Bush's Martyrs: Michael Lind Reveals Who Is Really Fighting in Iraq: Southerners Who, Unlike the Secularised Puritans of the American North-East and the Pacific Coast, Believe in Dying for Their Country

By Lind, Michael | New Statesman (1996), March 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Bush's Martyrs: Michael Lind Reveals Who Is Really Fighting in Iraq: Southerners Who, Unlike the Secularised Puritans of the American North-East and the Pacific Coast, Believe in Dying for Their Country


Lind, Michael, New Statesman (1996)


"Keep the soldiers happy," the Roman emperor Septimius Severus, on his deathbed, reportedly advised his successor. At the moment, this is a challenge that President George W Bush is struggling to meet. Most US military officers were opposed to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a project concocted and supervised by civilian appointees such as the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and the staff of the vice-president, Dick Cheney. Prolonged deployments of National Guard units are making the families of America's "weekend warriors" angry and stressed, and morale is reportedly low among America's overstretched career soldiers. As American and coalition casualties climb day by day in Iraq, Bush's boasting on the flight deck of the USS Lincoln looks ever more like hubris. And the likelihood of Bush's Democratic opponent in the November presidential election being a Vietnam veteran who was decorated for bravery at a time when Bush avoided combat duty in Vietnam by serving in the National Guard in Texas and Alabama makes things even more difficult.

Will dissent by the US military undermine a politician who is running for re-election as a war president? Bush's opponents may hope so. But there is little chance that the Democratic opposition can capitalise on the disillusionment of American soldiers with their commander-in-chief.

Geography is the reason. Since the draft was abolished in 1973 in the United States, the percentage of recruits to the military from the south and west of the country has risen, while the proportion of soldiers from the north and north-east has declined. Between 1985 and 2001, according to the defence department, the percentage of all recruits from the south rose from 34 per cent to 42 per cent. Meanwhile, recruitment from the north-east, as a percentage of the whole, has dropped from 22 per cent in 1977 to less than 14 per cent in 2001.

The claim that minorities are over-represented in the military is a myth. Black Americans are slightly over-represented among enlisted personnel, but they are represented in the officer corps at roughly the same level as they are represented in the comparable, college-educated civilian workforce. Latinos are under-represented in the military, compared with their numbers in the population. The groups that are truly over-represented in America's armed forces are whites from the south and west.

As the south and west have grown increasingly Republican in political orientation, they have accounted for an ever-growing share of US military personnel--while the new Democratic heartland of the north-east has contributed fewer and fewer soldiers over time to the military. The result is that the US military has become strikingly Republican in partisanship. Soldiers are not compelled to divulge their party loyalties. But the leading students of the subject believe that Republicans outnumber Democrats in the US military by a factor of 2:1--and, in the officer corps, by as much as 8:1.

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This explains, among other things, why Democratic supporters of Al Gore, during the contested presidential election of 2000, sought to use technicalities to disqualify absentee ballots by Florida soldiers serving overseas--a tactic that backfired by making them look unpatriotic. It also explains why Bill Clinton turned to a Republican, William Cohen, to be his defence secretary, and worked with a series of chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who were certainly or probably Republican. It is getting harder to find Democratic politicians who served in the military or know anything about it.

What explains the north-south disparity in both American politics and the American military? The media lazily explain it in terms of divisions between "left" and "right", but many egalitarian, anti-corporate southern liberals are far more hawkish than many elitist northern conservatives. As the American historian David Hackett Fischer and others have observed, the north and south of the United States were populated during the British colonial period by groups with different views of the military. …

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Bush's Martyrs: Michael Lind Reveals Who Is Really Fighting in Iraq: Southerners Who, Unlike the Secularised Puritans of the American North-East and the Pacific Coast, Believe in Dying for Their Country
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