The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Progressive Case for Military Service

This article by former Clinton aide Kathy Roth-Douquet covers the important subject of national service. It explains why it is vital, now more than ever, that graduates of Columbia and the other Ivy League schools take up the torch of leadership and EARN their citizenship through military service.

Issue #1, Summer 2006

The Progressive Case for Military Service

For years, progressives have touted joining the Peace Corps. Now, it’s time for them to enlist in the Marine Corps.

Kathryn Roth-Douquet
t is controversial, and even uncomfortable, for many progressives to talk about individual responsibility for military service, particularly during an unpopular war, started with what many see as a dubious rationale. Many contend that because they neither voted for nor support George W. Bush, they have ample reason to be excused from military service. And their progressive values, they presume, support work for the Peace Corps or Teach for America, but not the uniformed services. Others, especially those from "good" families and schools, suppose that military service simply isn’t for people like them: Ivy League schools sent half their graduating classes for a tour of duty during periods of the Cold War, but today the percentages hover in the tenths of 1 percent. These people wouldn’t shoulder colors in a Clinton, Gore, or Kerry presidency, either.

There are two fundamental reasons for the present rift between progressives and the military. First is the emergence, during the twentieth century, of a rights-based philosophy on both the Left and the Right that sees government as a counterpoint and even a threat to the individual. Second is the left’s reaction against the military after Vietnam, a reaction that was itself rooted in rights consciousness and, over time, solidified into a presumption that military values, and the members of the military themselves, are antithetical to progressive values. While some may charge that these characterizations are actually caricatures of the dreaded "liberal," these attitudes do persist. Indeed, just this year, a group of liberals, including famed activist Cindy Sheehan, published a collection of essays titled 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military.

At its core, the opposition to military service on the Left fundamentally misconstrues the meaning of self-government and the role of the military in the United States today. It confuses military service with militarism, equating participation in the Armed Services with subscription to the fetish of military action as a policy tool (in fact, those with military experience are often the most cautious in supporting military action). As a result, military service is left to an increasingly narrow slice of the U.S. political and economic spectrum, drawing disproportionately from military families, Midwesterners and Southerners, Christians, Republicans, and the working and middle class. In doing so, we have disconnected one of the most important arenas of national action from true democratic decision-making.

Given the likely centrality of military operations to American foreign policy over the next decade, it is time for progressives to reconsider both their attitudes toward service and their aversion to the military as a culture and value system. Indeed, the military itself–and the act of serving in it–are quintessentially progressive.




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