Military Recruitment Sees Decline - Part II
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Several Republican senators made headlines recently when they publicly called for change in the administration's Iraq War strategy. They're among the most significant defections since the war began. But one group seems to have been voting with its feet for quite some time, as we've been discussing. African-American enlistment in the military has slowed dramatically since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to data compiled by the Associated Press, the number of new black recruits dropped more than a third between 2001 and 2006.
What's behind the change? Joining us to talk about that is David Bositis. He's a senior researcher at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and he joins us in the studio. Welcome to the program.
Dr. DAVID BOSITIS (Senior Research Associate, The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies): Thank you.
MARTIN: Now, you've been studying this issue for quite a while. What's going on?
Dr. BOSITIS: Actually in the mid to late '90s, I did a survey for the United States Army because they had already had a problem with declining enlistments by African-Americans. And there were a couple of factors, but at that time, it didn't have anything to do with attitudes toward serving. The Army was very popular and highly respected. It was viewed one of the least racist institutions in American society, but there were a couple of things going on.
One aspect was the opportunity for young African-Americans in the mid to late '90s, the opportunities were exploding. And so there are a lot more choices besides serving in the Army. Plus, something that was true then and that is also true now is that young people - usually young men with felony convictions - are not eligible for service, and that represented a fairly significant slice of young African-American men.
MARTIN: Is the current decline part of a trend, or is it specific to the circumstances that we now find ourselves in?
Mr. BOSITIS: There is a big part of it that is about the current circumstances, in particular, George W. Bush's presidency and the war in Iraq. And before the war started and since the war has been going on, almost in the very beginning, African-Americans were much, much more disapproving of the war in Iraq than other Americans. They knew that there were problems with the war, and they opposed the war from the very beginning.
MARTIN: There's also been a debate about what primarily motivates people to pursue military service, particularly in an all-volunteer force. I mean, there's always been the argument about, you know, the economic incentives, but there's also the argument about, you know, love of country, patriotism, events like 9/11. So I just wondered which of those factors leading to service, do you think, are most relevant in the African-American community? And then I want to take that question further to ask: Why do you think it's not having the same effect on other groups? Like, it appears that Latinos are continuing to join in the numbers that they have been throughout the course of the war. At least their - it seems their enlistment is consistent.
Mr. BOSITIS: In the historic sense, going back to the Civil War and the end of slavery, I think it was Frederick Douglass who said: Put a brass button on a black man that says US of A, and he'll never be a slave again. That carried on. There were the Buffalo Soldiers in the post-war period. There's a long history of African-Americans serving in the Army. It represents a career. It represents, you know, potential economic advancement. But also, there has been a tradition of service among African-Americans. So that has been there, and it's significant.
I can't speak exactly to, you know, why there's not been a decline in terms of Hispanics. I do know that some Hispanics who are permanent residents have enlisted in the military because there are advantages in terms of gaining citizenship if you, in fact, serve in the military and serve in the war. And I suspect that for Hispanics as well as for African-Americans, that the career opportunities and the potential free college and economic advancement are strong pulls. But Hispanics were not like African-Americans in terms of being opposed to this war and turning against this war very decisively.
MARTIN: Well thank you, David. I appreciate it.
Mr. BOSITIS: You're welcome.
MARTIN: David Bositis is a senior researcher at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. He joined us here in our studios. Thank you so much for those insights.
Mr. BOSITIS: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: We'd like to hear from you. Are you an African-American or Latino member of the Armed Forces? A recent enlistee? What influenced your decision to join, and what's been your experience? Visit our blog at npr.org/tellmemore to share your thoughts on this subject or any other topic you hear on our program. You can also call our comment line at 202-842-3522.