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Are Veterans Educated? Are they more peace-loving?

Rosa Brooks on educational levels and the military:

The Army limits recruits without high school degrees to 3 1/2 % of the pool, for instance, while the Marines won’t accept recruits without high school degrees. Poverty correlates strongly with high school dropout rates, so these rules significantly limit the access of the very poor to military service….At the same time, they ensure that enlisted members of the military are more likely than members of the general population to have high school degrees. The same pattern holds for commissioned officers. In 2004, for instance, only 4.2% of officers lacked college degrees, and a whopping 37% held an advanced degree of some sort, compared to only 10% of adults nationwide.

Then this clincher:

If political elites don’t like the thought of getting stuck in Iraq themselves, they should consider the results of a recent study. Duke University researchers Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi analyzed data from the period between 1816 and 1992 and found that “as the percentage of veterans serving in the executive branch and the legislature increases, the probability that the United States will initiate militarized disputes declines by nearly 90%.”

Here’s an elaboration of this point of view (reported by Gil Klein ). Unfortunately, this analysis is misleading. A longitudinal study going back that far would be comparing a time when military service was mandatory compared to when military service was optional. You really can’t do this. A far more interesting analysis would be to compare voting records of veterans vs. nonveterans. I’m sure that would show a greater willingness to use the military for foreign adventurism.

The problem with military service is that it is driven by authority, and those who succeed tend to be the be the best at implementing/obeying orders. Yes, there are exceptions. But if we look how John Kerry and Ron Kovic were vilified, one really has to doubt whether dissent has a legitimate place in military service. If you read Tour of Duty (which gives an excellent account of Kerry’s Tour of Duty, as well as that of others), you see that in many ways Kerry was the honorable soldier. Although he had disagreements, he nonetheless performed his duty well and honorably. And still he was vilified. Another example is Colin Powell. He was point man behind two major military attacks, and yet he was said to have politely disagreed with the latest Iraqi endeavor. But this disagreement did not prevent him from executing orders or taking any kind of principled stand. Perhaps in private he was more vocal in his disagreement (I’m sure he claims that now). We have to ask whether his military background prevented him from more effectively opposing the invasion.

Personally, I have noticed that many I know in military service see things in black-and-white terms rather than shades of gray. Perhaps that is for the best. (We probably wouldn’t have an effective army if they were all Noam Chomsky or Habermas-like philosophers).

The canard that grates on me most is that “Freedom is Not Free.” (i.e., the idea that we need to fight to remain free). The problem is military actions costs a lot of money–$530 billion for fiscal year 2006 according to a conservative thinktank. To spend that much money (and to ignore impending debts, basic science research and health care reform) is essentially to ruin the country we live in. It also dilutes the vision of America and reduces it to a legacy of another empire collapsing under the weight of its ambitions.

Related: how US military spending compares to the rest of the world. (I researched a few weeks ago for a political bumper sticker (!) and know for a fact that those figures are out of date, though I can’t remember where I found the more accurate and up-to-date figures–Heritage Foundation maybe?).

military spending comparison

(source: wikipedia article)

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