We recently commented that the reason the military is having difficulty meeting its numerical requirements is because of media coverage of the war that is so distorted and hostile to American goals and interests. Exaggerated reporting about abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, calls to cut and run from Iraq, and comparisons of the Bush administration to Nazis, Soviets and the Khmer Rouge have certainly not helped. But it turns out that the story is quite a bit more complex than that.
Donald Rumsfeld addressed the issue on This Week With George Stephanopoulos on June 26th. Stephanopoulos asked Rumsfeld if he’s worried about a broken army. He referred to a graphic that showed that so far this year, army recruitment has fallen short of its goals by more than 8,000 soldiers. Rumsfeld took strong exception, arguing that the army is definitely not broken. He said that the goals are now higher because of the war, and that we’ve missed our goals in previous years as well. But Navy, Air Force and Marine recruiting numbers are doing fine, and meeting their goals. And though Army recruitment is off, Army retention is doing fine, as with the other branches of the military.
Victor Davis Hanson, the military historian who writes for National Review and other publications, has put these figures in perspective in the June 30 issue of the popular conservative weekly. He says that this shortfall of Army recruits has “fueled a new conventional wisdom: that the U.S. military is almost dangerously undermanned, exhausted, and overstretched.” Plus there are the usual charges that the less privileged and minorities are overrepresented in the military, especially in terms of casualties, a point that New York Congressman Charles Rangel recently made on The Situation with Tucker Carlson, the new show on MSNBC. Rangel is still saying we should be discussing reinstituting the draft, though ironically, when a bill was introduced calling for just that last year, he voted against it. Only two members of Congress actually voted for it.
Hanson pointed out that it is the Marines who have suffered disproportionately in the war in Iraq. While comprising just 11 percent of the current American forces, they account for about 30 percent of all combat deaths. But they are slightly exceeding their recruitment goals. The Army, he points out, “traditionally has had the hardest time meeting its targets, given the reputation?warranted or not?that the other branches offer more specialized training and skills that will better enhance civilian careers without the same level of risk as ground combat.”
Hanson also provided figures that undermine Rangel’s assertion that the underprivileged, undereducated and minorities sacrifice the most in terms of the casualties in Iraq. About 95 percent of the casualties were high-school graduates, though only 85 percent of all Americans are. Blacks and Latinos totaled 10.9 and 11.5 percent of the deaths respectively in Iraq, about the same as their representation in the general population, while blacks comprise 18.6 percent of the current troop level there. Seventy percent of the deaths are white males, though they make up only about 30 percent of the total U.S. population.
Finally, Hanson compares the approximately 1,700 deaths of Americans in Iraq, of which approximately 1,300 were combat deaths, to other wars in American history. In the battle at Antietam in 1862 in the Civil War, between five and six thousand Americans were killed in one day. On D-Day, 3,000 Allied troops died, and another 6,000 were wounded. And in the Battle of the Bulge, approximately 19,000 Americans died and 60,000 more were missing, captured or wounded. The 1,700 killed in Iraq equals about 60 percent of those who died on September 11, 2001.
These people aren’t just numbers, and can’t be reduced to that. But the price we are paying as a country needs to be kept in perspective and reported accurately. People can and will continue to disagree on whether or not this war is winnable, whether it is justified, whether we have the will and the determination to see it through, and what the world will look like when we have finished our part.