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Non-sequitur of the day

Where does the New York Times come up with this stuff? From the Arts section, an article by Alessandra Stanley reviewing Monica Lewinsky's new reality show, Mr. Personality:

The invasion of Iraq reminded viewers how much class determines the makeup of the United States military; the all-volunteer army is disproportionally made up of poorer, less-educated Americans who view the service as a way of lifting themselves up in the world.
1. Say wha? I can't speak for anybody except myself and my acquaintances, and unlike the Times I wouldn't presume to try. But when I watched coverage of the war, I thought about military tactics. I thought about high-tech weaponry. I thought about weapons of mass destruction. I thought about the effects of the war on our relations with other countries in the Middle East and Europe. I don't recall a single moment when I thought, "Boy, our military's makeup is determined by class." And I haven't encountered anybody else who mentioned that, either. Which "viewers" does Stanley refer to?

2. While it's obviously true that some people join the military for the opportunities it provides for them, note Stanley's implication that patriotism plays little or no role in the matter. Why would you join the armed forces? Oh, if you're poor or stupid. Of course. It's not even that Stanley's assumption is wrong; it's the casualness with which she tosses it out, as if it's self-evident, without even a pause to consider other explanations.

3. Stanley is, of course, wrong. The military is not made up disproportionately of less-educated Americans. From a Department of Defense report published in 2000, with emphasis added:

Education Level. The Military Services value and support the education of their members. The emphasis on education was evident in the data for FY 2000. Practically all active duty and Selected Reserve enlisted accessions had a high school diploma or equivalent, well above civilian youth proportions (79 percent of 18-24 year-olds). More important, excluding accessions enlisting in the Army or Army Reserve under the GED+ program (an experimental program of individuals with a GED or no credential who have met special screening criteria for enlisting), 93 percent of NPS active duty and 90 percent of NPS Selected Reserve enlisted recruits were high school diploma graduates.

Given that most officers are required to possess at least a baccalaureate college degree upon or soon after commissioning and that colleges and universities are among the Servicesí main commissioning sources (i.e., Service academies and ROTC), the academic standing of officers is not surprising. The fact that 96 percent of active duty officer accessions and 97 percent of the officer corps (both excluding those with unknown education credentials) were degree holders (approximately 16 and 44 percent advanced degrees) is in keeping with policy and the professional status and expectations of officers. Likewise, 86 percent of Reserve Component officer accessions and 88 percent of the total Reserve Component officer corps held at least a bachelorís degree, with 24 and 30 percent possessing advanced degrees, respectively.

It's certainly true that there are few Ivy League graduates serving in the military, But there are millions of Americans who don't graduate from high school, and most Americans are not college graduates. (See the census for more detailed data.) Is the Times deliberately attempting to demean the military? I doubt it. But they have a stereotypical vision of what members of the military must be like, and it's so ingrained that they don't even realize it.

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