Saturday, July 23, 2005

Buried in all the mainstream media coverage this week over new terrorist bombings in London, space shuttles that didn’t launch, the trashing of Karl Rove and nomination of a new Supreme Court justice was a little-noted item about U.S. armed forces re-enlistments exceeding expectations. USA Today offered some prominence to the story, but it was widely ignored by most of the Fourth Estate — perhaps because it’s a “good news story.”

According to the Pentagon, all services are meeting or exceeding their re-enlistment requirements — though the Army acknowledges shortfalls on new recruits. Through the end of June, the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard all “made their end strength objectives” and the Marine Corps actually went 2 percent over its new “accessions” goal. Enlisted accessions are the new additions to the enlisted strength of a military service. These young Americans — virtually all high-school graduates — have signed an enlistment contract and are beginning basic training. That’s good news for the “All Volunteer Force” in what one recruiter called “a fairly hostile environment.”

Unfortunately, all the “hostiles” aren’t in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some are politicians, some are in the media and others are part of the old, anti-military, “Blame America First” crowd.

Last month California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein’s assessment of the war was “everything seems to be going the wrong way.” Illinois liberal Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin likened America’s armed forces to those of Cambodia’s Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. New York Rep. Charlie Rangel actually proposed legislation to “bring back the draft.”

The mainstream media has been even worse. The New York Times’ Chris Hedges described those serving in today’s military as “poor kids from Mississippi or Alabama or Texas who could not get a decent job or health insurance.” CNN’s Eason Jordan claimed U.S. troops in Iraq killed journalists after having them “arrested and tortured.” And for months, the press beat the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo stories like rented mules.

Now, add to these insults new injury from the old left. Last week in Washington, the Center for American Progress hosted what they called the Campus Progress National Student Conference. Bill Clinton was there. So was my former media colleague Paul Begala. Other attendees included former Clinton chief-of-staff John Podesta, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank and a handful of conservative students from the Campus Leadership Program and Young America’s Foundation.

One kindly brought me one of the “publications” handed to participants — an anti-military, anti-American screed titled “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste: A Guide to the Demilitarization of America’s Youth and Students.”

Editors of this “enlightened” journal claim “glorification of the military ignores the fact that most positive change in the United States has come from people standing up to the government, big corporations, and other forms of organized violence and crime.” It then offers tips on how to protest all things military.

The very successful Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps is attacked in a spread titled, “JROTC: What the Hell Is It? And, What Does It Want?” Its conspiracy-theorist writers breathlessly suggest, “Young people in the hood are targeted because their lives are not valued by the U.S. government.”

Another article claims “the $600-plus billion the U.S. spends each year on maintaining a huge warmaking machine cuts into the things that really matter to young people — education, the environment, the arts. Our schools are thrown open to military recruiters while the money needed to buy books, maintain buildings, and pay teachers is dwindling.”

In rhetoric reminiscent of the 1960s, the authors claim our military is “about sacrificing what makes us human for the powers of force and violence. … We hold that the strength of a democracy comes from its free and democratic institutions, not its capacity for violence.”

Another piece blasts requirements in the “No Child Left Behind Act” that schools accepting federal education funds must allow military recruiters the same access they grant business and college recruiters. The writer then cynically asks: “Could it be in the military’s best interests to keep schools underfunded and keep college financial aid to a minimum?”

A piece extolling an anti-ROTC “sit-in” at the University of Puerto Rico praises Iraqis “resisting occupation” and ends with a clarion call from the past: “We must fight the insanity of war from every angle. This requires ending all ROTC programs and their recruitment activities on our college campuses.”

For those of us old enough to remember coming back from a war we won on the battlefield but lost on our college campuses and in the corridors of power, all this is ominously familiar. In the ‘60s, this kind of rhetoric helped alienate America’s citizen-soldiers from the citizens they served.

Current re-enlistment rates indicate those serving today — and volunteering to serve tomorrow — still believe this country is worth defending. We can be grateful that, in a war where every American is a terrorist target, there are still enough bright, tough, young Americans willing to stand up and fight.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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