In the Army now

July 03, 2005

THE ARMY can't find enough recruits. Could there be a clearer expression of Americans' disenchantment with the war in Iraq?

This is democracy where it matters. No one should doubt that young Americans would willingly go to war if they believed in it. But this is a war of choice that began with fabrications and has been marked by blunders at the highest level -- blunders that have resulted in many lives lost. Over two years, the aims of this war have shifted like dunes in the desert. President Bush, moreover, has told Americans they need not make any sacrifices; to the contrary, he has pursued tax cuts. This is not inspiring. This is deceptive and dishonorable. Yet the Army expects young idealists to sign up anyway, for hazardous duty in a treacherous country, where the violence shows no signs of letting up and the generals show no signs of knowing what to do about it.

It's no surprise that the idealists are staying away. Certainly, the sons and daughters of the unimpeachably idealistic neoconservatives who prayed for the war and brayed for what they stupidly supposed was victory back in 2003 are staying as far away from it as they possibly can. So now the Army's recruiters, who reached their goal in June for the first time in five months, but still expect to fall short for the year, have another plan.

For starters, ease the requirements. School dropouts, drug users, petty criminals may all get a second look.

Next step, ramp up a national Pentagon database that will try to track every young person in the United States. Civil liberties proponents are denouncing the government's collection of so much personal information, especially since it has been in the works for three years and may not be legal.

We share those concerns, but this is what is truly disturbing: The database is obviously an attempt to pinpoint those who would be most vulnerable to a recruiter's pitch -- young people who need the bonus money, or want a one-way ticket away from wherever they are, or are willing to fall for the lure of drumrolls and adventure. This is the real Army of the future -- not the lean, smart, competent fighting force that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld likes to imagine.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, the Maryland Republican, wants the Army to drop the "don't ask, don't tell" policy against gays. This is eminently sensible, and it could help in keeping troop levels up. But even so, it's unlikely that the Army's profound problems would be solved by a flood of new gay soldiers.

Army recruiters say that they could sign up more young people if it weren't for the parents. That may be so, but if it is, no amount of exhortation will change the parents' minds. The Army is looking at ways to heal its problems, but those problems are merely symptoms. The disease is the war. The war has to be fixed.

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