Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Whatever the reason in the particular case, in a time of war an all-volunteer military is not going to get the manpower it needs from slick advertising or recruiters who could sell ice cubes to Eskimos (although both are necessary). Our political leaders need to lead, and in this case that means they need to persuade Americans that the military is an honorable calling that performs an essential function. Politicians on both sides claim they "support the troops." Well, just about the most important thing they can do to support the troops is to recruit new ones.
President Bush needs to get out in front of this effort, and then every Congressman and Senator should follow. His speech yesterday was a great start. He now needs to repeat this effort in every stump speech he makes, at every breakfast he addresses, and at every press conference he hosts. He needs to go into high schools and meet with recruits and put them on the evening news. And he needs to demand that members of his cabinet and the Congress do as well. You either believe in the volunteer army, or you don't. You either support the troops, or you don't.
Tonight, I'm watching the C-Span tape of today's Pentagon briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In response to a question about the manpower crunch in the military and steps to be taken to alleviate it, General Pace had this to say:
I've been a recruiter for three years in Buffalo, New York. This is not about money and benefits. This is about message. If we let our young folks know how much we know how much we appreciate their service to their country -- there are thousands and thousands of men and women out there who want to serve their country. They want to know from their parents, they want to know from the media, they want to know from their government leaders that we value their service and what they are doing to provide freedom around the world. If we get that message to them, there will be plenty of folks enlisting.
I think this is right. Many, many people yearn to build a better future for America and the world. Unfortunately, at a very basic level we have failed to tell our young people why it is important that they enlist. This failing starts with President Bush, but also extends through the Congress and other influential people in our society. Universities who do not welcome military recruiters (even if they allow them on campus) and influential people who denounce recruitment as a means of frustrating a foreign policy to which they do not subscribe are also, if not especially, culpable. The time has come for our leaders -- political and otherwise -- to back up their easy claim that they "support the troops" by actually advocating that young people become soldiers.