More on Moore

by Chris Bertram on July 16, 2004

I just got back from seeing Farenheit 9/11. There’s a little voice saying I should pick away, argue about this point or that point, qualify, criticize. Others can do that. Moore makes one point quite brilliantly: that those who suffer and die come overwhelmingly from families and communities that are, shall we say, somewhat poorer than the politicians who chose to go to war, or the executives of the corporations who hope (hoped?) to profit from Iraqi reconstruction. Something like that is true of all wars, and if Moore were just making a general pacifist case then it would have been a weaker film. Instead, he was saying, or I took him to be saying , that those who expect others to bear the risks and costs of their projects better have a convincing justification for them. Self-defence might be one such justification, but plainly not in this case.

Those who have made the “humanitarian” case for war have never addressed the dirty little issue of who runs the risks and who does the dying. Rather, they’ve sought refuge in pointing out the plain truth that Saddam’s Iraq was an evil tyranny and that the world is a better place without it. So it was and so it is. But would or could this war have been fought if the children of the wealthy were at as much risk of dying as the children of the poor? One rather suspects not. It may be unpalatable to think that there’s a moral link between being willing to wage wars for democracy and human rights, and being willing to introduce conscription, but maybe those who have taken a leftist/liberal-hawk line on Iraq should be calling for a citizen army too. I’ve never read them doing so.

{ 95 comments }

1

Steve Carr 07.16.04 at 10:10 pm

Chris, this is an absurdly undertheorized argument. Cops come, overwhelmingly, from families and communities that significantly poorer than the politicians that pass the laws they enforce. Does that mean that having cops risk their lives stopping criminals is somehow morally problematic?

If the war against Iraq were a good war from a humanitarian perspective, then it was a good war regardless of who was doing the fighting. And if it was a bad war, then it would have been a bad war even if Jenna Bush had been in the front lines. You can certainly make the argument that there should be a draft, and that wealth should not get you out of national service, but that point has absolutely no bearing on the justice or injustice of the war. During the Civil War, wealthy people were able to buy their way out of service. Does that mean that somehow the war was less justified from a humanitarian perspective? I’m not surprised Michael Moore, who appears congenitally unable to understand what a coherent argument entails, somehow thought that telling us that most soldiers are working-class would make the Iraq war seem worse. But frankly I expected better from CT.

You also have zero evidence for your assertion that the war would not have been fought if the children of the wealthy were at risk. Certainly if you look at the history of the US in the 20th century, when it had a citizen army, one would be hard-pressed to find any correlation between conscription and a hesitancy to use force in cases other than self-defense. And I can’t imagine there’s anyone who believes that if there had been a national referendum on whether to go to war with Iraq in March 2003, the country would not have voted overwhelmingly for war — and that there would have been no significant class divisions on the issue (except that possibly the wealthy would have been more likely to oppose the war). Of course, the voters would have done so in part because they were led astray by false intelligence, but you can say the exact same thing about many of the “wealthy” who you indict. More practically, do you honestly believe that George W. isn’t going to get a wide majority of military votes this fall? That seems a little peculiar if these soldiers are the sacrificial lambs that Moore and you paint them as.

Then there’s the simple but strangely unmentioned fact that every one of the members of those poor communities has a vote, and there are a hell of a lot more of them than there are of the rich. It was not the “wealthy” who decided to go to war with Iraq. It was the American people did. Yes, the electoral system is enormously flawed. But if this is a democracy, then the people have to take responsibiility for what those they have elected do.

2

asg 07.16.04 at 10:11 pm

I confess I would find this argument a lot more compelling if the U.S. Army weren’t, you know, volunteer only.

3

asg 07.16.04 at 10:14 pm

I should clarify that — why, precisely, is it problematic that poorer people fill the ranks of the army if they are not compelled to do so?

4

Timothy Burke 07.16.04 at 10:17 pm

There’s a flip side to this, though, and it comes out for me in the closing portion of the film. Moore says (I’m paraphrasing from memory) that he’s amazed that those who are somewhat poorer give their lives so readily for their country, and then professes a certain kind of admiration for that gift. I buy that he’s amazed; I don’t especially believe that he admires it. I’d have to do mighty exegetical labors to provision support for that cynical reading–let’s just say my spidey-sense tingles at that point, partly because it’s the classic moment on the left, the “manufacturing consent” moment where folks try to figure out how false consciousness exists while they try mightily not to condescend to those who have it.

Were Moore a more interesting person with a more interesting intellect, he might stop at that moment and really wonder at what that means, that some of the poor not only see the military as an instrumental strategy for relieving their poverty, but also as an idealistic commitment to values they wholeheartedly endorse. He might also begin to note that the military, of all institutions, is one of the few relatively class-blind and color-blind social institutions in America *once people enter it*. And that too might seem interesting and not easily or facilely explained. Instead I think he sticks to the easy route, which is to portray the US military as simple ruling class predation on vulnerable people.

5

Morat 07.16.04 at 10:20 pm

Moore’s point is that, basically put, the military is about the only good option for the poor wanting to get a better life.

Given the recent cutbacks in programs designed to offer a “leg up” to the poor (free or low-cost job and career training, grants and student loans for low-income families, etc) Moore’s point is even truer now than it was 4 years ago.

Basically put, the Army looks really good if you’re poor. They’ll clothe you, shelter you, feed you, teach you discipline, and pay your way through college. They give you a way out of grinding poverty.

6

harry 07.16.04 at 10:33 pm

The military gives you a way of getting to go through college and get out debt-free. Oh, or apprenticeship training, and access to a huge social network which helps for future employment prospects. It is, indeed, volunteer-only. But most of the enticements to volunteer are things that many of Moore’s non-volunteering critics got free, from their family background.

I haven’s seen 9/11. But I have seen other Moore movies. He is a bit mushy; a true American sentimentalist; he doesn’t make the kinds of nice, clean arguments that academics like; he’s not a proper down-the-line class-compromise social democrat like me. But he’s on the side of the angels and makes entertaining movies, and, rather better, genuinely good TV. Why are people who see themselves on the left so keen to piss on him? I don’t get it.

Thanks, Chris, for not succumbing to the temptation.

7

yabonn 07.16.04 at 10:34 pm

poorer people fill the ranks of the army if they are not compelled to do so?

Right on!

C’mon, it’s common knowledge that poors just prefer jobs where they risk death or slow poisoning or daily humiliation or dirt or, at best, the slow seath of the brain produced by years of repeating the same gesture on the chain.

It’s part of them being poors, y’know.

Never quite got why they wouldn’t just inherit and simply enjoy the champagne. I’m sure if they’d put a little effort into it, they’d appreciate caviar too. But nooo. Always wanting to be the center of attention. And lookee i can’t buy my medicines with that pension. And lookee my children have strange asthma because of some fumes. And lookee the only way my son could study was enlisting, hope he doesn’t die.

Quite some wet blankets after all, if you ask me.

Wet blankets.

Damn them.

8

Sam 07.16.04 at 10:59 pm

I have heard and seen this argument numerous times recently–that the fact that most of the army comes from the working class may distort decision-making. Here’s the part that doesn’t get covered: the communities from which soldiers come are overwhelmingly supportive of the War in Iraq (although often critical of the execution). I know a fair number of people with family members in Iraq and Afghanistan; they are strongly in favor of both wars. Go to the rural communities from which soldiers come and you see some amazing shrines to the troops–one of my favorites has two eagles, 3 flags, a wreath, and lots of plastic flowers with 4′ by 8′ sign “God Bless the USA.”

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Steve Carr 07.16.04 at 11:02 pm

Thank you, Yabonn, for making exactly the argument that Timothy suggests Moore wants to make but can’t quite bring himself to. You’re right: the only reason people go into the military is because they’re poor. Thanks for clearing that up. And thanks for being so much smarter than all those stupid working-class soldiers who thought they actually liked the military.

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chun the unavoidable 07.16.04 at 11:03 pm

By any non-subjective definition of “interesting,” I think we have to agree that Michael Moore is far, far more so than Professor Burke. More intelligent? No. More knowledgable? Certainly not. But he’s unarguably more interesting to the population as a whole.

Leaving that elementary point behind, the military exists through obvious economic conscription alone. The values mentioned by Burke are simple propaganda. People don’t enlist to defend their country, much less to defend the country’s moneyed interests; they enlist for a paycheck, college money, and job training. There are exceptions: these are either those ensorcelled by texas-crude propaganda or noise.

11

P. Hoolahan 07.16.04 at 11:10 pm

What Steve Carr said.

Has any war (justified or otherwise) ever not been fought largely by the poor? The man likely to be the next president of the U.S. fought in one of the 20th century’s least-justified wars. Had Moore made a film about that war he would have argued similarly… and just as unconvincingly. I recall Lindbergh saying something similar in a rally to keep “our boys” out of WWII. So what’s your point, Chris?

12

bob mcmanus 07.16.04 at 11:14 pm

“the country would not have voted overwhelmingly for war”

If the polls at the time were any indication, no, though a clear majority approved of the Iraq war. I happen to believe that 60/40 or even 70/30 is not quite good enough for a war. Would agree completely that there would be no class correlation.

“George W. isn’t going to get a wide majority of military votes this fall”

My understanding is that officers and non-coms are strongly Republican, but that enlisted men and reservists are very close to the general population in political affiliation.

13

Anonymous 07.16.04 at 11:20 pm

Burke’s criticism of the “false consciousness” argument is ironically coupled with another leftist cliche, the “I’m more in touch with working class feelings than you are” notion, which is the secular leftist equivalent to the evangelical quoting Scripture.

It’s an interesting notion, that working class people enter a dangerous profession like the military because they have this idealistic desire to be part of a colorblind environment. How strange that you don’t find this same desire acted out in the same way in more affluent types, such as liberal academics. Presumably it’s because they are bad people who’ve lost touch with the values that motivate the heartland.

14

harry 07.16.04 at 11:28 pm

Can someone who actually talks to people who join the military contribute to this? I’ve discussed with numerous of my students reasons why they joined up, and have several (in-law) family members who enlisted on purpose. Frankly, the (non-conscripted) family members are thrill seekers, whose patriotism is not in question but is not what moved them. The students are a pretty good mix of the reasons given on both sides of this. Very few pacifists, ultra-lefties, etc join the military (though I’ve known a number who did, and they did it purely for the financial/job opportunity benefits, being from working class families).

bq. Thanks for clearing that up. And thanks for being so much smarter than all those stupid working-class soldiers who thought they actually liked the military.

No one’s saying they don’t like it. But there are lots of other motivational assists to their patriotism than there are to that of middle/upper class kids who also might like it. It’s just not that they would like it more than more privileged people do other-things-being-equal.

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Steve Carr 07.16.04 at 11:41 pm

Harry, yes, there are motivational assists to their patriotism. And if Chris or Michael Moore wants to advocate a draft, I think that’s a reasonable position. But again, this has nothing to do with the thrust of Chris’ argument, which is that because working-class people make up most of the army the humanitarian case for war with Iraq is demolished. Unless you think that working-class people are being forced by the state to fight a war they do not want to fight for reasons they don’t approve of, this is an absurd argument. Again, there is no link between the justice or injustice of the war and the composition of the military.

16

yabonn 07.16.04 at 11:56 pm

There are exceptions: these are either those ensorcelled by texas-crude propaganda or noise.

And verily this is good, for these lesser classes need, more than others, values to cling to.

And blessed be their robust innocence : what would happen if they ever discovered that you can worship all things military and, yet, after all, all things considered, not enlist? Let’s call that the “warblogger hypothesis”.

Well we wouldn’t have any more military to worship, that’s what. And that would be bad.

How would we then send the message to the world that, no, we are not ones to be cowered by the death of others? Mmmhm?

… But wait! Poorness would still churn out enough ones out of economical reasons! Phew.

Life is so much better with the prospect of being able to comfortably invade something, and worship the military. Let’s call that the “wagner hypothesis“.

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yabonn 07.17.04 at 12:05 am

Damn. Beat me to it, anonymous.

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Matt McGrattan 07.17.04 at 12:08 am

Many of the objections above — while making interesting and cogent points — seem to miss one of the key issues here.

It may be the case that the predominately working class professional soldiers do support the war and it may also be the case that there are clear benefits that acrue to those individuals through military service and thus extremely good reasons — given their situation — why they would sign up for military service. No-one is saying they shouldn’t sign up or shouldn’t fight.

Rather, the key question raised seems to be this:

“Is it right that politicians make decisions that put others in harms way when it is clear that they, and their immediate family, and indeed, the bulk of their class, are not likely to be in danger?”

It’s this argument – the Chickenhawk or Chickenhawk-by-Proxy – argument that seems key.

The point isn’t that they shouldn’t send the working classes off to fight in wars simpliciter — the question is, given that fighting will take place (fighting for which there may, indeed, be pressing moral reasons in favour), why do they and their families not similarly go off to fight?

Pointing to the fact that many past wars have also been this way doesn’t answer the point — it may be factually true but it’s irrelevant. If it’s wrong in this case — for independent reasons — then it was also wrong in the past.

I’d also dispute whether it’s even factually true of many of the past wars that have been fought. My college in Oxford — a bastion of wealth and privilege if ever there was one — has a memorial to the dead in various 20th century wars and the numbers are striking — in both WW1 and WW2 the college population was annihilated. Not just a few casualties but virtually the majority of men eligible to fight wiped out.

There seems a striking absence of noblesse oblige in present day Western culture. Increasingly and to a greater degree than ever before the powerful are isolated from certain consequences of their decisions.

To re-iterate: this is not to say that the decisions themselves may not be morally right, rather that, given they are morally right — why don’t they make the sacrifices they expect of the working classes?

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Matt McGrattan 07.17.04 at 12:12 am

Just read that back and I waffled on a bit… sorry :-)

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bob mcmanus 07.17.04 at 12:16 am

“Again, there is no link between the justice or injustice of the war and the composition of the military.”

The “justice of the war” is determined not simply and completely by the rightness of the goals but by the morality of the means. If Saddam could have been removed by sacrificing 3000 children in a bonfire in Times Square, the end probably doesn’t justify those means. Even though the children might be singing as they lept in.

I grew up in a time and place, among people who might have rather died than accept that a President would go to war for ego, money, and midterms.

21

Diarmuid Moroney 07.17.04 at 12:21 am

Moore’s point is that, basically put, the military is about the only good option for the poor wanting to get a better life.

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Steve Carr 07.17.04 at 12:28 am

Bob, if the “morality of the means” determines the justice of the war, does that mean the Civil War was unjust? More important, does it mean the Civil War should not have been fought?

And it’s no response to say that the stakes of the Civil War were higher than those in removing Saddam, because then you’re making a judgment about the justice of the war independent of how it’s fought. That’s what I think you should do, of course, but it doesn’t follow from your argument. In fact, if you really think having a working-class army of adults who have volunteered to go to war is the same as sacrificing 3000 children in a bonfire in Times Square, then I can’t see what war you’d be in favor of.

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Steve Carr 07.17.04 at 12:34 am

To go back to an earlier point, does everyone here just accept that “politicians” make decisions completely independently of their constituents? Every single one of the senators who voted for the war on Iraq was elected by voters, and every U.S. citizen had an equally-weighted vote in those elections. Isn’t this of some relevance to the question of whether wealthy politicans are dictating policies that the working class have to carry out against their will?

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Timothy Burke 07.17.04 at 12:37 am

Look, it’s not so simple either as I made out, e.g., honest workin’ folks that are all patriotic and shit. But neither does it fit the homely verities that Chun and others are dishing here–poor victims gulled by simple propaganda. And I’m sorry, but Moore is on the second side of the simplicity curve, not the first, and Chun’s proposition that most of America is with him entirely in that respect is just…plain…wrong. It might be that they *ought* to be (I don’t think they should, any more than they should be believing in the wholesome purity of our fighting men and women) but they aren’t.

Whether my desire for something more subtle than Michael Moore’s typical frying-pan-to-the-head puts me at odds aesthetically with the general population, who knows. I don’t especially care. I haven’t heard Chun be especially admiring of popular taste in the past, so this is a bit of a break from the norm as far as that goes.

25

Chris Bertram 07.17.04 at 12:39 am

Chris’ argument, which is that because working-class people make up most of the army the humanitarian case for war with Iraq is demolished.

I’m sure people are capable of going back to read what I wrote to see if that’s a fair precis. But in case anyone is reading me through the prism of Steve Carr’s summary, it might be useful to go back to the beginning.

26

bob mcmanus 07.17.04 at 12:44 am

“because then you’re making a judgment about the justice of the war independent of how it’s fought.”

Well, I would the “justice of a war” was based on both means and ends, and neither outweigh the other. A cost/benefit calculation is done (nobody says war is nice or pretty), and yes, given the choice of 3000 children or 1 million men, knowing the choice had to be made…well, the English and French may have calculated badly in 1914. I think Lincoln chose well in 1861.

“Saddam’s removal was worth the lives of 1000 Americans.” is the way it needs be phrased. Not “It was a just war.”

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Matt McGrattan 07.17.04 at 12:45 am

“Bob, if the “morality of the means” determines the justice of the war, does that mean the Civil War was unjust? More important, does it mean the Civil War should not have been fought?”

The whole point I was trying to make above is that these considerations support the view that the Civil War, to take one example, ought to have been fought. That’s one thing.

Furthermore, it might be right that a volunteer army primarily composed of the working classes be asked to fight in that war.
That’s another.

One can concede all of these points without invoking hyperbolic examples of children being immolated in Times Square.

However, the point being ignored is that, given all this, why don’t the powerful also fight in such wars?

If the other points are correct, they ought to.. and it’s a moral failing on their part if they don’t.

They either genuinely believe in the righteousness of the war — in which case they ought to make material sacrifices in support of it. Or they don’t — in which case they are immoral scumbags who deserve no respect.

There’s no 3rd way — they can’t both be in favour of the war and also be against taking in material risks in support of it.

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Dan Simon 07.17.04 at 12:49 am

Let us imagine, for a moment, that some well-meaning American politicians were to propose a large, expensive, federally-funded humanitarian aid project in a third-world country. The program would predominantly employ poor and working-class young people (“recruits”), giving them low-but-tolerable pay, job training and work experience. Its goal would be to improve the quality of life of the unfortunate citizens of the targeted third-world country. Of course, the project’s recruits would live in somewhat spartan conditions compared to most Americans, and perhaps face risks more common in the chaotic underdeveloped world than in America.

1) Which socioeconomic classes would likely consider this project to be worth the cost?

2) Which socioeconomic groups could be expected to clamor for its benefits to be more directed towards middle- and upper-middle-class youth–perhaps by vastly reducing the risks and discomforts endured by recruits, making it more attractive to the children of the affluent–or else to argue that the program is wasteful or even harmful, and should be eliminated altogether?

3) Who still believes that Michael Moore’s argument against using an army of mostly working-class volunteers to depose Saddam Hussein holds even a thimbleful of water?

29

bob mcmanus 07.17.04 at 12:52 am

“working-class army of adults who have volunteered to go to war”

My support of the war or opposition to it is not dependent on the fact those who fight are volunteers. I am not so easily relieved of my responsibility.

For the record, I approved of the Iraq war, my justifications are apparently not Bush’s, as demonstrated by the way he has handled the post-war. I do not yet have regrets, tho I am getting there. I am hoping John Kerry can help the Iraqis create a nation that will justify the war. Not Saddam:the Sequel.

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Matt McGrattan 07.17.04 at 12:54 am

Dan:

Here’s a serious question and I’m not making it snarkily…

Is there a genuine moral equivalence between war, on the one hand, which both requires the participants to face the risk of death and also requires them to accept the possibility they may have to kill others and some sort of humanitarian invtervention, on the other?

Even accepting the humanitarian interventions aren’t without risk – of infection, hunger, or whatever.

Part of the point, surely, is that war is special … it’s not like other things we might do as societies and as nations.

31

eudoxis 07.17.04 at 1:08 am

The mortality risks for those fighting in today’s military are the same order of magnitude as the mortality risks of staying at home. The benefits for those who don’t have middle to upper class prospects are considerably greater. Joining the military seems a rational choice.

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Matt McGrattan 07.17.04 at 1:46 am

I don’t know how often this has to be repeated…

The problem isn’t that the working classes choose to join the army. Everyone accepts that there are perfectly rational reasons for doing so.

The problem is that the powerful do not and there seems something morally dubious about asking others to take risks that one is not prepared to bear oneself.

Indeed many of the current US administration have extremely suspect histories of actively avoiding any possibility of facing actual combat.

This ‘Chickenhawk’ position isn’t incompatible either with the view that the conflict in question is morally justified or with the position that there are perfectly rational reasons for those who do in fact join the army to do so.

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liberal japonicus 07.17.04 at 1:56 am

I really can’t believe anyone thinks comparisons with the Civil War are appropriate. One should stop and consider the ‘evolution’ of values that has taken place over the past 150 years (the word evolution should not be taken to mean that current values are superior than previous ones, just that they are different) The Civil War featured frontal assaults where the participants stitched their names and addresses in various parts of their uniform to make sure that their bodies could be identified. It wasn’t simply the improvement of weaponry that made men stop thinking it was an appropriate order to advance on a position as a front, the men being commanded grew less and less willing to do it. Even towards the end of the Civil War, Union troops refused to charge the works at Petersberg, and simply fired their rifles in the air and reported back that they weren’t able to take the position. The evolution of values, which granted more mobility and independent reasoning to the individual soldier was a necessary step in framing the conditions for men to go to war.

9/11 hasn’t come to this corner of Japan yet, so I can’t speak to how Moore makes his point, but the disconnect of military recruiting is a fact. I would also point out that the concerted effort of liberal university campuses to keep out ROTC recruiters has ensured that those who move into the Army from university as officers are from populations that are more ‘patriotic’ (again, the quotes are meant to separate any discussion of what patriotic means and whether it is a good or bad thing)

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Steve Carr 07.17.04 at 2:11 am

Chris, how exactly am I misstating your argument? You make this suggestion:

There is a moral link between being willing to wage wars for democracy and human rights and being willing to introduce conscription.

If there is a moral link between these two things, it must follow that it is immoral (or at least amoral) to wage wars for democracy and human rights if you’re not willing to introduce conscription. (That’s why you call on the left-liberal hawks to call for a citizen army, isn’t it?) And that, then, means that if you have a purely working-class army, you cannot wage a humanitarian war justly, which I would say fairly demolishes the case for humanitarian wars.

So what here is misrepresenting your position?

35

Detached Observer 07.17.04 at 2:54 am

Harry wrote: “Why are people who see themselves on the left so keen to piss on [Moore]? I don’t get it.”

Because Fahrenheit 9/11 is deceiving? As in, you walk out of it believing things that are provably false? Dissatisfied with right-wing dissections of Fahrenheit 9/11 that contained more bias than the original movie, I wrote up some facts here.

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mitch p. 07.17.04 at 3:08 am

If anyone wants to help turn “Fahrenheit 7/17” into a movie, let me know.

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Zizka 07.17.04 at 3:26 am

One way to look at it is that we’re a class society, that that’s a good thing, and that people within this society make their choices based on what’s available to them and that people in the upper classes have more choices pretty much by the nature of class society, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Another is that soldiers are by nature expendable and it makes good sense to expend those who are generally of less worth. The propaganda worship of the troops isn’t usually accompanied by any effective benefit to them. During most of history, soldiers fought because they would have been condemned if they didn’t.

There are other models for understanding military service, such as an equally-shared obligation or duty of citizenship, and I think that Moore’s point is that this model doesn’t cover the present case very well, even though some of the rhetoric seems to assume it.

Moore did cover one of the arguments above in the story of the mother whose ideas changed about the war after her son was killed. When a loved one is in the military, there are psychological reasons to support the war as a way of supporting the loved one. The alternative (that the war is wrong) is too painful, and there’s the hope that everything will turn out OK, like a bad dream.

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nick paul 07.17.04 at 4:08 am

i’m with Matt..

“However, the point being ignored is that, given all this, why don’t the powerful also fight in such wars?”

if so, the dodgy intelligence would have been plucked and picked from all reports, pronto!

my question is.. how do all of the ultra-patriots out there (somewhere) stop themsleves from hurling their bodies at the ‘enemy’?

39

c 07.17.04 at 5:50 am

Thank you, Matt, for your posts.

I find distressing to observe how difficult it is, apparently, for people who have more options available to them (the not-poor) to comprehend how much more palatable the “patriotism” of enlisting is to those who have limited ways of following their ambitions of further education. How felicitous it is of them to stereotype those of a “certain class” as somehow more mysteriously and conveniently more willing to risk their lives…

I come from a blue-collar back ground. I have 4 siblings who were at one time or another enlisted in the military. I find it hard to maintain illusions. I find it harder to comprehend how the Pro Military politcians could somehow manage to cut Veterans’ benefits or to issue an order to not encourage them to apply…

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Dan Simon 07.17.04 at 5:52 am

Is there a genuine moral equivalence between war, on the one hand, which both requires the participants to face the risk of death and also requires them to accept the possibility they may have to kill others and some sort of humanitarian invtervention, on the other?

For me personally, it would depend on the war, the risk and the enemy. The US military operations in Iraq don’t seem to me to be qualitatively different in their physical and moral risks from the humanitarian intervention scenario I described.

But then, why on earth does my opinion on these points matter? I’m not fighting in Iraq. If the soldiers deployed there consider themselves morally and physically exploited cannon fodder, in a way that, say, deep-sea fishermen or policemen do not, then the armed forces–and the country–have a big problem. If, on the other hand–as I’m given to understand–most of the troops consider their mission and its risks both honorable and worth accepting, then all the condescending tut-tutting among Crooked Timberites about the ruling class’ ruthless exploitation of the ignorant, false consciousness-plagued peasants is more than a little nauseating.

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q 07.17.04 at 6:04 am

All this talk about the relative merits of rights of the rich and poor in the US occurs in a geographical vacuum.

Most people in:
Iraq (20 million),
Syria (20 million),
Turkey (70 million),
Iran (70 million),
Saudi Arabia (25 million),
are a lot poorer than people (rich or poor) in the US Army. The poor people of the Middle East did not volunteer for a war that appears to be more about US domestic politics than anything else.

Fundamentally, most of the pro-war commentators I have read fall in to the “because we can” crowd, although they like to deny it, because it would mean admitting to a personal anti-freedom agenda.

Funnily enough, there was a weak humanitarian argument for invading Iraq, but it had about as much weight as if Philip Morris adopted a policy of sending a box of yummy chocolates and a big bunch of bright flowers to everyone who got lung cancer.

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maracucho 07.17.04 at 6:41 am

Moore is clumsy and heavy handed- on only has to compare F911 to Z. The most important part of the movie, IMHO, is when Rep Conyers tells him to sit down, that nobody in Congress reads the 10,000 bills that they vote on each year. It seems to be true- Bush’s August 2001 intelligence briefing was boiled own (by whom?) to 1 page, Kerry didn’t even read the misleading government Iraq memo before voting on the Iraq war. Maybe the first step toward democracy is to limit the number of bills that Congress can vote on. Maybe both Democrats and Republicans have failed the test of serving the people.

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Matthew Yglesias 07.17.04 at 6:46 am

It may be relevant to note that the 2003 death rate for US military personnel was actually somewhat lower than the 2002 murder rate in Washington, DC.

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Chris Bertram 07.17.04 at 8:24 am

Steve Carr: if you are going to get a bunch of already disadvantaged people to do a dangerous job (A: prosecuting a humanitiarian war) significantly different from the one they were led to believe they’d signed up for (B: defending their country) then you face an important justificatory burden. I’m not saying it can’t necessarily be met, but to meet it you’d have to

(1) Actually put to those people the correct reasons (i.e not sell them A under the guise of B).

(2) Do a bit better than explain why, on balance, the people of Iraq will be better off. That is, you ought to explain to them not only why this projects is justified in the abstract, but why they, as opposed to others, should be the ones bearing the costs and risks.

Since the left/liberal supporters of the war aren’t actually commanding any troops (surprise, surprise), the reasons that they think pertinent weren’t actually the ones being put to those fighting and dying. (Or to the extent that they were, they were adulterated with other, irrelevant, bullshit like WMD and AQ links.).

Now on to the citizen army bit …

Under the existing division of labour, one part of society is getting another part of society to do something it isn’t willing to do itself. To the extent that that thing ought to be done anyway (and I’m agreeing with you here), that ought to be doneness is independent of who actually gets to do the doing. But if everyone bears the costs and the risks equally the arguments about what “we” ought to do have a somewhat different dynamic. Explaining that “we” ought to fight a war because the universal felicific calculus comes out that way is a lot more acceptable if the person advancing the argument actually risks dying or losing a loved one than if they don’t. (And Christ! The people putting the arguments this time didn’t extend their willingness to sacrifice as far as a hike in their marginal tax rates).

The point isn’t one about just war, as we ordinarily think of that concept, but about distributive justice, legitimacy and consent within the society waging the just war. As it happens, I also think that a draft is _only one_ of the ways that this issue could be addressed, there’s another obvious solution. If people enlisted voluntarily in the light of full information against a background of fair equality of resources, then that would be fine too. So if the Bush adminstration only pursues a policy of substantial wealth redistribution towards the communites from which enlisters typically come, by taxing the rich and increasing welfare programmes ….

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.17.04 at 8:51 am

“Moore’s point is that, basically put, the military is about the only good option for the poor wanting to get a better life.”

This seems to be a common point on this thread. And frankly it is complete crap.

The poor in the United States have many options other than the military. It is completely ridiculous to suggest that a large percentage of people in the military are ‘forced’ into it by their economic situation.

And when you start with such a silly premise, it is no wonder you get to such silly conclusions.

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Matt McGrattan 07.17.04 at 9:57 am

Dan wrote:

“If, on the other hand—as I’m given to understand—most of the troops consider their mission and its risks both honorable and worth accepting, then all the condescending tut-tutting among Crooked Timberites about the ruling class’ ruthless exploitation of the ignorant, false consciousness-plagued peasants is more than a little nauseating.”

Dan, the point I was trying to make above is that these considerations are not the real issue. As I’ve said the members of the army can be willing and eager to fight and the war can be a morally justifiable one, and yet, one can still ask why our leaders don’t place themselves and their loved ones in harm’s way.

One needn’t think that the working classes are being ruthlessly exploited or are ‘false-consciousness’ plagued to still feel there’s an ethical problem here.

Chris Bertram makes the precisely the same kind of point when he says the issue is, partly, one of distributive justice.

It’s somehow unfair that soldiers should be asked to do (willingly) what the people making the decisions are not. Indeed, as Chris points out, these people are overwhelmingly unwilling to even make a financial sacrifice never mind anything else….

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Kevin Donoghue 07.17.04 at 10:59 am

“The poor in the United States have many options other than the military.”

Indeed they do: drug-dealing, prostitution, shite-shovelling and many, many more. What student of economics has failed to grasp that the really striking characteristic of poverty is the great range of opportunities it opens up?

Why do African Americans have higher mortality rates than the people of the dirt-poor state of Kerala, India? Because of their life-style choices, of course.

“And when you start with such a silly premise, it is no wonder you get to such silly conclusions.”

Indeed.

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Kevin Donoghue 07.17.04 at 11:03 am

“The poor in the United States have many options other than the military.”

Indeed they do: drug-dealing, prostitution, shite-shovelling and many, many more. What student of economics has failed to grasp that the really striking characteristic of poverty is the great range of opportunities it opens up?

Why do African Americans have higher mortality rates than the people of the dirt-poor state of Kerala, India? Because of their life-style choices, of course.

“And when you start with such a silly premise, it is no wonder you get to such silly conclusions.”

Indeed

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bad Jim 07.17.04 at 11:10 am

The poor in the United States have many options other than the military.

Without a doubt, the U.S. Army is not the same as Walmart. Which is perhaps the point.

If you can’t afford advanced education, your options of doing well, much less doing good, are somewhat limited. Our armed forces offer an alternative, an elite open to everyone, group spirit, discipline, training and options for education beyond what your high school counselor can offer.

It wasn’t that long ago that the above description stopped being comprehensive.

I’ve got a nephew-in-law in the system, trapped past the date at which he and my niece thought they would be free of that. Stop-loss – it’s not just a job, it’s involuntary servitude!

Let’s just hope he doesn’t get killed or damaged as a footnote in Georgie’s excellent adventure.

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mc 07.17.04 at 11:20 am

I haven’s seen 9/11. But I have seen other Moore movies. He is a bit mushy; a true American sentimentalist; he doesn’t make the kinds of nice, clean arguments that academics like; he’s not a proper down-the-line class-compromise social democrat like me. But he’s on the side of the angels and makes entertaining movies, and, rather better, genuinely good TV. Why are people who see themselves on the left so keen to piss on him? I don’t get it.

harry, I feel the same there about that reaction. I think it boils down to snobbishness. Or as the Guardian review puts it:

… there has been a strand of liberal opinion which holds that liking Michael Moore is uncool and infra dig, like squawking about the perfidy of Starbucks.
…. However, it is incendiary, excitable, often mawkishly emotional but simply gripping: a cheerfully partisan assault on the Bush administration.
…. It is an exhilarating and even refreshing spectacle at a time when our pro-war liberals are evidently too worldly or sophisticated or amnesiac to be angry about the grotesque falsehood of WMD.

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mc 07.17.04 at 11:53 am

I may have misunderstood the main point here but I thought it wasn’t so much about how many other options one has instead of the military when one is not wealthy (sure, no one is ever forced to do anything – does that mean the possibilities are always endless and that they’re all open?). I thought the emphasis was the contrast between a war whose justification has been seriously challenged (by reports on intelligence, amongst other things) and the easy propaganda about the pride and honour of serving in it that the proponents of said war have banked on. They were able to bank on it _also_ because of the fact that the army is largely made up of people who didn’t come from the same wealthy and spoilt background as Bush. So he can patronise to them all about serving without having served himself. No, it’s not necessary that one serves himself to be a responsible leader and take responsible decisions involving the army; but when one doesn’t act responsibly and yet keeps on using rhetoric about the military, then it becomes even more of an ironic contrast.

I don’t think that leads to an argument in favour of conscription. I simply think it leads to an argument in favour of more truthful and thorough justifications for wars, and in favour of the concept of war as a very last resort, and finally, in favour of the idea that people in the army are not replaceable tools for foreign policy but people whose services should be employed much more wisely and maybe, rewarded much more coherently and not just with empty words.

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bad Jim 07.17.04 at 12:25 pm

Datum: in my right-wing county in southern California, Fahrenheit 9/11 is being held over for another week in my neighborhood theater, four screenings a night, compared to three for Spiderman 2.

One presumes that the people running the place are trying to make money. Maybe they know something.

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Dan Simon 07.17.04 at 1:37 pm

It’s somehow unfair that soldiers should be asked to do (willingly) what the people making the decisions are not. Indeed, as Chris points out, these people are overwhelmingly unwilling to even make a financial sacrifice never mind anything else…

To quote myself:

“Well, here’s a modest proposal: [draft advocate Rep. Charlie]Rangel’s office claims that over 30 percent of military personnel are minorities, but according to Julianne Malvaux, ‘African Americans [alone] are about 11 percent of the labor market, but 28 percent of our nation’s postal clerks.’ Malvaux wonders if the deaths of postal workers during the anthrax-letter crisis might have been at least partly due to neglect on the part of the authorities for the safety of a poor, disproportionately-minority workforce. An obvious solution presents itself: the dangerous, soul-destroying, poorly-paid burden of moving the nation’s mails must be borne equally by all Americans. If everyone, rich or poor, white or black, were required to give a few months of their lives manning the sorting bins and service counters of the postal system, Americans might have second thoughts, not just about the difficult working conditions of postal workers, but even about the wisdom of having a national postal system in the first place.

“Wouldn’t that be a breakthrough for all those downtrodden minority USPS employees!”

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mc 07.17.04 at 2:49 pm

And what on earth do serving in the army and sorting mail have in common?

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bob mcmanus 07.17.04 at 2:55 pm

Is it time yet to bring in the “Henry V” scene where the grunts are bitching about dying for nothing and the boy-king plays his con about the grand and noble adventure hurrah but don’t blame me if it gets fucked up and you die?

Nah. Save it for next war.

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Steve Carr 07.17.04 at 5:31 pm

Chris, it seems to me that between your initial post and your last response to me, you shifted your target of attack. In your initial post, you’re attacking leftist/liberal hawks, for whom the overriding reasons to invade Iraq were humanitarian (remove Saddam’s tyranny) and democratic (move the Middle East toward democracy). But in your most recent response, you seem to be attacking the Bush administration and the neocons, who stressed the WMD rationale, etc. I wasn’t defending them and am not interested in defending them, because I don’t think they really were ever committed to the humanitarian/democratic rationale (Wolfowitz may be an exception, but frankly it doesn’t make a difference).

In any case, your new justifications for why fighting this war with a working-class army are bad simply don’t apply to the leftist and liberal hawks. These people –I’m thinking of Paul Berman, Ignatieff, arguably even Tom Friedman (a liberal if not a leftist) were explicit about their reasons for supporting the war. They did not try to sell A under the guise of B. They did explain why this was a good war, and how the people of Iraq would be better off. They were more than willing to have their marginal tax rates hiked (here again, you slide between the leftists/liberals and the Bush administration). And all of them would be in favor of increasing distributive justice. So I fail to see how anything remains of your original critique of the leftist/liberal hawks.

Now, you could say that until we have a genuinely classless society, any humanitarian war — no matter how honestly argued for, and no matter how widely supported by the military and the American people — is immoral. If you want to lose yourself in such a utopian (and, on the flipside, nihilistic) fantasy, be my guest. But considering we will never get there, it makes more sense to consider whether, in this society, a humanitarian war that is honestly argued for and widely supported by those fighting the war can be just. (And this is the question you started with, because this is the war the leftist/liberal hawks were pushing for.) Michael Moore would undoubtedly say no, and so would you. I’d say yes.

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Chris Bertram 07.17.04 at 5:42 pm

Well Steve, they weren’t “new justifications” but merely an attempt to make explicit what I merely gestured at in my original post. But getting back to that post in the light of your latest comment, I wrote:

Those who have made the “humanitarian” case for war have never addressed the dirty little issue of who runs the risks and who does the dying.

You mention Paul Berman, Michael Ignatieff and Tom Friedman. I’ll be very happy for you to point out to me those articles in which those three thinkers address this issue, which Moore makes central to his film. AFAIK, they never did. If that’s right it may be because, like you, they consider these matters of legitimacy and fair distribution of the risks of war to be of no importance. If they (and you) think that, then so much the worse for them (and you).

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Tom T. 07.17.04 at 6:08 pm

Dirty little secret?

Oh, give us a break!

Now it’s “show me the articles”. Next it’ll be “well I don’t see the words risks of war“. When do you run out of qualifiers, Chris?

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Chris Bertram 07.17.04 at 6:16 pm

Tom: I think you’ll find that the word I used was “issue” not “secret”.

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mc 07.17.04 at 6:18 pm

Tom: no one has really addressed that issue. Really. Not “risks of war” in general but the point Chris is making. Steve has done a masterful misreading of it, but it’s still pretty clear if you read Chris’s own words.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.17.04 at 7:09 pm

““The poor in the United States have many options other than the military.”

Indeed they do: drug-dealing, prostitution, shite-shovelling and many, many more. What student of economics has failed to grasp that the really striking characteristic of poverty is the great range of opportunities it opens up?”

And the fact that you believe those are the only reachable alternatives for the poor in the U.S. explains to me perfectly why you think the way you do.

“If you can’t afford advanced education, your options of doing well, much less doing good, are somewhat limited. Our armed forces offer an alternative, an elite open to everyone, group spirit, discipline, training and options for education beyond what your high school counselor can offer.”

Or alternatively there are school loans and community colleges which lead directly (and cheaply) to more advanced universities. The U.S. has the deepest and broadest advanced educational system in the world. Almost any resident of the states can get enough college loans to go. And absolutely anyone who wants to improve his education (including those who royally screwed up in high school) can start in a $30-50 per class community college and work their way up to a regular university in a matter of 2-3 years.

The fact that so many on this board latch on to the idea that the poor are consigned to the military as their major improvement opportunity only proves that you all are lacking in basic understanding about the opportunities actually available–not to mention failing to utilize basic research skills.

For chris, “Rather, they’ve sought refuge in pointing out the plain truth that Saddam’s Iraq was an evil tyranny and that the world is a better place without it. So it was and so it is. But would or could this war have been fought if the children of the wealthy were at as much risk of dying as the children of the poor? One rather suspects not.”

One rather suspects not if one does not believe that one’s opponents are being honest. But that is begging the question isn’t it? If they are being honest then the composition of the military is irrelevant, because they are sending the military out to fight a way that needs to be fought.

You also draw the ‘humanitarian’ case very narrowly. The broad humanitarian case offered by the right and leftish hawks is a mixture of self defence and humanitarian concerns. It goes something like (and I’m simplifying): The Middle East is social and cultural disaster area. Containment philosophies are content to let them stew in their own juices, but with the advent of internationalized Middle East terrorism and the looming threat of proliferation, we can’t do that anymore. In the medium term, the only way to fix the problem is to get rid of the corrupt governments that encourage such sick cultural responses. Iraq is centrally located, had one of the most dismaying governments in terms of human rights abuses, had a long history of harbouring terrorists (including an anti-American terrorist who was directly implicated in the first WTC bombing). Getting rid of Saddam and helping Iraq become a more normal and free country is a good first step to cleaning up the Middle East.

The plan is ‘humanitarian’ in that it realizes that creating at least minimally good governments is needed in the Middle East, and it is ‘self-interested’ in that we care mainly because the corrupt societies are creating large numbers of terrorists who target us.

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Steve Carr 07.17.04 at 7:16 pm

Chris, at this point I have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you saying that left/liberal advocates of humanitarian interventions need to call for a draft before advocating humanitarian intervention? If so, we’re back where I started, when I said that you were arguing that, in the absence of a draft, humanitarian wars are immoral (or that the existence of a purely working-class army demolishes the case for humanitarian intervention). You protested that interpretation of your argument, but now you seem to be making it again.

Or are you saying simply that Berman, et.al., needed to acknowledge that working-class people would be fighting this war? I’m sure if I spent a little time, I could track down left/liberal hawks who spoke to this point, but I’m not sure how good a use of time it would be. Regardless, this returns us to my original point, which is that if it was just to remove Saddam Hussein from power because he was a tyrant, it was just to remove him regardless of who was doing the fighting, as long as those doing the fighting were doing so of their own free will.

Finally, if you’re saying that left-liberal hawks should also be working for distributive justice, well, Paul Berman has been as firm an advocate for that as anyone in America for decades, and even now I suspect Hitchens is a leftie in terms of domestic policy. And even Friedman has consistently lambasted Bush for not rescinding the tax cuts and not asking more Americans to make sacrifices.

Really, unless you want to adopt a wholesale vulgar Marxist position and argue that the existence of class divisions means that working-class people can’t be held responsible for their own choices, you have no argument here. I’ll agree that it would be better if the military were a better reflection of society as a whole. This is a matter of some importance. But there is simply no way that it follows logically that until the military is a better reflection, we cannot go to war for humanitarian causes. For now, this is the army we have. The question is, how do we use it? Moore’s answer, judging from his insane opposition to the war in Afghanistan, is roughly that we should never use it. (Maybe he would have supported WWII, but I’m not even sure about that.)Your answer is that we can’t use it except in self-defense, until our army is more just. I don’t see it.

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Chris Bertram 07.17.04 at 7:25 pm

I suspect we could go on and on. I’ve said what I’ve said and some other people on this thread seem to have no difficulty understanding my point Steve.

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Tom T. 07.17.04 at 8:21 pm

What it boils down to is this —

Stage 1: Chris thinks Bush couldn’t care less about the poor slobs who were going to risk their lives implementing his deceptive, election-driven Iraq policies. Some (many?) of us agree. Stage 2: Chris also thinks that left/liberal war hawks ignored this “dirty little issue” in their rush to Baghdad (but leaves open a less charitable reading of our position). Some of us strenuously object. On the grounds that it’s hardly a “dirty little issue”, that we never swept it under the carpet, and that short of re-imposing conscription — or publishing full transcripts of cabinet meetings on the subject — governments will never be able to wage “justified” war again. So to speak. Step 3: Chris accuses us of misreading his original comments, then his clarification of those comments, then his re-clarification. Step 4: Short of reading an un-redacted transcript of the thought processes involved in composing his comments, we aren’t going to be able to judge his motives, but the (carpet-sweeping) insinuation still rankles.

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Kevin Donoghue 07.17.04 at 8:57 pm

Sebastian

The premise which you previously described as “silly” and “complete crap” was that “the military is about the only good option for the poor wanting to get a better life.”

If it is silly, complete crap then so is bog-standard economics, because that’s about all that’s involved here. If the household budget constraint is relaxed then the set of available choices is enlarged. Outlandish claim, you think?

Yes of course the poor “have many options other than the military” but it is quite reasonable to conclude that they don’t have many better options, since the military is what so many choose.

Of course they have a wider range of options than their counterparts in Mexico; but for purposes of this discussion the relevant comparison is with better-off Americans. From the standpoint of the latter it is obviously true to say that the poor do not have good options. (In fact if you said it was a trivial statement I wouldn’t dispute that.)

To my mind the crucial question here is whether people enlist on the understanding that wars will be fought iff the national interest, as traditionally understood, truly requires it. If the bar to aggression is lowered, in the sense of adding nation-building, oil-grabbing or whatever to the list of legitimate causes for war, then soldiers face a greater risk than they had reason to expect when they signed up. You may say that’s their tough luck but my impression is that many see this as a breach of faith.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.17.04 at 9:49 pm

“Yes of course the poor “have many options other than the military” but it is quite reasonable to conclude that they don’t have many better options, since the military is what so many choose.”

Emphasis mine.

Do you see anything wrong with that logic? Begging the question perhaps?

You are presupposing that the military is a horrible option and the main reason that people choose it is because there are no better options. But if the military is not such a horrible option your ‘argument’ falls apart. The fact that two of the other major options are ‘going to college with school loans’ or ‘going to community college for practically no money and then going to university with loans’ suggests that you are wrong about why people choose the military.

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Matt McGrattan 07.17.04 at 9:49 pm

Sorry to keep harping on the same theme… and sorry for the length of this comment.

But the issue of whether the targets of Chris’s original comments are the liberal hawks or the neo-cons isn’t really that important.

With reference to the key claim here — that the poor fight the wars and the rich and powerful go to great lengths to insulate themselves from the more serious consequences thereof — they are the same people.

Never before [gross generalisation, but it basically holds true] has the gap between the decision makers on the one hand — the politicians and pundits — and the people at the sharp end of that decision making process on the other i.e. the troops, been quite so vast. Most of the 20th century’s major wars in which the Western nations have participated have involved a considerable level of participation on the part of the privileged and the powerful. At least by proxy – in the form of their children.

This is particularly noticeable in the case of World War II, which for the UK at least, was in some sense a war of national survival. There’s virtually not a man in the UK who was of age during that conflict who didn’t participate in some manner. However, it’s just as true of the smaller scale colonial conflicts in which the UK was involved. There may not have been compulsion in the form of conscription but the upper and middle classes served in large numbers.

Past political decisions to go to war have been made with the knowledge that the rich and powerful — while perhaps insulated to some degree — were also likely to be impacted. This is no longer the case. A wholly professional army comprised in large part of the poor and the disenfranchised makes this inevitable.

If, as the neocons and the liberal hawks alike are claiming, the West is engaged in a titanic struggle for survival with the forces of extremism then the question remains — why aren’t they putting their metaphorical (and literal) money where their mouth is?

One might argue what the correct response is: spreading the burden via conscription; viewing war as the measure of last resort; increased reliance on multilateralist strategies and so on. No doubt there are other principled and reasonable responses too…

However, it still makes sense to ask — is it morally right that one social group disproportionately bear the cost of decisions made by another largely independent group?

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.17.04 at 10:00 pm

“Never before [gross generalisation, but it basically holds true] has the gap between the decision makers on the one hand — the politicians and pundits — and the people at the sharp end of that decision making process on the other i.e. the troops, been quite so vast.”

A big part of that is because never before has a nation been so technologically ahead of other nations as to require so few troops to defeat another nation.

Do you think the UK would have fought with fewer men in WWII if they could have defeated Hitler with 1/10th the men they actually used? If they could have defeated Hitler with 1/20th the material they actually used?

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Matt McGrattan 07.17.04 at 10:12 pm

You really think that’s true? That the US is so technically advanced and in a way never seen before?

I’m sorry but that kind of US boasting is simply false.

The UK (and France, and Belgium and … etc.) fighting colonial wars in the 19th and early 20th century was mostly fighting with Maxim guns, iron-clad dreadnoughts and repeating rifles against people armed with flintlocks and medieval weaponry. This is a much larger technological imbalance than anything present today.

Furthermore, there’s little evidence that the so-called technology gap results in much real difference at ground level. Sure, the US can annihilate the infrastructure of some country from the air. In order to hold that country they still need to send guys in on foot and any technological advantage is swiftly nullified.

I’d really like to see the US try to to take and hold a country successfully with 1/10 of the men. This kind of Rumsfeldian rhetoric is just that – rhetoric.

[This isn’t supposed to be the anti-US military and pro-some other military – the same considerations apply across the board]

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Kevin Donoghue 07.17.04 at 10:50 pm

“Do you see anything wrong with that logic? Begging the question perhaps?”

No, I see the consequences of assuming that the recruit’s decision is rational and risk-averse. I don’t claim that the military is the only option – hence my reference to a set of available choices. Nor does it have to be a “horrible option” at the time the choice is made. The choice, typically, is between a job with poor prospects and little risk to life and limb, and a military job with better prospects but with that risk. You can chuck in all the alternatives you want in the way of night classes, student loans etc. My “argument” (with or without your inverted commas) does not fall apart when you do that. A free agent makes a binding decision on the basis of some assumptions about the probabilities of getting killed, wounded and lesser misfortunes.

Now, if past policy has been to go to war only when required by the national interest, as Realists typically use that term, then the risk is very low. Even if there is a war it is likely to be a quick knock-out of whichever state has been foolish enough to step on Uncle Sam’s toes. Along come a bunch of guys with a more trigger-happy policy. Call them liberal hawks, neocons or Machiavellian imperialists; the effect is the same. They sit in Washington and drastically change the trade-off facing the recruit. But it’s too late, he has already signed up.

If I am begging a question, what question would that be?

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Steve Carr 07.17.04 at 10:55 pm

Matt, you’re just wrong about your history. Given the fact that until the mid-19th century at the earliest, working-class Britons didn’t even have the vote, it’s impossible to argue that the gap between decisionmakers (who today are elected by all citizens) and soldiers is wider than it was during most of Britain’s 19th-century imperial adventures. And you’re also wrong about the composition of the army in the 18th and 19th centuries. The grunts in those days were exactly as they are today: working-class men. And, as we’ve already mentioned myriad times, during the Civil War, it cost $300 to buy your way out of the draft.

There’s also the continued omission from your posts of any recognition that working-class Americans have a clear option if they don’t want their sons and daughters to go to war: vote against any representative or senator who supports the war. The fact that there is zero evidence for a class-based division on the decision to go to war in Iraq makes the whole thesis that the wealthy are imposing something on the working class that the working class would not choose for itself rather absurd.

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Tom T. 07.17.04 at 11:20 pm

Apropos of nothing, I just wanted to note that, while I have commented on this blog from time to time, I am not the same Tom T. who appears above in this thread. Tsk; I suppose I need a more unique identifier.

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Kevin Donoghue 07.18.04 at 12:15 am

“Given the fact that until the mid-19th century at the earliest, working-class Britons didn’t even have the vote, it’s impossible to argue that the gap between decisionmakers (who today are elected by all citizens) and soldiers is wider than it was during most of Britain’s 19th-century imperial adventures.”

The words of the Duke of Wellington, field-soldier and later prime minister, come to mind: if you’ll believe that, you’ll believe anything.

No doubt when he said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, he was referring to a school for grunts.

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Tom T(bis) 07.18.04 at 12:31 am

Ok, Tom, you can have the “T” tout court.

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Karl Marx 07.18.04 at 1:14 am

Is it just me, or is Steve Carr just incapable of basic comprehension? Matt made some points which were (from context and content) basically about 20th century wars, and he starts ranting with counterexamples about the 18th and 19th centuries!

And that stuff about working class Americans having the option to vote differently? Given me a break! How many congressional elections are actually competitive these days? And don’t you think that the US political processs is somewhat distorted by MONEY – which makes Steve’s claim that American citizens have equality of input, well, plain stupid.

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Dan Simon 07.18.04 at 1:20 am

And what on earth do serving in the army and sorting mail have in common?

Both are unpleasant tasks that the ruling class pays the working class to do for them, and probably would not have anybody do if instead their only option were to forcibly conscript everyone (including themselves) to do it.

“You miss the point”, I hear you say. “The point is that serving in the military is much more onerous than sorting mail.”

And when I point out, as I already have, that many–probably most–soldiers consider their vocation a noble calling rather than onerous drudgework, I’m told that no, the point is not how bad military service is, but rather that ruling class pays the working class to do it for them, and probably would not have anybody do it if instead their only option were to forcibly conscript everyone (including themselves) to do it. And round and round it goes.

In other words, military service is a horrible, soul-destroying job because Chris Bertram and his friends think so, and society should treat it that way because Chris Bertram and his friends think so. And if large segments of the population disagree with Chris and his friends, they’ll cover their ears and sing loudly, so that they can’t hear anyone call them on their question-begging.

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Matt McGrattan 07.18.04 at 1:31 am

As ‘Karl Marx’ says, my examples (from content and context) were from the 20th century.

However, the point that the working classes didn’t have the vote until the 19th century is a fair one.

But I don’t see how it’s a problem for the point I was trying to make.

It’s not like I was trying to argue that the wars of the 17th, 18th and 19th century were more legitimate than the current adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If it’s right that there’s something morally dubious about risks being borne by individuals from a social group largely isolated from the decision making process then it was just as dubious in the 18th and 19th century when the bulk of men in military service didn’t have the franchise.

I’m not being inconsistent in this respect.

Also, re: imposition – no-one is claiming that the choice to go to war is being imposed on the working classes. As I’ve stated repeatedly the point — that the rich and powerful are largely isolated from the consequences of their decisions and that there is something morally suspect about this — holds true even if the working classes are overwhelmingly in favour of the war in question.

There seems to be a lot of misreading of what is being said by Chris, myself and others.

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Matt McGrattan 07.18.04 at 1:34 am

Just to clarify — when I referenced the 19th century above it was in the context of Sebastian’s claim that the current US military is more powerful than it’s opponents to an uprecedented degree. At no point did I claim that the 19th century (or earlier) military was immune from the kind of gap between decision making and consequences that is at issue.

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richard 07.18.04 at 2:33 am

Karl Marx, you are absolutely correct. I’ve been visiting this thread for two days now, and have been wondering how someone as obviously bright as Steve can be so stupendously obtuse. Actually, I suspect he’s not that obtuse, but that he’s either determined to embarrass Chris or is playing games. It was interesting at first, tedious after a while, and at this point it’s highly suspicious.

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Alex 07.18.04 at 3:18 am

Interesting discussion.

One of the reasons why Scots have historically been over-represented in the UK military is not just on account of their fighting qualities but because the army offered prospects of economic and social advancement less readily available in other fields (ditto Empire-building). So, it’s scarcely surprising that volunteer armies draw most of their recruits from poorer parts of the country.

As for whether it is OK for a “ruling class” to send the “working class” off to war when their own sons and daughters are less likely to be risking their lives, well, again, this is not entirely a new phenomenon.

But, while interesting on a philosophical basis, it also misses the point of the army, navy etc. The armed services are an instrument of the state whose purpose is to defend and advance state interests, regardless of the make-up of said forces.

One may think it morally diagreeable that the “elites” have less personal or familial investment in the casualties of war but that is not an argument against sending troops into conflict.

In any case, at least in the UK, it’s not the case that the middle classes don’t have an investment in the army etc. I think around 10% of the fellows in my year at my small independent boarding school in Scotland went into the military.

Now, sure, they were enlisting as officers rather than privates but the idea that the middle classes are completely divorced form the armed services isn’t true now and never has been as a cursory look at British military history – or the war memorials in every public school in the land – from the Napoleonic wars on demonstrates.

Have things changed now? Well, yes to some degree they have. There may have been a decline in noblesse oblige – although the attraction of NGOs, charities, Amnesty etc to well-off, idealistic middle-class kids ought not to be ignored. But, at least as far as Britain is concerned, a war of national survival, were we to fight one again, would inevitably require soldiers from all classes and parts of the country.

In any case, in this more socially mobile age, does it really make much sense to talk about “working” and “ruling” classes when most people would consider themselves middle-class?

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peter wilson 07.18.04 at 8:23 am

I think the all-volunteer army is the best thing that ever happened for poor folk since the C.C.C……even better than food stamps.

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David T 07.18.04 at 10:40 am

I’m sure that the children of the poor join the military in greater numbers than the children of the rich, for the simple reason that its a relatively low paid job, which represents a step up for the very poor and a step down for the very rich.

That said, many people do join the US military for other reasons: because they believe in “serving their country”, or because they think a few years in the military will help their political careers.

Accordingly – contrary to the impression Moore gives – there are in fact a number of US politicos with children serving in the military. Kopel (http://davekopel.com/Terror/Fiftysix-Deceits-in-Fahrenheit-911.htm) sets out the following information:

Moore’s statement is technically true, but duplicitous. Of course no-one would want to “sacrifice” his child in any way. But the fact is, Moore’s opening (“only one”) and his conclusion (“not a single member”) are both incorrect. Sergeant Brooks Johnson, the son of South Dakota Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, serves in the 101st Airborne Division and fought in Iraq in 2003. The son of California Republican Representative Duncan Hunter quit his job after September 11, and enlisted in the Marines; his artillery unit was deployed in the heart of insurgent territory in February 2004. Delaware Senator Joseph Biden’s son Beau is on active duty; although Beau Biden has no control over where he is deployed, he has not been sent to Iraq, and therefore does not “count” for Moore’s purposes.

How about Cabinet members? Fahrenheit never raises the issue, because the answer would not fit Moore’s thesis. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s son is serving on the U.S.S. McFaul in the Persian Gulf.

Kopel also applies (admittedly very basic) statistical techniques to show that “a Congressional household is about 23 percent more likely than an ordinary household to be closely related to an Iraqi serviceman or servicewoman.”:

Are Congressional children less likely to serve in Iraq than children from other families? Let’s use Moore’s methodology, and ignore members of extended families (such as nephews) and also ignore service anywhere expect Iraq (even though U.S. forces are currently fighting terrorists in many countries). And like Moore, let us also ignore the fact that some families (like Rep. Castle’s) have no children, or no children of military age.

We then see that of 535 Congressional families, there are two with a child who served in Iraq. How does this compare with American families in general? In the summer of 2003, U.S. troop levels in Iraq were raised to 145,000. If we factor in troop rotation, we could estimate that about 300,000 people have served in Iraq at some point. According to the Census Bureau, there were 104,705,000 households in the United States in 2000. (See Table 1 of the Census Report.) So the ratio of ordinary U.S. households to Iraqi service personnel is 104,705,000 to 300,000. This reduces to a ratio of 349:1.In contrast the ratio of Congressional households to Iraqi service personnel is 535:2. This reduces to a ratio of 268:1

You should also be aware of the selective editing of the various interviews with Congressmen, who – for example – tell Moore that they have family members serving in other areas of operation of the military, or who say that they children are considering enlisting, or what have you. Of course – Moore being Moore – these responses are cut from the film, and instead we’re show footage of the Congressmen blinking and looking stunned by Moore’s brilliant and incisive point.

But now we have the answer to Moore’s – and your – question, don’t we? The people who call on others to do the dying do, in fact slightly more likely to have children who are at the sharp ends of their decisions to use military power.

Will you edit your original post to acknowledge this?

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Matt McGrattan 07.18.04 at 11:13 am

Alex makes some good points above:

“One may think it morally diagreeable that the “elites” have less personal or familial investment in the casualties of war but that is not an argument against sending troops into conflict.”

This might be true — it may well be that the right lesson to draw from the moral disagreeability of elite disengagement is not that we ought not to send troops into conflicts. However, it ought to be a good reason for thinking very hard about the rights and wrongs of a particular conflict and for pursuing all possible non-military solutions first.

“In any case, at least in the UK, it’s not the case that the middle classes don’t have an investment in the army etc. I think around 10% of the fellows in my year at my small independent boarding school in Scotland went into the military.”

This might be true. There probably does still remain, among certain sectors of the British upper middle classes, a tradition of military service. I’d like to see more facts but it’s certainly possible that it’s just factually false that there is this ‘elite disengagement’.

My own experience and impression is that it still holds true and that there is an increasing death of noblesse oblige (although the role of NGOs and charities is an interesting possible counter-example to this) — however, it may be that this is a partially false impression.

It’d be interesting to consider to what extent the choices of people at a Scottish public (i.e. private) school mirror the wider choices of the middle and upper classes as a whole.

Even if it were true that substantial numbers of the middle and upper classes still join the UK military forces I’d still be interesting to see whether the UK was typical in the respect or a wierd and unusual case [due to long-standing traditions of Empire, etc.]

If I get a chance I’ll see if there are any figures on the class origins (A, B, C1, C2, etc.) of intake into the British military — it’s possible I’m just factually wrong here [although I doubt it].

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Chris Bertram 07.18.04 at 11:36 am

David T. Yes, those statistical methods are pretty basic, aren’t they?

But no, I won’t be editing my post. First, because there have been 80-odd comments on it in its original form. Second, because, looking at the post and your comment on it, I see that I nowhere assert what you suggest I do assert.

I may, though, write a more extended piece next week on what I think is the real issue here. That isn’t Michael Moore, or the charges of Chickenhawkery, but rather the duty of care that any government has towards its soldiers and the intersection between that issue and the realities of inequality and social division. Note that — contra assertions by some on this thread — I don’t think that the issues I raise here constitute some knock-down anti-war argument. I do, though, think that everyone (pro or anti this war ought to think about them). If I do write some more on this, I also want to take up the challenging points made by Eve Garrard over at Normblog.

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David T 07.18.04 at 11:43 am

Well, let me put the argument again:

Moore makes one point quite brilliantly: that those who suffer and die come overwhelmingly from families and communities that are, shall we say, somewhat poorer than the politicians who chose to go to war, or the executives of the corporations who hope (hoped?) to profit from Iraqi reconstruction

No, Moore makes a very limited point: that (at the time he made the film) Congressmen were less likely than members of the public to have children serving in Iraq.

But that is not true.

– they are more likely to have children serving in Iraq
– politicians who are not congressmen have children serving in Iraq
– many have close family members who are serving in Iraq
– many have children who are serving in the military, although – through no choice of their own – in Afghanistan etc instead of Iraq.
– other congressmen do not have children of service age: congressmen tend to be somewhat older than the general population.

Moore’s point is limited, ingeniously phrased, and wrong.

I don’t think Moore has any statistics on the children of “executives”.
Perhaps you do.

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Chris Bertram 07.18.04 at 12:02 pm

David t: I used my super-editing powers to add the final para of my last comment after you had responded to it but before I read your response.

Again, I nowhere assert what you say I assert. If you are correct about Moore (and you may be) then I wrongly attribute to Moore a statement which nevertheless remains true, namely that

that those who suffer and die come overwhelmingly from families and communities that are, shall we say, somewhat poorer than the politicians who chose to go to war, or the executives of the corporations who hope (hoped?) to profit from Iraqi reconstruction.

Moreover, david, it is a point which you acknowledge to be true when you write in the opening para of your initial comment that:

I’m sure that the children of the poor join the military in greater numbers than the children of the rich, for the simple reason that its a relatively low paid job, which represents a step up for the very poor and a step down for the very rich.

Or at least, you agree with me if you grant me the “overwhelmingly”. But, as I say, I’ll probably post again on this next week.

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Chris Bertram 07.18.04 at 12:33 pm

But before I do, people might be interested in “this interesting article”:http://www.veteransforpeace.org/Military_mirrors_class_040403.htm about the social composition of the US military. There’s a lot in there, and a more complex story than I expected. There are interesting (though disputed) comments from Charles C. Moskos, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University. See also this piece, which may identify that source of Moore’s claim that just 1 out of 535 members of Congress have children who enlisted.

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Backword Dave 07.18.04 at 2:56 pm

David T —

According to the Census Bureau, there were 104,705,000 households in the United States in 2000. (See Table 1 of the Census Report.) So the ratio of ordinary U.S. households to Iraqi service personnel is 104,705,000 to 300,000. This reduces to a ratio of 349:1.In contrast the ratio of Congressional households to Iraqi service personnel is 535:2. This reduces to a ratio of 268:1

As a Brit, I’m largely ignorant of the composition of the US senate, but I assume that, like British MPs, US politicians maintain two households: one in the capital and one in their contituencies. If this applies in the States, wouldn’t this raise the ratio to 535:1? And it seems to me that Senators are more likely to be married with adult children that the average householder. A fair comparison would be between the ratio of Senators with children who could serve and those who actually do so and those ratios in the rest of the population.

Here endeth how to lie with basic statistics, pt 1.

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David T 07.18.04 at 3:43 pm

Chris:

Likewise, the points I’m making here aren’t pro- (or anti-) war arguments either. My focus is a limited one: whether Moore has made one point “quite brilliantly”. All I’m saying is that – whether or not there is a point to be made here – he hasn’t made it.

I certainly agree that in the US (in particular) people from poor, often immigrant, backgrounds seek – and often achieve – social and economic advancement through careers in the military. If you take a basic and reductionist “Moore” line, you could certainly read this as the cynical exploitation of the working class by the “military industrial complex” or what have you.

I’d be interested to read your expanded response to the Normblog/Eve Garrard points, which no doubt will be broader than the narrow point I’ve been making here.

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David T 07.18.04 at 4:26 pm

Backword Dave:

Yup. Possibly. I’m not sure how congressmen/senators’ households are counted for the purpose of statistics, though.

The basic worry I have is this. When Moore’s thesis is challenged on the basis that he has chosen only the evidence which supports his claim while ignoring the counter-evidence – sometimes even by editing the evidence to make his case seem more watertight – he responds by pointing the questioner to the exact wording of his claim. In effect, he responds by stating that he is making a less universal claim than the one which he gives the impression that he is making.

This is why it is so dangerous to use Moore as an authority. His proof can not always be relied upon.

This is one of the things that so infuriates his critics: its like arguing with jelly. But the anti-war left should be wary of Moore as well, because he is a false friend. Interesting arguments – such as his “climate of fear” thesis which runs through “Columbine” – turn into (necessary) critiques of Moore’s methodology.

More to the point, Moore knows that his methology is sloppy. He’s been taken to task for it before. And this time round, he promised that his film would be factually unimpeachable. It simply isn’t.

That doesn’t mean that the more general argument isn’t worth having. Its just that its better had without reference to Moore.

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Tom T. 07.18.04 at 9:00 pm

To the other Tom T.:

I didn’t mean to sound like I was asserting rights in the name. It’s hardly uncommon, after all, and you have just as much entitlement to it as I. Perhaps it’s time I restyled myself, anyway.

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Alex 07.18.04 at 10:10 pm

Matt:

I doubt that public schoolboys’ experiences necessarily mirror those of the middle-class population as a whole (after all only about 10% of the population is educated privately and more than 50% of folk are middle-class). But, given that public schoolboys are routinely depicted as effete, chinless sons of privilege, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to point out that a decent proportion of them volunteer to serve in HMQ’s armed forces.

Some of Arnold’s ethos of “muscular christianity” still remains in place at these schools. For one thing, “service” in the Combined Cadet Force – or the pipe band – was all but mandatory at my school (one afternoon a week, with the possibility of weekend training for those especially keen, plus compulsory attendance at a one week-long camp on an army or air force base. Conscientious objectors could opt for “community service” – generally helping the elderly and the infirm).

I suppose this meant we had a greater exposure to military life than most teenagers and that must have played a part in persuading people to opt for a career in the Army, Navy, Marines etc.

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Matt McGrattan 07.18.04 at 11:12 pm

Alex, indeed. No disagreement from me there.

Indeed my limited understanding of public school life — gained from university friends who went to them – is that they can be pretty harsh and unforgiving environments.

I went to a mixed Scottish comprehensive that drew pretty much equally from working class council estates and well-off ‘bought’ houses. I think the chances of any of the middle-class kids, otherwise bound for University, volunteering for military service was remote to say the least.

Although to be fair I only recall a small number of any of my contemporaries (of any background) joining the military so it’d be unfair to be point to some imbalance on the basis of such a small sample.

A few local kids where I grew up had scholarships to the private Dollar Academy and they all had to do Cadet force duty – so your point re: the greater exposure to military life at public schools bears true.

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ChrisPer 07.20.04 at 9:07 am

I started out interested, tried to write a comment and found it didn’t meet the high standard set by others here so started again.

I will just say that the cartoon-character views of ‘the other’ being trotted out in this Moore thing are a blight on critical thinking. Why can’t someone do a documentary that RAISES the standard instead of dragging it to von Daniken levels of implication and distraction?

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Sean 07.20.04 at 10:54 am

It comes as no suprise to me that the poor fight for the rich – is this not SOP?

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