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AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service -- And How It Hurts Our Country [Hardcover]

Kathy Roth-Douquet , Frank Schaeffer


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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  53 reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uncle Sam Wants ALL of You!! 3 July 2006
By David W. Southworth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
These two authors, one a Republican and one a Democrat, have written a provocative and very timely book about the large portion of society that doesn't see military service as fit for "their" kind of people.

The book starts with an astonishing anecdote. The draft was initiated for World War I because Congress thought too many of the country's elites would rush to fight (and maybe die) for the country!

That concept simply could not even be comprehended today, where the children of our current elected leaders in Washington, DC, with a few noticeable exceptions, would rather avoid serving the country in the military.

The authors identify several symptoms of the problem: Recruiters who are discouraged from even bothering to look for potential troops at elite private universities, and instead recruit from state and small Christian schools in the south; the hostility of some parents to recruiters even talking to their children; and the rise of the "me" culture and the attendant devolution of the call to service (We certainly never heard that call after 9/11).

This is an important book. While the authors sometimes get bogged down or distracted--for example in their attempt to give a brief history of four different schools of thought of US foreign policy (leave that to Walter Russell Meade please)--their thesis is powerful and important. Besides, some of their most moving sections are from testimonials from current and former servicemembers on what duty and service means.

I highly recommend this book.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book for our times...... 28 Jun 2006
By Beth DeRoos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important Book Needing to Be Read by Our Upperclass 30 May 2006
By K.H. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Frank Schaeffer, a terrifc writer whether in the world of military, religion, or fiction brings his considerable skills with Kathy Roth-Douquet to bear on this seminal work on this nations upperclass' failures to support the military in deed, but often provide support with pale words.(I must admit to finding Frank one of the most skilled populist writers around today, and whether in agreement or not, he is a great communicator)

The book provides observations and yes, research, and although I have very minor quibbles, (Kathy, gives Clinton too much credit, although she is at times critical as well and while the military did a fine job, the stopping of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo has in reality, just caused other problems in reverse; and Frank supports a lottery draft, potentially problematic, albiet historically, it works more often than not - I prefer Kathy's option) these two authors provide great analysis and insight.

The strengths of this book are many: one, on how the military recruits on college campus and spends its money on ROTC programs faults our leaders for not engaging the upperclass. While this is understandable due to ivy league hostilities, it still needs to be pursued; two, the lack of moral clarity among our upperclasses ("me" and my "choice") is staggering and since these are the people generally with money, they are ripe for politcal leadrership, therefore, possibly using military men and women for their gains in foreign worlds, while not always properly equiping this same military to do the job; thirdly, the "not for people like us" is insightful and speaks to a snobbish group, again, lacking any moral clarity, especially when sacrafices are needed from them.

Lastly, the authors make an important point that liberal elites in particular just do not get: That being in the military is not a job decided on "do I support this war or that war", but a calling to serve. Knowing that if one only joined in military operations one agreed with, there would not be a military that could responed to protect this country. Military members only obey the President, they do not serve him, but the America people and our founding documents. This point is leveled graciously, but forcefully, and thank goodness.

Now, hopefully, our political readers will read and heed, before middle-class and poor Americans decide they want to be selfish too, then who will provide our Country's security?

Thank you Frank and Kathy.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Service is important 19 May 2006
By B. Routman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I was raised in the 60's and the 70's during the Vietnam war. The focus for many of us in those days was avoiding the war at all costs. We were brought up to question authority, be skeptical of what the government told us, and to believe that war is hell and never a solution.

As I age and watch world events unfold, e.g. Rwanda, Cambodia, Kosovo, Darfur, and 9/11, the point is well taken that evil does exist, that not everyone is well intentioned or rational, and that dialog can't resolve all conflicts. I have learned too that the international community can be slow to react or fail to react at all. Tragically, there is a time and a place for military intervention e.g. when no other efforts can stop genocide and all other less intrusive options fail. Where inaction is shameful.

Who do we look to to defend innocent populations, or to protect us at home? For the most part, we voice unending support for our troops regardless of how we feel about the policies or the policy makers. But most of us do not concern ourselves with who has to do the fighting or who is stepping up to the plate. We assume that those who can, get a good education, get high paying jobs, etc. and those who can't, join the military. Fewer of our policy makers, those who make life and death policy decisions involving the military, have any military experience. Most of us theoretically believe in service but never really consider serving. It's too dangerous, it's too disruptive, it's too distasteful.

Where is the equity in letting others fight battles that we agree need to be fought?

Many think Iraq was a gigantic mistake. Certainly, most persons of my generation cringe when the Vietnam War is mentioned. This is not a book about whether any particular confict is right or wrong. Reasonable persons disagree. It is about admitting to ourselves that we are biased and hypocritical. We (I) insist on our government's intervention to prevent mass slaughter of innocent lives, and to protect our own, but expect others to do the fighting for us. It is about the danger to the country of having policy makers make decisions in a vacuum without any relevant experience to guide them.

Very few of us know persons in uniform. From a distance, we easily discount those serving as uneducated, callous, violent, and misguided. The authors show us that our assumptions are largely incorrect and that the military indeed has persons of honor, intelligence, and commitment. It is not a monolith and is as diverse as the general population. Each day there are untold moving stories of heroism and sacrifice.

The book forced me to re-evaluate 40 years of beliefs. Thank you to the authors for raising the issue, warning of its current and future consequences, and reminding all of us to do the right thing.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific exposé 22 May 2006
By Tyler H. Brooke - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A thoughtful and sincere commentary on the relationship between American civilians and our modern military. The authors do an excellent job of "outing" a serious social disconnect - an issue that never gets the attention it should... AWOL is a must-read for anyone involved in the dialog of our time.
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