[Edited for lack of clarity and plain-old inattentiveness.]
...it has to be done.
The admirable and funny Ben Stein is getting a lot of praise from the pro-war Right for throwing down the gauntlet to those in his “class” in Looking for the Will Beyond the Battlefield. However, I am not among that number--either those proffering praise for this commentary or a rich kid. As a matter of fact I think that Mr. Stein called his fellows a group of "chickenhawks." Mr. Stein spells out his reasoning better than most "chickenhawk"-callers, but that matters not; it's just as erroneous when the Right uses that epithet as when the Left does it.
My longtime pal and idol, Peter M. Flanigan — a former high honcho of Dillon, Read; a high aide to my ex-boss, Richard M. Nixon; and heir to a large brewing fortune — was once a naval aviator. My father left a comfortable job in Washington to join the Navy. The father of my pal Phil DeMuth left a successful career to be an Army Air Corps pilot, flying death-defying missions over Burma. Congressmen resigned to serve. Senators resigned to serve. Professional athletes resigned to serve in the uniform.Implicit in Mr. Stein's words is that "the best and the brightest" aren't among the number who are serving right now--that none or even a large part of today's volunteers could have made it in the high-flying, civilian professional world of the type with which he is familiar (in spite of the fact that many do, both before and after their service). Also, left out of the calculation are two factors of Mr. Stein's father's day--World War II and Korea--with one factor being the result of the other: 1) there was a draft, so 2) they were going to go fight anyway, one way or the other. Granted, as Mr. Stein acknowledges, there were many--probably most--of that era who viewed service as a badge of manhood and honor (the two are inseparable). Now, not so many.
Now, who’s fighting for us in the fight of our lives? Brave, idealistic Southerners. Hispanics from New Mexico. Rural men and women from upstate New York. Small-town boys and girls from the Midwest. Do the children of the powers on Wall Street resign to go off and fight? Fight for the system that made them rich? Fight for the way of life that made them princes? Surely, you jest.
And that’s the essence. The other side considers it a privilege to fight and die for its beliefs. Those on the other side cannot wait to line up to blow themselves up for their vision of heaven. On our side, it’s: “Let the other poor sap do it. I’ve got to make money.” How can we fight this fight with the brightest and best educated rushing off and working night and day to do private equity deals and derivatives trading? How can we fight this fight with the ruling class absent by its own sweet leave?
"[C]an they do it without the rest of us? Can they do it while we’re all working on our tans and trying to have our taxes lowered again?"
Most definitely, sir. The opinion that some who have become prosperous without sacrificing live or limb for it are “ungrateful” is a seemingly fine sentiment and I agree with it. But you should confer with those who experienced the military between 1975 and 1990. Ask them what kind of military we had at the beginning of that period and at the end. And ask them what it was like to serve in the military next to a draftee who would rather be getting a tan or serving under someone who would rather be doing ‘private equity deals’ on Wall Street. Or in Omaha. The question should be, would they be able to do it in spite of (some) of you. The Vietnam-era and its aftermath told our forebears that the answer was "with great difficulty."
In short, the military is in far better shape now, than it ever was in the days in which men (and a few women) of great dedication had to serve next to men who figured that the military was better than prison or Canada.
“How can we leave them out there all alone to die for us when we treat the war to save civilization as something we can just wish away?"Those guys and girls aren’t “alone.” They serve next to the salt of the Earth and of this country. It’s not about who they are, what color they are or what part of the country (or the world) they come from; it’s about faith and commitment. And, to a person, none of them wants to be in a foxhole with someone who doesn't have these two qualities--that lack is often a given for someone who was forced or shamed into being there.
As an aside, I happen to know of at least few persons--and Mr. Stein probably knows some of them as well--who could have been flying high in the great financial/media centers of this country immediately after matriculating from elite universities, but chose to do their small parts in this war of civilization. But for those who didn’t make that choice, “I ain’t mad at ‘em” and neither should Mr. Stein be.
I’m wondering whether Mr. Stein viewed the following speech, given at a Ft. Benning ITB (Basic Training) graduation ceremony by the battalion commander of the 2-58 Infantry Regiment, LTC Randolph C. White, Jr. (USA). This rousing call to service certainly would have made me feel (erroneously) regretful and ashamed had I not served and—as many others have noted—it makes me want to salute and go serve again.
In spite of his bashing of the latte-biscotti crew—two treats which I have been known to enjoy on occasion--I don’t think that a man like that wants to try to motivate a person under his charge who doesn’t want to be with him in Iraq when he makes his next trip there later this year. All most people in the military want are a little honor and respect for having served and to not be spat on, called “baby-killers,” condescended to, called or considered stupid, brain-washed or desperate for their choice to serve. I’m betting that it’s here where Mr. Stein and I can agree.
And, trust me, if any of them have the opportunity to make some big dollars and sip some latte afterward, you can bet they’ll take it. You see, most sensible people don't begrudge others the honorable choices they make or belittle them for it. I'm just glad that I was born in a country and during a time in which I can make these choices. It was a close thing for both time and place.
So, relax, Wall-Streeters and Big Media. You're not chickenhawks, not simply because there's no such thing, but because the idea of freedom of choice shouldn't be rescinded just because some are willing to live differently. That goes against the grain of what most of American believe and, as the military figured out thirty years ago, it's more practical.
To put it even more simply, would you ask your foot to do what your eye does?
(Thanks to Blackfive)