Awol: Th Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military- and How It Hurts Our Country

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  • Edition: Reprint
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  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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In America, it is increasingly the case that the people who make, support, or protest military policy have no military experience. As Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer assert in this groundbreaking work, the gap between the "all-volunteer military" and the rest of us is widening, and our country faces a dangerous lack of understanding between those in power and those who defend our way of life.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. XV
Introductionp. 1
It's Personalp. 9
"Not for People Like Us": Or How the Privileged See the Militaryp. 29
The Military's View of What It Doesp. 67
The Emergence of the Gapp. 97
The Rights of the Individual Trump the Virtues of the Citizenp. 127
How the Gap Affects the Military and the Missionp. 141
Why Do We Even Need the Military?p. 175
What If We Don't Fix the Problem?p. 193
Solutionsp. 219
Afterwordp. 239
Acknowledgmentsp. 247
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service -- and How It Hurts Our Country

Chapter One

It's Personal

The evidence is that those who serve and those who don't are looking at each other with growing uneasiness and across a widening philosophical, ideological, political, and even religious social gap.

Frank and Kathy

We were the last people who expected to be drafted into the military. People like us -- Frank, a novelist, Kathy, a lawyer with political connections -- never would be, we thought. Yet here we are. The last draft in America is a draft of the heart -- it takes women and men, it takes parents and grandparents. Someone we love is in the military, and before we know it -- sometimes against our will -- we, too, are part of the military family.

Of course, like the professional military, this "family draft" doesn't take many people from our demographic. The extended military family, like those in uniform, increasingly includes fewer and fewer of those who are particularly influential in affecting the opinions and policies of the country.

It was not always this way.

During World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, we had conscription, and many people from the influential classes served, either through the draft or by volunteering. About half of the graduating classes of Princeton and Harvard entered the service for a tour of duty in the fifties. Today, less than one percent do.

The change has everything to do with the Vietnam War. After the Vietnam War, America made what turned out to be an almost universally popular decision to create an all-volunteer military. For the first time in history, the country had a large military, wars, and no conscription. It seemed like a perfect solution to our problems of domestic disputes over the use of our military and the blowback from the draft. If you wanted to join, fine. If you didn't, that was fine too. Military service became just another item on an ever-lengthening list of personal choices. And how connected you wanted to be to your country's foreign policy entanglements was optional. If you wanted to live as if the world ended at our borders, that was fine, and if you wanted to take personal responsibility for your citizenship, that was fine too. To use the vernacular of the time you could "do your own thing."

As a result, it has become increasingly comfortable for most young adults of all social classes to avoid even thinking about military service. This nonservice is a reflection of the idea that service is just a choice in the same category as deciding which college to go to, what car to buy, where to go to church or not to go. Those with "better options" simply choose not to join the military.

We believe that the increasing gap between the most privileged classes and those in the military raises three major problems: It hurts our country, particularly our ability to make the best policy possible. It undermines the strength of our civilian leadership, which no longer has significant numbers of members who have the experience and wisdom that comes from national service. Finally, it makes our military less strong in the long run.

And then there is also an intangible, something as real as it is hard to prove: the sense of lost community and the threat to democracy that results when a society accepts a situation that is inherently unfair. When those who benefit most from living in a country contribute the least to its defense and those who benefit less are asked to pay the ultimate price, something happens to the soul of that country. It may be legal, but is it right?


I've had a lucky life, even a glamorous one at times, so that in today's culture nothing would predict I would be at home on a military base. I was raised in an upper-middle-class neighborhood where a high-achieving Jewish child could grow up to be anything he or she wanted to be: a doctor or a lawyer. Shaker Heights, Ohio, as I knew it, was an earnest place, proud of its SAT scores and the racial and religious diversity of its professional families. The civics lessons that loomed largest in the minds of the class of '82 were the Holocaust, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and Watergate. The moral of these seemed to be that one should distrust authority figures and find and act on an internal moral compass -- not a lesson that leads people to serve their country through a tour of military duty.

After high school I entered the little utopia that is Bryn Mawr College. There I discovered feminism and parlayed my tiny high school leadership experience (running a previously defunct literary magazine) into starting a women's group. We did things like organize issues seminars and rallies to support women's health clinics. At various times in my "activist career" I was arrested for protesting nuclear weapons at an Army base and for civil disobedience at the South African embassy. These were all such scripted and risk-free affairs that my mother, a schoolteacher in town to visit me at the time of the demonstration, decided to join me in the paddy wagon after singing "We Shall Overcome" illegally on the South African embassy's lawn.

I also launched what turned out to be my political career. I met members of Walter Mondale's staff when Mondale was running for president in 1984 and made enough of a nuisance of myself that they let me come out on the road with them. I did advance work for Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro, and have done advance work for every presidential election since then, ending only in 2004.

Advance work led me to fall in love with my country -- you get to travel to big cities, small towns, rural farms, inner cities. You put together events to showcase local initiatives that your candidate likes or to spotlight individual people's situations -- family farms, AIDS support groups, after-school programs. It really is a big, beautiful country, filled with many sincere people trying to make things better.

The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service -- and How It Hurts Our Country
. Copyright © by Kathy Roth-Douquet. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Awol: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service -- and How It Hurts Our Country by Kathy Roth-Douquet, Frank Schaeffer
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