Friday, April 17, 2009

On Graduate-Recruits

Tom Ricks remarks on the increasing number of Ivy League graduates choosing to enter the military after graduation:
What is going on here? I think two things, one negative, the other historical.

The negative trend is, I think, that a significant portion of students are finishing at our best universities feeling let down and unfulfilled by the experience. Ultimately, they tell me, they didn't feel challenged to be more than themselves, intellectually or morally.

The historical moment is that these young men are from the 9/11 generation... they are deciding that al Qaeda's attack and its consequences are becoming the defining event of their lifetimes, and they want to be part of that.
Now, I didn't go to one of our nation's "best universities", but rather, one of its best universities, if you'll grant me the distinction. I came out of St Olaf looking to be part of something bigger than myself not in reaction to my education, but to a large degree because of it. The Army became that something, for reasons I've explained in the past. That aside, none of it undermines Ricks's broader point, as the number of Oles entering the military has increased along with that of the Ivy Leaguers. The recordkeeping is a bit haphazard, but the only alumni survey (class of 1999) that broke out military as a distinct category listed 0 students. The more recent records break down a half-dozen different volunteer corps, but military service presumably gets lumped with "government". In any case, from 0 in 1999, to a half-dozen from my graduating class, and certainly more who've enlisted or gotten commissioned in the years since, there's a pretty clear increase.

Whatever it says about the state of our Ivy Leagues, it's a good thing for our country. The history of the all-volunteer military has been one of its gradual momentum toward an endogamous caste in American society. Year after year, the percentage of "legacy" recruits, to use academia's term, grew higher and higher. For vast swathes of American graduates without military backgrounds, military service just wasn't on the radar, and the number of Americans with absolutely zero contact with military servicemembers was growing. I suspect that the changes in recruitment patterns after 9/11, OEF, and OIF have reversed that trend. If this is true, it's one piece good news for the future of the armed forces, and for the health of American society.

1 comment:

Shane said...

Ricks leaves out what I believe is a huge factor, too - that during the last few decades, many of our nation's brightest young graduates followed the siren's call of big finance, and the allure of the banking/trading/research jobs in Manhattan has lost its luster in recent years.

That being said, I can't wait until someone with real writing talent and drive puts together this generation's Catch-22. I'm the kind of person who appreciates the comic absurdity of the Army but has a really difficult time communicating it to others.