Lecturers examine class inequalities in military

by Linzi Sheldon | 11/13/06 6:00am

In a lecture challenging upper-class concepts of good citizenship, military wife Kathy Roth-Douquet and Marine Corps father Frank Schaeffer urged an audience in Rockefeller Center on Friday afternoon to think about the class inequalities in military service.

According to their book AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service -- and How It Hurts Our Country, less than one-third of one percent of Ivy League graduates enroll in the military each year.

Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer emphasized the loss of a sense of national duty among the upper class, which they defined as a highly-educated group of people who have a myriad of lifestyle choices.

"Increasingly, the military feels alienated by its upper classes. It feels disrespected by them," said Roth-Douquet, who has been a political strategist and veteran of every presidential campaign of the past 20 years.

Schaeffer and Roth-Douquet said the disconnect between the military and a class that produces many of our political, cultural and business leaders is harming the country, its democratic ideals and its ability to make informed decisions.

"We believe this issue is a pre-political issue," said Schaeffer, who is also the author of non-fiction novels that focus on the experience of military families. "It's about being an American. There are some issues that have nothing to do with who you voted for."

Roth-Douquet described America as a country on the verge of a crisis, steered by civilians and leaders who are increasingly ignorant about the inner workings of the military despite crafting policy that dictates the Armed Forces' actions.

In an interview with The Dartmouth, Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer examined the changing definition of citizenship among the upper class.

In their view, it has shifted from serving the nation in a military capacity to abstaining from national service altogether. Schaeffer said the upper classes need to rise above their indifference toward the military and put aside their feelings of moral superiority. Roth-Douquet said that surprisingly many Americans seem to view themselves as better citizens for dissenting and refusing national service.

"I think we live in a fundamentally selfish society," Schaeffer said. "It's not a culture conducive to the values that actually make life worth living. It's a society focused on personal gain."

In their book, Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer say that Harvard University, Yale University, Stanford University, University of Chicago, Brown University and Columbia University do not allow the Reserve Officers' Training Corps to solicit recruits on campus.

In 1995 Harvard faculty voted to cut all university funding for student off-campus participation in the ROTC program. The students are now solely supported by alumni. Most colleges' current reason for banning ROTC recruiting from their campuses is the "don't ask, don't tell" law, which prohibits openly gay people from serving.

Dartmouth is an extension school for Norwich University, the oldest private military school in the country and the birthplace of the ROTC. Despite Dartmouth's commitment to the ROTC and its full scholarship funding for its participants, both Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer encountered insensitivity toward the Armed Forces on campus.

They recounted a conversation with a Dartmouth student who denounced the military for "shooting innocent people," without, Roth-Douquet said, recognizing the fact that her husband and Schaeffer's son would be the so-called murderers to which he was referring.

"We have this flippant attitude toward the military," Schaeffer said. "I think we have to take the ironic smirk off a very self-satisfied generation's face."

Roth-Douquet addressed Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) self-described botched joke, which some believed ridiculed the intelligence of troops currently serving in Iraq.

She said she felt that the quote, which she referred to as "corrosive and dangerous," accurately expressed the dominant societal feeling among the upper classes who do not serve in the military.

Both Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer propose class-wide national service with a civilian non-military option. Roth-Douquet also advocates actively soliciting members of the upper classes whereas Schaeffer supports a compulsory draft. They stressed that national service could restore Americans' sense of ownership of the United States and commitment to its foreign policy.

"People say, 'I love my country.' What does that mean?" Schaeffer said. "You haven't done anything for your country."

Both are proponents of reforms in recruitment, including sending young alumni from top colleges who have served to their alma maters to speak honestly about their choices and experiences. They also recommended increased recruitment on all college campuses, college aid and tax credits for national service.

"If we need a military, we should ask ourselves who should serve in it," Roth-Douquet said. "Whose children would you like to serve in Darfur? If they're not all of our children, who are they?"