Rich Americans Aren’t Dying In Iraq
Wednesday - August 24, 2005
Sgt. Robert Harrison Scott, United States Marine Corps, Retired, died this past summer. Sarge was an American patriot, Ohio-born, Marine Corps reared. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam, receiving three Purple Hearts, two combat ribbons, a Presidential Unit citation, and a good conduct medal.
Sarge was also a patriot of his alma mater, the University of Hawaii-West Oahu, where he studied for degrees in both sociology and history. As a graduate, he served as president of the school’s alumni association and volunteered both his time and his treasure to the school.
Sarge took several classes from me. When he became so ill he had to move out of his home and into a care facility, he bequeathed to me his history library: a dozen or so grocery boxes packed with books.
I picked one up last week, Thomas Ricks’Making the Corps. In 1995, journalist Ricks went to Parris Island, S.C., to follow the 63 men of boot camp Platoon 3086 through their training.
Ricks calls the Marines “a culture apart. The Air Force has its planes, the Navy its ships, the Army its obsessively written and obeyed ‘doctrine’that dictates how to act. Culture — that is, the values and assumptions that shape its members — is all the Marines have. It is what holds them together … Theirs is the richest culture: formalistic, insular, elitist, with a deep anchor in their own history and mythology. A healthy institution that unabashedly teaches values to the Beavises and Buttheads of America. It does an especially good job in dealing with the bottom half of American society … The Corps takes kids with weak high school educations and nurtures them so that many can assume positions of honor and respect.”
The Marines of boot camp Platoon 3086 came from the bottom of American society — from its urban ghettoes, from its increasingly jobless rust belt cities, from the rural South. During boot camp, Marine Corps drill instructors strip recruits of their old decadence and inculcate Marine values: integrity, responsibility, the importance of the group over the individual. “The Marines,” Ricks writes, “play the role in the American working class that the Ivy League colleges have played for the upper middle class.”
Ricks admits his admiration for the Marine Corps, but he tolls a warning bell. Since the termination of the draft in 1973, the Marine Corps, indeed, the entire United States military, is a volunteer force. As such, it is highly unrepresentative of the society at large. Those who join the Marines or the Army or any other branch of the service do so, more often than not, because their prospects in the civilian world are not good.
They are not the sons and daughters of President George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney or all but one or two members of Congress — or me or any of my friends. President Bush’s daughters don’t have to avoid a draft. The children of the nation’s upper middle class remain sheltered. Primarily the children of the poor — of the ghetto, of the rust belt city, of the broken home, of poor prospects — die in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So President Bush needn’t go to their funerals. He can take a five-week vacation on the ranch in Texas while American service men and women endure a bloody summer in Iraq. Or, closer to home, Honolulu’s two daily newspapers can carry reports of American casualties on the inside pages.
On one bloody day two weeks ago, my morning paper ran the deaths of five American soldiers in Iraq on page A-5. Primarily local news — much of it not very newsworthy — made the front page. Celebrity gossip, weather, this, that — all beat out the deaths of five Americans in an endless war half a world away. I was appalled.
My afternoon paper told of those deaths on page A-8. That degree of disrespect for American soldiers would not occur were they the sons and daughters of editors, publishers, reporters — and the bankers and businesspeople whose advertising dollars support the papers.
Indeed, were the children of the upper middle class at risk, a much more critical examination of what’s transpiring in Iraq would have been under way long, long ago and in our newspapers daily. The Sarges of this, and every war, deserve at least that much.
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