This is one of those books where you hope more Americans will read it but sadly realize those who should wont. Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer do an excellent job writing about how their thinking evolved as far as the military is concerned, both with her husband being in the military (Marines) and then Franks son joining (Marines).
Especially interesting is how she shares growing up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, attending Bryn Mawr College and basically living a wonderful life, lacking in nothing. Being an active Democrat, working in the Clinton White House where on page 14 she writes 'The military people we knew were so impressive - tall and direct, knowledgeable about their jobs, dedicated'. Not what some of us were led to believe by some 'conservatives' who suggested the Clinton White House detested the military.
Frank writes of 1970 and getting married to Genie whom he raves about and how they to led a life surrounded by the right people and then 1999 arrived and his youngest son, John, was about to ship off to boot camp on Parris Island. The way he writes of what an eye opening experience this was is excellent. Bearing in mind these are families where military service wasn't the norm.
Unlike my family where my Dad was a POW during WW2, my husband was in the California National Guard and foster sons now serve in the guard with one due to ship to Iraq this month. My ancestors have fought in every war going back to the before we were a government. Some traveled west with Captain Fremont on his trek to California who over saw the first California Volunteer Militia. I also note that we all attended college.
Reading the honest feelings of these two writers and the comments friends made when they discovered a husband, a son were in the military, by choice is sad at times. On page 23 Frank writes 'I felt ashamed of feeling embarrassed by the fact that John was not in college. When my neighbors, people who went to Harvard and drove Saabs, asked about where John was in school, I mentioned that Francis, my 'other son' got the top academic award at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. 'My daughter is living in Scandinavia and doing graduate studies and raising two children and speaks three languages and is running a successful ceramics business....' I felt like Judas. Nevertheless I let everyone know that John could have gone anywhere and that he 'chose the Marines as a poet chooses to write about it later'. I came up with all sorts of bullshit like that. 'He wants to live large,' I lamely said.
This has got to be one of best books I have read this year. A book I might add that every parent should read. Especially those who profess to be conservative, religious and patriotic because as the authors note very few of the upper class be they Republican or Democrat have a son, daughter or even a relative serving in any military branch of the services.
On page 43: 'In 1956, 400 out of 750 in Princeton's graduating class went into the military. In contrast, in 2004, 9 members of Princeton's graduating class entered the services, and they LED the Ivy League in numbers'. (emphasis added by me). Or as the authors note on page 30 a few pages back 'Privileged folks may be proud of the troops, but most contemporary men and women in uniform are strangers to the most influential segment of society. Mark Shields, syndicated columnist, former Marine, and PBS pundit, noted in a recent essay on this subject that 'probably nobody at any Washington dinner party tonight - liberal or conservative, Bush appointee or Democratic holdover-personally knows of any enlisted man or woman now defending the nation.' Not to long ago the sons of presidents, bankers, and oilmen regularly served. This was even true of powerful dynasties such as the Roosevelt's, the Kennedy's, the Sulzbergers (owners and publishers of the New York Times), and the Bushes. Now, however not one grandchild from those powerful dynasties serves'.
I was humbled and proud reading how Frank would visit Harlem and a jazz club where veterans from other wars played on a regular basis and how these gentle, class black men embraced Frank and took him under their wing. Likewise Frank reminds the reader of the sacrifices they made and the bigotry they endured, and that more patriotic men you wont find anywhere in America.
Beginning on page 224 the authors offer some excellent ideas on how we can make the volunteer military more fair and equal so that more upper class or privileged kids will have to join. Like Reform current military recruiting and personnel policy. Change Federal student aid and introduce a tax credit. 'The current system of federal financial aid grew out of the G I Bill but now, as Charles Moskos has pointed out, it is a 'GI Bill without the Gi'. He proposes reinstating its original intent as a vehicle for rewarding veterans for their service and making federal financial aid contingent on providing some service to your country'. YES!!!!!
Scale up the Army citizen - Soldier Option. Create a National Service Lottery. I so agree, because we are or have become a nation of citizens who think they are entitled to so much, but are never required to give anything back. Universal service - Military and National Service. Again I agree 100%. As the author quotes 'Universal service could provide some much needed 'social glue' to an embattled American society that is growing increasingly diverse - by race, national origin, and religious preference - where many young Americans from well to do families grow up and go to school hermetically sealed social environments...'. Universal Service II Manning the HomeFront and Policing Abroad, which would required a draft, not for combat soldiers, but for noncombat positions and to address the increased needs on the homefront that emerge from the War on Terror (page 227).
Alas this book couldn't have come at a better time. And I end by adding, that I live in Amador County in California a nice drive southwest of Lake Tahoe, where the voter turn out for the state, ranks us #1, #2 sometimes. Most homes fly a flag, most cars have 'Support the Troops' yellow magnetic ribbons on them. But a lot of vehicles also have stickers that denote sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters now serving in some branch of the military. Contrast that to a two hour drive west to the bay area where you see little of what we see.
Ironcially I have most of the books Frank Schaeffers Father had written and I had assumed that being conservative, and Christian that the family would have been gungho for anything patriotic, including military service and have to admit I was a tad surprised to read that Frank was so taken aback, yet would become so profoundly proud of his son John, and with good reason.