Sunday, March 26, 2006

Tucker: Working class fight war while well-off defend it

Cynthia Tucker in the AJC - "Military recruits are pulled largely from the nation's working class --- from those whose prospects are less than stellar, from high school graduates who know they have little chance of affording college tuition, from young parents whose civilian jobs don't come with health insurance. Enlisted men and women tend to come from households earning between $32,000 and $33,500, according to a 1999 Defense Department study. (The median American income is $43,300.)

This is not a truth the middle class is eager to confront. Each time I write a column about the disproportionate burden borne by our working-class men and women, I get countless angry letters and e-mails --- tirades from the affluent denouncing me for fomenting race-consciousness (I've said nothing about race) or class warfare. Others write to me that they know somebody whose son or daughter or nephew or co-worker is a college graduate who volunteered to serve. (That's the exception that proves the rule.) We don't want to admit that we've left the burden of defending an affluent nation to those who enjoy less of its affluence. That's too ugly to think about.

Ah, but they volunteered, you say. Yes, they did. All the more reason to honor their commitment by making sure they aren't cannon fodder in a dubious cause. They took to heart the shopworn platitudes and easy slogans about duty and honor and service while many who are wealthier did not. Soldiers shouldn't be ill-used simply because they believed in their country and its leaders.

And they have been ill-used. They were sent to war on a pretext --- that Saddam was linked to Sept. 11 --- by civilian leaders who refused to plan for anything but quick and certain victory.

Of course, combat veterans were rare among the armchair hawks in Congress and the White House who rallied the nation for war. Vice President Dick Cheney has said he had 'other priorities' during the Vietnam War. And, President Bush . . . well, that story is well-known. Even if you credit him with conscientiousness and brilliance as a National Guard pilot, he never left the United States."


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