U.S. Military Is Less 'Isolated' Than EverI am writing in...


January 22, 1995

U.S. Military Is Less 'Isolated' Than Ever

I am writing in response to Gilbert A. Lewthwaite's fine article (Dec. 28) headlined "Military growing isolated from society." He has advanced an interesting premise which clearly merits serious consideration; but I would like to offer a counter view.

The all-volunteer force, which has been in effect since 1972, is certainly not unique in the history of our republic.

In fact, until World War II, we had only employed the draft during the Civil War and World War I. Between World War II and the Vietnam War, the draft was used primarily for the Army, and not on a continuous basis.

Prior to World War II our peacetime military was considerably more isolated from the rest of society than in the current era.

Our armed forces were significantly smaller as a proportion of total national population, and most service personnel lived on military bases in autonomous communities, often very remote from the civilian populace.

Virtually all officers then were graduates of the service academies. With small reserve and National Guard forces in those times, there were few "citizen soldiers" to provide closer ties between the defense and civilian establishments.

The custom of that period was that military personnel rarely voted in local or national elections, further accentuating their lack of involvement in national life. For example, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower voted the first time when he was a candidate for president in 1952.

By contrast, today most service members live in civilian communities.

Well over 50 percent of the military officer corps are graduates of non-military universities. Our enlisted personnel are better educated than at any time in history, with over 95 percent of recruits being high school graduates.

Upon completion of the draw down, there will still be nearly 1 million men and women in the Reserve and National Guard. Our armed forces contain more minorities and women than ever before, providing our military a closer similarity to our national demographics and culture.

It is significant to note that 81.1 percent of service personnel voted in the 1992 national elections, as compared to 55.9 percent of the general public.

Subordination to civilian authority is deeply ingrained in the ethos of the U.S. military.

There has never been a serious challenge to civilian authority by the armed forces in the history of our country, even during times of great turmoil such as the Civil War and the Vietnam War.

This is unique among the nations of the world, and there is no valid reason to believe this will change. I feel our service academy system has been an important factor in developing this attitude of military obedience.

Most service academy cadets and midshipmen are appointed by members of the U.S. Congress, heightening the awareness of these young people that they are public servants accountable to elected officials. The traditions and values of our armed forces are largely fostered and perpetuated in our service academies.

Certainly, it would be desirable if more members of the U.S. Congress had military experience, just as it would be useful if they were more knowledgeable on the economy, health care and other critical areas.

But our free, open democratic system has shown a remarkable capacity to "muddle through" and somehow do better than any other form of government in meeting the myriad of challenges a nation must face. I expect this will continue to be the case.

Finally, when we observe the performance of the Russian military, largely a conscripted force, in Chechnya and previously in Afghanistan, as compared to the performance of the U.S. military in Desert Storm and, most recently, in Haiti, we can be very thankful we have an all-volunteer force.

William P. Lawrence

Nashville, Tenn.

The writer is a retired vice admiral in the U.S. Navy.

Belonged on the Op-Ed Page

I am not a regular reader of The Sun, so I do not intend for the observations made here to represent a criticism of its editorial policy in general.

Instead, I want to draw attention to a particular item, a piece entitled "The Real Rules of Congress," written by Pierre du Pont IV (Perspective, Jan. 8).

I understand that the "Perspective" section is at least partly consecrated to the publication of opinion. The second and third pages are an editorial page and an op-ed page. The first page, however, confuses me.

Of the three pieces printed on the first page, two were written by journalists, more or less affiliated with The Sun, whose opinions regarding the matters at hand are not plainly evident in their stories.

That seemed to confirm my assumption that the page aimed to deliver news coverage, rather than policies.

Even certain facts about Pete du Pont's contribution mute his political position. His party affiliation is nowhere to be seen.

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