up for military service, ostensibly to gain credit towards higher rank in the year or more before graduation and basic training. There are a number of specified reasons that legally permit these teenagers later to opt out, but recruiters have been known to misrepresent and high-pressure reluctant graduates or non-graduates into"living up to their commitment."

Military recruiting then starts with underprivileged twelve year-olds and never lets up. It is supported by money-making video-game manufacturers and schools that are obliged to allow recruiters access to students and student information or lose funding under the provisions of the federal No Child Left behind Act.

I proposed in another recent essay that stop-loss orders and veteran call-backs, while perfectly lawful, were immoral. Austin American-Statesman reader Vic Blackburn disagrees. He calls them and current recruiting practices criminal. What do you think?

A shorter version of this essay appeared in the Austin American-Statesman (12-15-04).

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More Comments:

Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005

It is evident Tom, the theorist, whimpering about napalm & land mines has never found himself in a foxhole peering into a jungle awaiting the attack of an enemy.

Ban land mines? B.S.! Ah grow up, will you? You wouldn't want mines laid in front of you to slow down an enemy assault? Now are you going to complain about barbed wire, grenades, fogas, & flechette rounds as well?
Napalm is nasty & should be banned? So should knives!

It ii silly to suppose that an effective ban on land mines may be instituted in opposition to the expressed national interests of Russia, China & the U.S.

Even poison gas, supposedly banned, is from time-to-time yet used, at least by second & third tier powers. It was used by Iraq against Iran during their 1980-88 war. And apparently by Iran against Iraq too.

Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005

Yes, the draft, or at least a national service system, should be reinstituted. With no student deferments allowed. But unfortunately, it isn't going to happen.

In the meanwhile, Mr. Pine, who must be another academic cocooned in a "sheltered habitat," drifts off in fantasyland speculations about man evolving to the point he won't engage in violence. That too isn't going to happen for the foreseeable future.

Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005

Once, with his complaint that Operation Iraqi Freedom is overkill, more Tom presents us with evidence that he's but a theroist & complainer who's never carried a rifle on the field of battle.

To anyone who has faced an enemy on the field of battle massive overkill is just barely enough of a response to a threat. As far as I'm concerned, that applies to the decision to put Saddam's Iraq out of business in the international affairs realm.

As to Tom's complaint about how awful preemptive warfare, a la Iraq, is, what would he have said had we awaited an Iraqi development of either biologiocal or nuclear weapons used against the U.S. with evidece in had that such a weapon was known to be being developed with the intention of attacking us? Does Tom really think we are obligated to await an attack upon our civilian populace before we take defensive action?

Liberals may not like this Administration's political & foreign affairs decisions, but that's tough. According to the Constitution the elected Administration is responsible for setting those policies. Unquestionably with not only a majority of the electoral college vote this Administration won a clear and commanding majority of the popular vote as well. Not only that, as further evidence of Bush's popularity, he demonstrated he had coat-tails, the G.O.P. increasing its grip on not only the House but also on the Senate.

The Left were losers once again, as they with their rejected by the American voter failed policies & proposals will continue to lose in the future until they catch on that their notions, national socialized health care, for example, are foolish ideas unacceptable to the American people.

Anyone here that would care to receive a copy of the latest Red/Blue map, do let me know & I'll be pleased to send you one, complete with smaller Red/Blue maps for the elections of 2000 & 2002 for comparison, to show how the U.S. is election after election increasing taking on a Red paint job.

Of course, the map illustrates dramatically too how the Democratic Party has declined from its once competing national political party state to its present status as merely a regional political party, or more perhaps more properly, a bi-regional, the NE & the Left Coast, party. Nonetheless, it has shrunk under its current Left radical leadership to near Whig Party status. Clearly, Zell Miller in his "National Party No More" is accurately perceptive to point out the Democratic Party, he a lie-long & yet Democcrat, is well on its way to its demise.

Of course, to see his point, all one need do is compare the election maps of 1960 & 2004. Those maps set side-by-side clearly show the developing political suicide of the Democratic Party. As far as I'm concerned, the Republican Party is welcome to follow the Democratic Party into the dustbin of history, a pox on the both of'em!

John H. Lederer - 12/28/2004


December 28, 2004 -- IT will surely be difficult for many people of good will to reconcile the awfulness of the daily news coming out of Iraq — deaths of and injuries to American soldiers and committed Iraqis who want nothing more than to bring freedom and democracy to a forlorn and battered country — with the astonishing new poll released by the Military Times yesterday.

That poll of 1,423 active members of the military indicates that the armed forces of the United States are passionate supporters of the Coalition's efforts in Iraq.

Support for the war inside the military stands at 60 percent, 25 percent higher than the latest Gallup measurement of the American people as a whole.

When it comes to President Bush's handling of the war effort, the results are even more lopsided. Only 42 percent of Americans approve, according to ABC News. In the military, Bush garners 63 percent support.

In other words, support for Bush's Iraq policy is an astounding half again as big in the active military as in the American body politic.

And, in the words of the Army Times report on the poll, "Support for the war is even greater among those who have served longest in the combat zone: Two-thirds of combat vets say the war is worth fighting."

It seems that the people who are actually putting their lives on the line believe in what they are doing — and that those who have spent the most time in harm's way are the most passionate of all.

Job satisfaction in the military, the poll found, is a breathtaking 87 percent, and only a quarter of those polled say they want out.

"Compared with last year," the Military Times notes, "the percentages for support for the war and job satisfaction remain essentially unchanged."

Among non-military Americans, the change over the past year is startling: 60 percent of the country supported the decision to go to war at this time last year, as opposed to 51 percent now.

* * *

Jonathan Dresner - 12/26/2004

Civilians have rights too. At least so far. Prof. Palaima may not be a combat-bloodied veteran, but he is an expert in the history of militaries. Address his points or go home.

"It worked, so it must be ok" is a logical fallacy.

Majorities are always right is a fallacy, too.

John H. Lederer - 12/26/2004

"We create and tolerate massive areas of urban and rural poverty, while cutting taxes and waiting for what George H.W. Bush (aka 41) long ago rightly called Voodoo Economics to present results that will help the poor."

I find that an extraordinary view. I do not think that the natural state of things is wealth, and only by assiduous economic policies have we been able to generate poverty.

Bill Heuisler - 12/23/2004

And a very Merry Christmas to you and yours also. One of the reasons I enjoy HNN is the smart, personable men and women who inhabit this particular cloud of ether. We can sharpen our experience on each others' intellects and become better advocates. And, of course, it's fun.

A defense: Islamofascism describes the terror groups that inhabit and/or control the states that curtail individual freedoms in the name of the state or the state religion. As in most historical fascism, military aggression seems endemic to the political and cultural ethos formed since Mohammed first urged his followers to conquer the world.
How else would you describe Syria? Iran? Lybia?

A last thrust: You assign evil intent to people you don't know. You wrote, "Wolfowitz and Rice, among others, are ideologues who have no qualms about gambling American lives and treasure in pursuing their personal world views"
And you added, "Rove, Rumsfeld, and Cheney are simply old-fashioned powermongers. And because those three really don't care whether a true democracy forms in Iraq."

As though these people were acting from pure malice. Don't you understand to "pursue...world views" and gather power there must be successes like Afganistan? Gambling lives and eschewing true democracy are two sure paths to defeat and failure in our democracy. Don't you see the contradiction? Don't you see how words like the above and like neocon are mindless expressions of hatred for its own sake? Reasonable people will allow political enemies a modicum of good intent and only attack method. If you begrudge Rove's or Rice's motives, please explain how failure of freedom in Iraq and Afganistan and great loss of life in the effort would help any conceivable scheme of "power" or fulfill some odd "world view".

I believe these people are doing the best they can to defeat the forces that brought 3000 deaths to NY and countless others since Hezbollah killed all those Marines
in Lebanon twenty some years ago. And I believe they're succeeding.

Ben H. Severance - 12/23/2004


Then let's call it political hegemony backed by martial capitalism, and dispense with the misleading propaganda of democratic nation-building.

Having said that, I really do hope you are right, and I envy your self-assuredness on this matter (even as I recognize the longterm threat posed by terrorists in the Arab world). Still, I maintain that lasting change must come from a collective internal epiphany not an external imposition; the Iraqis will never develop genuine ownership as long as the U.S. is around. Propped up client states rarely perform well. And to continue my thread of cynicism, I imagine that we'll all be reading about Allawi's assassination sometime in the near future.

But then, perhaps the U.S. is making history in that Iraq may become the only instance where an outsider created a viable democracy from scratch. In this sense, I do think there is something laudable about what the Bush administration is doing; I just think the civilian leaders in charge are mediocre men. You've alluded to my inconsistency of thought (I voted for Kerry!), but foreign policy is complicated and consistency isn't always a virtue. One should never reinforce failure as my battalion commander used to tell me.

And if my use of "neocon" is merely a sensationalized pejorative, I would counter that your use of "Islamofascist" is no different. Frankly, I do believe that Wolfowitz and Rice, among others, are ideologues who have no qualms about gambling American lives and treasure in pursuing their personal world views (and for this the American people should hold accountable the compliant Congress). Rove, Rumsfeld, and Cheney are simply old-fashioned powermongers. And because those three really don't care whether a true democracy forms in Iraq, this nation will likely be sparring in the Middle East for many years to come.

As for your contention that "trained terrorists are getting scarce," well only time will tell, as they say. Anyway, I've enjoyed the conversation. You articulate your positions forcefully, yet politely.

Merry Christmas!

Bill Heuisler - 12/22/2004

Hegemony's not a bad word. It's either us or another Saddam or Ayatollah. Who else? Only US welfare matters in the strategic sense because we're the only entity able to project a stabilizing power over the region. You think we're making a mistake, but have no alternative. Your future is bleak, mine isn't. Mine? In a year there will be a newly elected Iraq regime and we will have bases to maintain our hegemony while the elected Iraqi Government will rid the country of the remainder of the terrorists.

Pretext to war? You agree to one and not the other, but make no distinction and ignore the fact they're the same war. Sinister neocons? Come on, that's become meaningless pejorative and says very little of substance. That aside, our hegemony in a year will be as ally with bases like others in the past (Japan, Germany). Short of invading Iran and Syria, the only way to subdue the Islamofascists is power projection and isolation. The Syrian Government is already making overtures to the newly-elected Bush Administration and the latent insurrection in Iran is from the pro-Western parts of the population.

Bottom line: were killing terrorists there and they're not killing us here. That's military efficiency and, no matter what the Krugmans write, trained terrorists are getting scarce in the Euphrates Valley.
Bill Heuisler

Bill Heuisler - 12/22/2004

Jonathan Pine - 12/22/2004

It's best to ignore him.

Ben H. Severance - 12/22/2004

Rumsfeld would certainly have the American people believe that the insurgents are mostly Baathists (I notice he has stopped using his ridiculous "dead-ender" expression). And there are some foreign Jihadists. In actuality, however, most of the Sunnis are supporting the insurgency. Rummy and Bremer totally blew an early opportunity to recruit junior RGFC officers into a genuine Iraqi constabulary. Now, those men are paramilitary leaders.

And then there is the Mahdi Army, temporarily inactive, which only last spring and summer was attacking U.S. troops with a passion. Al-Sistani has persuaded Al-Sadr to play the American game until January at which time the Shiites will probably organize a theocracy and demand an immediate U.S. withdrawal or face a huge uprising (no doubt the Shiitte militias are fully organized and ready for such a contingency). The cruel irony is that Bush jr. is unwittingly creating an Islamic state that will likely align itself with Iran. A year from now, we're going to be facing a threat far worse than Saddam, perhaps even a nuclear threat. This assumes, of course, that Bush doesn't reject the legitimacy of the Shiite clerics and pour in more troops.

As for Desert Storm, I agree that Saddam's invasion of Kuwait was a flimsy pretext to counter-attack, but at least it was a real pretext, not something drummed up by the Neocons, and it enjoyed the support of a real coalition. My problem with Bush sr.s' handling of the war was that he withdrew too soon. The U.S. didn't have to occupy Baghdad or capture Saddam, but it could have given the Kurds and Basra Shiites some air cover and kept the army in the Euphrates valley until the weapons inspectors had completed their tasks. Unfortunately, Bush sr. feared the Vietnam syndrome and left this nation with a boil that Bush jr. has incompetently and needlessly lanced (containment was working just fine).

Finally, you can believe if you want to that the current U.S. occupation of Iraq is all about building a democracy. The reality is that it is all about establishing U.S. hegemony in the region. In this sense, the Bush administration is very much like ancient Rome. The Iraqi majority is glad Saddam is gone, but you are hopelessly delusional if you think any significant number in the Arab world support our continued presence over there or trust our supposedly good intentions. The U.S. entry into Baghdad last year didn't have the liberating feel of say Paris or Rome in 1944.

My recommendation: leave a garrison with the Kurds (our only friends) and along the Kuwaiti border, and then get out before the inevitable civil war swallows another 1,300 American soldiers.

Richard Bevisangue - 12/22/2004

When I say the word troll you just come a running like you knew your name. You good in poetry uh, take ballet lessons too poof?

Bill Heuisler - 12/22/2004

The so-called Iraqi insurgents are remnants of the Baath regime and a good proportion are foreign. To say either group is striving to, "...gain its freedom through self-determination." is to ignore prior Baathist tyranny over the majority of the Iraqi population who now support our intervention.

My point about Vercingetorix was that he and his Gauls were fighting a just war of self-defense. To assume the Saddam regime were merely interested in self defense and not in conquest and terror is to ignore history. I'm certain you understand the huge difference between
"bringing order" and in bringing democracy (or freedom of choice) to a people. So to equate 2000 Americans to BC Romans is ahistoric at best.

To say overthrowing Saddam and nurturing democracy is a perversion of force makes me wonder about your earlier statement that HW pulled his punches. Saddam vowed to bring mass destruction to our shores many times after Desert Storm, but he never did before. So, how was Saddam's invasion of Kuwait a more egregious threat to the US than trying to kill our President, shooting at our planes, training, nurturing and encouraging terrorists who were pledged to kill Americans and breaking the cease fire agreement 14 times?

If the resumption of Desert Storm was unjustified, so was the beginning.
Bill Heuisler

Bill Heuisler - 12/22/2004

Mr. Bevisangue,
Sorry to frighten you again, but you're missing an experience called discussion. Because someone disagrees with you does not require they live under a bridge. Some might say your post lacks factual merit and errs on the side of ad hominem, but that would be too unkind.

By the way, "the stench and smell of gunpowder" while poetic is a bit repetitive - needs work - and a "neutral point of view" is no point of view at all.

If you have real disagreements with any statements of history made over my name, please argue them. Oh, but wait, that would frighten you again, wouldn't it?

Back under the bridge, Bill Heuisler

Jonathan Pine - 12/22/2004

Correct. It won't happen happen anytime soon in yours or my lifetime.

accademic "cocooned in a 'sheltered habitat'"? Hardly. I never went further than a 4 year degree in business. I'm a hard-core businessman and I make money.

Jonathan Pine - 12/22/2004

Correct. It won't happen happen anytime soon in yours or my lifetime.

accademic "cocooned in a 'sheltered habitat'"? Hardly. I never went further than a 4 year degree in business. I'm a hard-core businessman and I make money.

Richard Bevisangue - 12/22/2004

I have been looking in on the discussions on HNN about a month now and find the articles sometimes stimulating and discussion pretty balanced something I rarely find on Right wing web-sites. What first struck my attention are the two trolls on this web-site. One who seems to pride himself as the intellectual warrior and who always has the answer for everything no matter what the subject and always has an arrogant or brusque retort. Maybe he should review some of Dale Carnegie's principles on leadership or how to get people to like you. The other troll, also a macho vet and who parrots the other, sometimes sounds like he's on medications now and then. Otherwise, this is a pretty pleasant site. I’m a vet myself of the Iraq war and will have to return in 7 months to smell the stench and smell of gunpowder again.

Mr. Palaima is correct in many things, especially on how the government treats its soldiers. And it’s funny how these two trolls imagine themselves to be disciplined historians with a neutral point of view.

Ben H. Severance - 12/22/2004

All valid points, Bill. And I generally share your view that wars are sometimes necessary, perhaps even preferred courses of action. But your comments are applicable to BOTH sides in a conflict. The U.S. is fighting in Iraq ostensibly to punish a foe who attacked us and to safeguard the American way of life. Conversely, the Iraqi insurgency is striving to drive out an alien invader and gain its freedom through self-determination.

It is useless to present arguments that America is bringing democracy. The Romans claimed that they were bringing civilized order to backward barbarians, but the Germanic tribes never accepted the Roman way except when subdued through force. You speak of Vercingetorix, but he and his Gauls are more akin to the Iraqis, whereas Caesar and the Romans equate to Bush and the U.S. army. Like the Germans of old, the Iraqis of today fight against perceived U.S. tyranny and like the Germans of old refuse to be enslaved to a foreign power. (This is where I see Americans confusing freedom with democracy, but I've addressed that elsewhere.)

You and I both believe in the general good will of America, and we believe that freedom often requires force to preserve. But to me, the U.S. invasion of Iraq belies the former and perverts the latter. I am a veteran of Desert Storm and actually think Bush sr. pulled his punches in that war, but this current war is unjustified overkill.

Bill Heuisler - 12/21/2004

Mr. Palaima,
I read both articles and have read many translations of the Iliad and Thucydides. However the arguments of the Greeks do not fit our modern war on Terror. As you said, Thucydides did not oppose war, but was resigned to it. You oppose the war in Iraq because you're convinced it's not just. So, this question now has turned to "just" wars.

The fault of what I call the "anti-war" Left is their lack of discrimination on a very selective basis. Many of my friends on the Left constantly repeat the myth that there's no connection between and among Saddam, Al Qaeda and 9/11 in order to attack W's war. You also repeat a similar opinion - perhaps to transform wishful thought into truism. But none of you wish to explain Salman Pak, the connections in Sudan, the payments to terrorists, Nidal, Abbas, the first World Trade bombing and the assasination attempt on an American President. And not one political dilletant has bothered to question Bosnia or Kosovo - and yet they angrily cry out for interference among Hutu and Tutsi and Rwanda and Western Sudan.

You say Thucydides, "...does not so much analyse why war begins as study how and why war, as an assumed near-constant, reaches new levels of violence, what forms it takes and why human beings aid war."

You condemn war without a passing word for justice and therefore condemn your condemnation to trivia. Why not condemn murder or piracy? Why not realize how Thucydides' world-view was severely circumscribed to lands within a thousand miles of the Med? We were attacked for twenty years by the men of Islam - from Lebanon to Yemen to New york...twice - and the anti-war Left cannot perceive the provocation. According to the Senate testimony of two Directors of the CIA, the 9/11 commission testimony and two Senate Intelligence Committee Chairs the 9/11 attack had far more connections to Saddam's Iraq than Taliban Afganistan. What does it take for a just war on the Left?
Do you deny wars of self defense? Thucydides did not.
Bill Heuisler

Thomas G. Palaima - 12/21/2004

Mr. Lederer,

Thanks. Your statistics are good ones to have, the rpespective is sound, and I accept your reasoning. But the underlying cultural morality is this:

We create and tolerate massive areas of urban and rural poverty, while cutting taxes and waiting for what George H.W. Bush (aka 41) long ago rightly called Voodoo Economics to present results that will help the poor. Then we operate on kids 12 years old and up.

This is wrong and it allows the electorate, especially the well off, to view this war with no personal stake.


Thomas G. Palaima - 12/21/2004

Please read my major piece paired with Peter Furtado's (editor of History Today) in the Times Higher Education Supplement at:




and you will know that your assertion that I do not see war as necessary to life is dead wrong. I am a student of Thucydides' pragmatism. War is always with us. Therefore all the more reason to pick our wars wisely, and if we want to preserve our own civilization and set even a self-beneficial standard in the world, to conduct them morally as regards ourselves and our enemies.

This means presenting just causes to our citizenry openly and honestly. This was lacking wrt Iraq.

This means proceeding to war according to our established moral standards. This was lacking wrt Iraq. The principle of preemptive warfare is terrible, again even pragmatically. In regard to world law, we have now set the precedent that any nation that feels another nation might presently of eventually grow strong enough to threaten it can attack said nation unilaterally. By our own principle, then, Iran would be fully justified in attacking us right now. So other nations should feel no obligation to rise to our defense.

We should also agree to the Land Mine Ban agreement and to the ban on Napalm. To be partners with China, Russia on the first and with no one on the second is morally reprehensible.

We must also wage war with troops who represent a consensus of support for fighting, who are recruited and enlisted openly and honestly and fairly, and who are given the utmost safeguards and protections. This is lacking wrt Iraq.

We must also see to it that our troops are treated well, pryschologically and physically and benefits-wise, after they have served. This is lacking wrt Iraq.

There are good wars and bad wars. Then there are wars that quite simply stink. This is one of them, before, during, and, for those vets who have come back dead, physically wounded, or pyschologicaly damaged, after. We won't see after as a nation for a long, long time. And I doubt whether Iraq ten years from now will look any better than many of our other major interventions, overt or covert, from the Truman Doctrine onward.

Jonathan Pine - 12/21/2004

Thanks for your response, Mr. Palaima. Recruits should be told, and shown if possible, the whole truth at the very beginning, not sugarcoated with video games and a future that may not be waiting for them. The subject you’ve brought up also begs the question of just about everything under the sun. But at this hour in our human evolution most human beings still seem to be primitive war animals. But I’m betting that’s going to change, if we survive, and hopefully evolve a few notches, when nations finally will achieve authentic power.

Bill Heuisler - 12/21/2004

Mr. Palaima,
The thrust of your remarks distilled into both articles seems to be that war is bad and must be avoided at all costs. This assumption ignores history, fails to portray reality and assumes the worst of the best and the best of the worst - assigning the military villain or victim status without recognizing any righteous purpose. To denounce horrors and practises of war you must denounce war; to denounce war you must forsake freedom. Further, your opinion of recruiters ignores their uniquely nuanced role in providing a needed service to a free people.

War is a necessary response to aggression - think Tours, Vienna, Ain Jalut and Stalingrad. Imagine European history without Alesia or Anschluss. Should Vercingetorix or Chamberlain have submitted? What alternative is there but to resist the Hitlers and Tojos? Ask Chamberlain.

Given the necessity of war, how would you modify the recruitment and training process without weakening the soldiers' ability to survive combat? The best of our youth tend to idealism; the brutality of Parris Island saves their lives. How do you modify our wars without eventually sacrificing our soldiers to some distant, unrealistic altruism? Also, why do you assume a large group of free young men are either naive or slow-witted enough to become cogs in an unjust/unfair/illegal system?

We differ on the basics. War is hell, but as necessary to life as the poisonous oxygen we breathe and the animals we kill to eat. You might as well decry fire as denounce war - without war we would be either tyrant or slave. Bill Heuisler

John H. Lederer - 12/21/2004

...whether the odds of an 18 year old black kid living to say 25 are better if he is in the army or if he is in an impoverished inner city.

The only data I could find isn't quite apposite, but doing a crude back of the envelope calculation based on this datum:

"Based on 1998 data for the eight communities studied,5 a 15-year-old urban African-American male faces a probability of being murdered before reaching his 45th birthday that ranges from almost 8.5 percent in the District of Columbia to just under 2.0 percent in Brooklyn, New York."

The active duty strength of the Army/Marines is about 650,000. If we use March of 2002 as a starting point, We would have about 34 months and combat related deaths of 1300, or ~460 per year or 13,800 combat related death over 30 years at the rate of the last several years. That would be about a 2.1% chance of combat related death over a 30 year enlistment at that rate.

That is crude as all get out -- it doesn't add in reserves and national guard to those exposed, doesn't treat one age period starting at 15 and the other at 18, doesn't treat unequal exposure by age, specialty, and rank, etc, etc, etc.

It does suggest, absent better figures, that the risk for intentionally caused death for a black of joining the army is not untoward compared to the risk of living in an urban environment.

Thomas G. Palaima - 12/20/2004

Thanks, Jonathan, for articulating these views. Local response in Austin has been of this sort: (1) a former recruiter accuses me of saying that anyone who enlists is ignorant and that all recruiters deal with people as young as twelve; (2) another launches into a tirade against me as an ivory-tower liberal academic who a. has not investigated the other side; b. is unpatriotic and is against the boys who are dying for our liberty.

So an intelligent and balanced response like yours is much appreciated.

I hope in previous postings, I have made clear that a. I am not a pacifist; b. I am glad we have a well-trained and powerful army; c. my main focus and concern is seeing that that army is used ethically and wisely and in keeping with humanistic principles and thathuman beings, serving as soldiers, are there because they want to be and are being endangered for a good reason.

Humanistic principles are perfectly consistent with warfare pragmatism, if we will only let them be. If not, we come to resemble the enemies we are supposedto be fighting.

The soldiers coming back now are surviving severe physical wounding at an unparallled rate (because of the body armor and advances in medical treatment); they are fighting a very nasty war, one that causes realities to blur and makes their ethical choices diffciult--and this is independent to the opposition to the war at home; they are still not receiving the expert short- and long-term counseling they need.

So we surely have a moral obligation to see to it that only the most committed join up. One retired recruiter with whom I have spoken at length (Vietnam vet 66-68), who won awards for his success as a Marine recruiter, said that he would show potential enlistees 10-minutes of unadulterated full soundtrack footage of battlefield surgery and would invoke his right to deny even those who insisted on being sworn in, until he was sure that they had had a long and serious talk with a trusted adult.

My personal opinion is that this 'war' is a very bad deal for the young men and the older Nat Guard and reservists over there. those who have written me have had, e.g., fantasies of going on missions with GW and certainly think Rumsfeld is morally obtuse.

The President and Defense Secreary might be stock figures out of Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Erich Maria Remarque, Evelyn Waugh, Rolando Hinojosa, Joseph Heller.

The bottom line is that good satirists NEVER have to invent characters. They just have to be observant.

Jonathan Pine - 12/20/2004

It could be almost as bad as one of those opiates offered by a Colombian drug dealer. If you’re lucky you make it, if not you’re sent home in a box via Dover AFB courtesy of the 505th MAW.

Normally when you’re 15 or 16 or 18 years old your personal philosophical outlook on life is definitely not fully formed. You haven’t explored the world yet with those five senses and exploring it in the Iraq war at that age is not the best way to start out in life. Just because some older men with peculiar ideas believe the world should be ordered in a certain way. (of course, the articles of why we are even doing this by Walid Phares, PhD Voting Against Jihad (I)," http://www.walidphares.com/artman/publish/article_446.shtml ,submitted by Mr. Friedman, have caused me a rethink -- that someone has to be doing something about the terrorist activities on this planet - I nevertheless disagree in THE MANNER in which this administration has taken it on).

But this post is about subverting young minds who haven’t had a chance to see there’s more than one way to perceive the world. About young people who will never have a chance to go to college and live a life like Bush has, or to study something that really interests them like medicine or engineering or something that will make the world a better place to live in. If you have that why would you be interested in becoming a renowned squad leader in Iraq with all the blood and guts and collateral damage of little Iraqi kids that go with the job? But on the other side of the coin young people can be simply patriotic and want to volunteer, yet hoping they can beat the odds to become more upwardly mobile after their enlistment. For some it could be the only way. It’s a crap shoot.