Rangeling With the Truth

For some people deeply convinced of an idea, usually an idea born of youthful experience, no quantity of evidence is sufficient to assuage the affliction of that conviction. For men of middle age and older, the prospect of the military draft was a life-altering experience. Young men from WWII until the Vietnam era were either drafted or had to find ways to avoid the military draft. Those with affluent parents or the academically gifted were many times able to avoid the draft or arrange for less dangerous service. The experience was real as Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) knows. He served in the Army from 1948-1952 and earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star in the Korean War.

However, it has been over three decades since the institution of the all-volunteer army in 1973, and it is difficult for some people to rid themselves of the antiquated notion that only the disadvantaged or foolish would serve in the military. No allowance is made for those who serve out a patriotic feeling, or the thirst for adventure. No recognition is made for others who might benefit from the training offered in the military.

Rep. Rangel in the New York Daily News claimed, “The great majority of people bearing arms for this country in Iraq are from the poorer communities in our inner cities and rural areas.” On Fox News Sunday, Rangel was confronted with detailed evidence from the Heritage Foundation debunking this notion. It turns out that the military is over-represented by the middle class, not the poorest as Rangel claims.

Children from the poorest are much less likely to serve and children of the most affluent are slightly less likely to serve in the military. The household income of those who children choose to join the military is between $45,000 to $50,000, right about at the national median income. The graph below, from the Heritage Foundation report, shows the difference in the distributions between household incomes as a whole and the incomes of households producing military recruits. At the zero line, that income group contributes to the fraction of recruits in proportion to that group’s fraction of the total population. Below the zero line represents income groups contributing less to recruits than their portion of the population. Income groups above the line are over contributing to the population of recruits.

Recruits do not represent the less capable of our society as Rangel seems to claim. On average, military recruits are more likely to have graduated from high school than the rest of the population in their age group.

Chris Wallace of Fox News asked the representative, “…isn’t the volunteer army better educated and more well-to-do than the general population?” Confident of his original assertion, Rangel answered “Of course not.” He did not bother to offer any contrary evidence of his own nor did he attempt contradict the Heritage Foundation in any way. Rangel proffered the intellectual equivalent of “It is true, because I said so.” Rangel volunteered, “If a young fellow has an option of having a decent career or joining the Army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq.”

Rangel was really engaging in a little too much projection on the part of himself and many of the like-minded on the Left. What he is really saying is that if he had had a decent career, he would not have joined the Army. He should be more careful about assuming this perspective on the part of others.

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