Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

May 27, 2007

Reflections for Memorial Day and One of History’s Lessons

Filed under: politics, random — codesmithy @ 5:04 am

On Memorial Day, Americans are supposed to reflect on the brave men and women who gave their lives in the service of this country. It is hard for me to fathom some of inhuman suffering some of them must have been put through. I’m in a debt of gratitude to all those who served with honor in armed services, past and present. I can’t imagine the loss that those families went through when their loved ones died. In that sense, I am, as an American citizen, obliged to ensure that when we do exercise the use of force, we do it for the values and reasons that we hold dear: the safety and security of the American people and for their freedom and liberty.

In that regard, we have a long way to go. As Major General Smedley D. Butler, United States Marine Corp so elegantly put it, “War is a racket. It always has been.”  In that light, we might think that the majority of people who agree with sentiments like Butler’s are the highly educated, high minded intellectuals (doves) and those who disagree are the go get ’em, patriots (hawks) that never made it to college.

That is, if you asked people to guess percentages of doves vs. hawks for Vietnam war in 1971 based on education, you’d probably get something like this (assuming you knew that the total adult population was 73% in favor of U.S. troops withdrawal and 27% were against).

College Education High School Education Grade School Education Total Adults
For Withdrawal (doves) 90% 75% 60% 73%
Against Withdrawal (hawks) 10% 25% 40% 27%

The actual breakdown is this:

College Education High School Education Grade School Education Total Adults
For Withdrawal (doves) 60% 75% 80% 73%
Against Withdrawal (hawks) 40% 25% 20% 27%

If a person was college educated he/she was twice as likely to be a hawk as opposed to a person who only had a grade school education. (Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen pg. 304-5).  In that vein, it should not be surprising that our congress and executive branches are usually one of the last institutions to realize what a mistake it was to go to war in the first place.

I believe the reason for this trend is because history talks too much of the great military victories and ideals and not enough of great suffering that was caused.  So, college educated people tend to overestimate what can be achieved by going to war, and tend to underestimate the costs.  Social inequities also change the cost/benefit calculus.  The enlisted members of the military tend to come from poor backgrounds.  Even when the draft is put in place, there are usually recourses for the well off members of society, some as blatant as being able to opt-out by paying a fee, to joining the national guard.

This country has engaged in many military actions.  Some, if you mentioned them to most Americans, would likely be met with surprise.  In that respect, the greatest homage to Memorial Day that we can pay as Americans is to ensure that lives are not sacrificed in the name of our freedoms needlessly.

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