Murphy's Law: Looking For Clickworthy Headlines

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September 18, 2014: Mass media love to play the race card in the United States by alleging real or (all too often) imagined racial injustice. These charges often involve the military and the most recent one is about the relative absence of black officers in the highest ranks of the U.S. Army. While blacks are 13 percent of the U.S. population, they are 16 percent of enlisted troops and ten percent of officers in the army. But since most senior army jobs go to members of the combat arms (infantry, armor, artillery, aviation) blacks are at a disadvantage because blacks tend to prefer support jobs while whites predominate in combat jobs. The volunteer army allows recruits to choose the branch they want and blacks do not select the jobs that lead to the highest ranks.

This sort of thing has been worse. For example after 2001 military recruiting in the United States increasingly got mixed up with partisan politics. Some Democratic Party politicians and activists were calling for restrictions on recruiters, and many were urging their constituents not to enlist. This was part of the Democratic opposition to the foreign policy of a Republican president. Overall, this did not having much effect, except on young African-Americans. By 2005 the military was 17 percent black (versus 11 percent of the civilian work force), 67 percent white (versus 71 percent) and nine percent Hispanic (versus eleven percent). The number of blacks enlisting had been falling for the previous three years and that has continued. Blacks will not achieve the senior jobs in the military if fewer black join the combat arms, especially to become officers.

Democrat politicians also insisted that blacks and Hispanics suffered a disproportionate number of casualties. But they didn't, as the troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan up to that point had been 71 percent white, 9 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic. This was because whites were more likely to sign up for combat jobs. Blacks had traditionally gone for technical and support jobs, being more career minded about their military service. But the political posturing was having an impact, with many potential black recruits believing black politicians and community leaders, who repeat the myth that blacks are being recruited as "cannon fodder." Since 2001 black combat casualties have gone down along with black participation in the military.

The military adjusted to this by moving some of their recruiting effort away from blacks and towards new immigrants who had been enlisting in higher numbers than in the past. Advertising was also making whites and Hispanics more aware of the technical and support jobs that blacks were more eager to take in the past but were now not filling because fewer blacks were enlisting. These jobs were also appealing to new immigrants, who saw the military as a way to gain technical training faster, improve their English, get money for college and gain their citizenship sooner.

Democrat politicians also tried to connect recruiting with some kind of class warfare, and demand vague reforms. As a practical matter, the military has been a competitive employer since the early 1970s. In return for that higher pay and more benefits the military has demanded above average standards (in terms of education and character) from its recruits. To be effective, the military must have disciplined, dedicated recruits. Political opportunists sought, without much success, to impose other standards for recruiting, ones that would serve partisan political goals, not national defense.

All these trends have remained unchanged over the last decade, as has a lot of the political and media rhetoric. But the situation has stayed the same inside the military. Having lots of soldiers in combat tends to chase away unrealistic rules and proposals. But the military remains a tempting target for politicians and journalists looking for clickworthy headlines.

 

 


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