Speaking at Duke University yesterday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned of a growing gulf between the armed forces and the rest of the country. He pointed out that only a small slice of America actually dons a uniform any more in the all volunteer force, and that slice is not representative of the nation as a whole.
Jim R. Bounds/Associated Press
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speaks at Duke University in Durham, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010.
In this country, that propensity to serve is most pronounced in the South and the Mountain West, and in rural areas and small towns nationwide – a propensity that well exceeds these communities’ portion of the population as a whole. Concurrently, the percentage of the force from the Northeast, the West Coast, and major cities continues to decline.
And he points out, the military recruits where the recruits are.
The state of Alabama, with a population of less than 5 million, has 10 Army ROTC host programs. The Los Angeles metro area, population over 12 million, has four host ROTC programs. And the Chicago metro area, population 9 million, has 3.
Gates is certainly not calling for a return of the draft, he was quite clear in his speech that the all-volunteer force is the best educated, best trained and most effective military the country has ever had. But he did point out to the students at the elite university at which he spoke, there is a danger.
...there is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally, and geographically have less and less in common with the people they have sworn to defend.
This is not a new concern, Tom Ricks of The Best Defense, wrote about it in the 1990's. But to have a Defense Secretary baldly ask privileged students at an elite university is.
I would leave you with one of my favorite quotes from John Adams. In a letter that he sent to his son, he wrote, “Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or another. If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.”
Will the wise and honest here at Duke come help us do the public business of America? Because, if America’s best and brightest young people will not step forward, who then can we count on to protect and sustain the greatness of this country in the 21st century?
Here's the whole speech. And video.