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Published: Saturday, 12/2/2006

A sense of duty

"Making mock o' uniforms what guards you while you sleep is cheaper than them uniforms, and they're starvation cheap."

- Rudyard Kipling (Tommy), 1892

REP. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), who will be chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means committee in the next Congress, raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers when, on Fox News Sunday Nov. 26, he declared:

"I want to make it abundantly clear: If there's anyone who believes that these youngsters want to fight, as the Pentagon and some generals have said, you can just forget about it. No young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits. And most all of them come from communities of very, very high unemployment. If a young fella has an option of having a decent career or joining the Army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq. "

Mr. Rangel is not the first Democrat to express such sentiments. In a speech at a California college the week before the election, Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) famously said: "You know education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't you get stuck in Iraq."

The first thing to note is how stuck in Vietnam Mr. Kerry and Mr. Rangel are. The draft Army that fought that war was composed chiefly of young men unable to obtain college deferments. Soldiers then had less education and lower intelligence than the youth population as a whole.

But this hasn't been true since Ronald Reagan became president. The average service member today has more education and a higher IQ than do his or her civilian counterparts.

Currently, about 98 percent of enlisted personnel have high school diplomas, compared to about 75 percent of 18- to 24-year olds as a whole. In 2005, more than 70 percent of recruits scored in the upper half on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, the military equivalent of an IQ test. Only half of the youth population, of course, scores in the upper half.

About 92 percent of officers have college degrees, and a higher proportion of military officers have advanced degrees than do college graduates as a whole.

Those who volunteer to serve are more rural and southern than the youth population as a whole. But, according to a study by Dr. Tim Kane of the Heritage Foundation, they come from wealthier neighborhoods than do their civilian counterparts.

Another liberal shibboleth demolished by the data is the notion that the military is made up disproportionately of racial minorities. According to the 2000 Census American Community Survey, 75.6 percent of the adult population self-identifies as white. In 2004 and 2005, 73.1 percent of recruits were white. Since whites are, on average, older than blacks or Hispanics, whites probably are slightly overrepresented compared to the entire military-age population. They definitely are overrepresented in combat units, the reverse of what was true of the draft Army in Vietnam.

I agree with Mr. Rangel that "no young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits." Basic pay for a private E1 is $15,282. For a second lieutenant, it's $28,994. Not many are enlisting for the money.

But many bright young people have enlisted to fight and have re-enlisted after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. That the reason is a mystery to Mr. Rangel, Mr. Kerry, and many other Democratic leaders is troubling for the future of our country.

I know something about the reason. My draft number was 363. I'd have gone after women and children. But in 1970, I dropped out of law school to join the Marines as a private. I had reasons both noble and base. I was bored with school, tired of cold Wisconsin winters. I wondered if I were man enough to be a Marine. But mostly, it was because my country was at war.

Our country is again at war. Yet it does not occur to Charlie Rangel or John Kerry that bright young people today enlist in the Armed Forces to protect their homes, their families, our freedoms.

For many Democrats, being an American is all about rights, not duties. They regard with barely concealed contempt those Americans whose sense of duty causes them to go in harm's way. If America's "leaders" have such attitudes, can the nation long survive?

Jack Kelly is national security writer for The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: jkelly@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1476.



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