Carol Platt Liebau: Ivory Tower Ignorance

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Ivory Tower Ignorance

In last Monday's edition of The New York Times, Stanford Professor David Kennedy bemoaned the "fact" that "the United States today has a military force that is extraordinarily lean and lethal, even while it is increasingly separated from the civil society on whose behalf it fights." Even belatedly, this ridiculous piece cannot pass without comment.

First, note Kennedy's insulting assertion that "today's volunteers sign up for some mighty dangerous work largely for wages and benefits . .." [emphasis added]. How does he know? I'd be willing to bet that, from his comfortable ivory tower, he's intimately acquainted with very few ordinary soldiers -- who tend predominantly to be male, conservative, rural, white, southern and churchgoing. Not someone one tends to run into often on the shady, trendy streets of Palo Alto.

How does he know that they're "mercenaries" (his word, not mine)? Is he in academia just for the money? Well, like some of today's soldiers, he certainly wouldn't do it if he weren't being paid. But doubtless that's not the only reason he chose academics over other professional options -- and the same goes for the soldiers (in fact, if I wanted to be insulting, I might even suggest that one of academia's attractions for Kennedy might have been its safety, physical comfort, and relatively light work load . . . just another contrast with the priorities of many soldiers).

Second, if Kennedy genuinely worries that "our troops are emphatically not the kind of citizen-soldiers that we fielded two generations ago - drawn from all ranks of society without respect to background or privilege or education" -- well, he can start advocating for the return of ROTC to places like, say, Stanford and Harvard. Permitting undergraduates at elite universities to participate in military training -- without stigma -- would be a big step toward recruiting a military drawn from "all ranks of . . . privilege or education," Professor Kennedy.

Finally, Kennedy's "solution" to the problem is profoundly incoherent. If his concern is that the American people are letting such an "important function grow so far removed from popular participation and accountability" -- then the only solution would be a required term of military service, a la Israel. But even Kennedy implicitly concedes that this is unnecessary and impractical in an age of military technology, so he comes up with another solution.

Drumroll, please: Kennedy's cure-all? A "universal duty to service - perhaps in the form of a lottery, or of compulsory national service with military duty as one option among several . . ."

So either (1) We would replace an all-volunteer army ("mercenary", in Kennedy's words) with a conscripted one; or (2) Institute a type of universal Americorps.

Professor Kennedy should be thanked for setting forth so clearly the liberal approach to problem solving. Either advocate the totalitarian approach of forcing unwilling participants into the military (a not-so-great recipe for an effective fighting force, by the way), or settle for the alternative: Expensive, irrelevant inefficiency. Not even a Stanford intellectual can invent an explanation of how the non-military forms of national service that people like him would choose (such as, perhaps, picking up trash in national parks?) will solve Kennedy's alleged fraying of the long-time "link between service and a full place in society."

(In my book, by the way, soldiers certainly have certainly a full place in society -- and a much better feel for the mainstream than university professors.)

What a bubblehead. Professor Kennedy should be hiding his head in shame.


Blogger Bachbone said...

Victor Davis Hanson covered and debunked most of these leftist strawmen in a National Review article not long ago. Leftist "deep thinkers' like Kennedy apparently don't bother to have their student assistants research what opponents like Hanson are saying.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

"...increasingly separated from the civil society..."

Where does this come from?

The left's disdain for our military does not prove the military's seperation from society. Rather, it proves the left's seperation from society.

8:01 AM  

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