Monday, January 6, 2003

What the U.S. Army teaches us about affirmative action

Monday's New York Times editorial page appropriates the U.S. Army as a case study to support the argument for race-based university admissions. The writer (Brent Staples) attempts to argue that affirmative action worked in the military, an important public institution, and it ought to be allowed to work in higher education, another important public institution. Unfortunately, I don't think the writer understands either institution nor the ways that both use race. Higher education and the U.S. military are very different, and you cannot analogize between the two for the following reasons:

1. The military and U.S. universities exist for fundamentally different reasons. The military exists to fight and win America's wars, and all other normative goals (fairness, equity, justice, non-discrimination, etc.) are subordinated to that end. It so happens that the military saw it needed to integrate in order to fight America's wars better, and that it could not run an effective conscription-based or all-volunteer force without fully integrating racial minorities. But this all flowed from the normative goal of military effectiveness, and the importance of unit cohesion for meeting that goal.
Universities, on the other hand, exist for far different reasons. Here in California, the 1960 master plan for higher education says the UC system exists for three reasons: teaching, research, and public service. These are significantly different from the goals of the military. There is no analog to combat effectiveness or unit cohesion in higher education. Indeed, many argue the reverse -- that we want universities to be diverse (intellectually and demographically), and we want to encourage civilized conflicts of ideas in the university. Thus, the arguments that exist for integration of the U.S. military do not work for the institutions of higher education.

2. The analogy also does not work for a very basic reason that goes to the heart of race relations in America. In civilian society, the government can tell schools, businesses and country-clubs to integrate, but they can't force individuals to actually get along. Put simply, the courts can tell a school district to admit minority children, but they can't force the teachers to like these kids, nor can they force the children to play together. In the military, things are different. Not only can the President order integration (as President Truman did in 1948), but senior officers and sergeants can order soldiers from different backgrounds to get along. Indeed, they must do so, in order to foster the kind of unit cohesion necessary to fight and win America's wars. More than any other place in society, the Army forces members of different groups to actually get along -- instead of just to tolerate one another.

3. A more concrete reason exists for why the military can't be used as an analogy to support the affirmative action fight. Last year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a very long and thoughtful order in Saunders v. White telling the Army to stop using race as a criteria for promotion. Why? Because the Army had done so well at using race-conscious measures to remedy past discrimination that it had effectively leveled the playing field in the Army for minorities. African-Americans and Latinos are now represented at proportional levels (or higher) at nearly all levels of command. In the NCO corps, minorities are actually overrepresented in the senior ranks. The time had come, the court held, for the Army to reconsider its use of race in light of the progress it had made since the 1948 Truman order. Today, the Department of Defense continues to use race, but in very circumscribed and targeted ways.

Bottom line: I wouldn't say that colleges have made as many strides as the Army when it comes to leveling the playing field. But they've certainly come a long way since the late 1960s and 1970s when they first created race-based preferences in the admissions process. This is especially true in graduate and professional programs, where admissions pools necessarily include the graduates of undergraduate programs that already level the playing field. If the undergraduate systems of race-based preferences are working at all, then we ought to seriously reconsider our use of extensive preferences at the graduate level. And we ought to imagine some future end-state where race-based preferences are no longer necessary at any level.

Saturday, January 4, 2003

Rumsfeld knocks heads in Pentagon -- a task which is long overdue

Esther Schrader's article in today's LA Times reminds me of two old proverbs: "You have to crush a few eggs to make omelettes," and "Sacred cows make the best hamburger."

Our current Secretary of Defense cares little for sacred eggs or sacred cows -- he only cares about results. Primarily, I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld cares about the defense of America, and the transformation of America's military to perform that task in the 21st Century against a myriad of threats. However, Rumsfeld's vision has created tension between his office and the uniformed services -- tension driven largely by the self-interested, career-driven, procurement-minded officers and civilians who have a stake in the current industrialization and capitalization of the military. Ultimately, Secretary Rumsfeld's vision must prevail if we are to be ready to fight the next war, and not keep buying machines to fight the last one.

One excerpt:

Tough, skeptical and dismissive, Rumsfeld is convinced a modern military can't be truly effective
until it reforms itself from the bottom up.
Surrounded by a small council of trusted civilian advisors, Rumsfeld has shaken up the Pentagon
senior military brass with a style that disdains bureaucracy and demands that military commanders
adopt new ways of fighting.
But in the process he has created a rift so intense between high-ranking Pentagon civilians and
senior officers that it threatens to slow military reform.
Rumsfeld's approach, his supporters say, is the only way to prod an intransigent bureaucracy into
transforming itself, and to force military commanders Rumsfeld believes have become averse to risk
to update fighting techniques that have grown stale.

Friday, January 3, 2003

Final thought on Rep. Rangel's proposal for a draft --
Why the rich can't hide in the National Guard the way they did in Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, many young men sought refuge from ground combat in the National Guard and Army Reserve. Strategic and political concerns during Vietnam led President Johnson (and later Nixon) to abstain from calling up the reserves to fight the Vietnam War. Consequently, these massive units became safe-havens from the draft, because they satisfied the military-service requirement with little risk of actual combat.

After the Vietnam War, then-General Creighton Abrams radically changed the force structure of the American military. The two biggest changes were the "All Volunteer Force" concept and "Total Force" concept. The AVF is a simple concept -- our military is made up of volunteers who enlist for various reasons (economic opportunity, college money, patriotism, etc). The Total Force concept is less known, but just as important to American foreign policy. General Abrams created a military force structure which heavily relied on the reserves. Indeed, some capabilities are only found in the reserves. His intent was to force any future President intent on fighting a war to call up the reserves, and thus force any President to have popular support to fight a war. (Reserve callups are politically costly, since they take men and women away from their homes across the country.)

This latter change has major implications for a draft, specifically for the equity of how a draft might work. During the Vietnam War, rich kids evaded the draft by using their privilege and connections to get into the National Guard; there was sometimes fierce competition for limited numbers of slots in these units. If there were a draft today, rich kids could still opt for the reserves. But the odds are today that they would actually be deployed as reservists. Indeed, in some specialties like Military Police or Medical Service Corps, reserve units deploy just as often as active-duty units.

The irony is that the Total Force concept has worked. It has tied the hands of the Pentagon in making deployment plans, and required them to carefully consider the politics of any reserve callup. The deeper irony of the Total Force concept is that it might make a draft more equitable. Rich kids who might otherwise hide from combat in the reserves can no longer do so. If the call goes out, the reserves go too.

Thursday, January 2, 2003

This commentary ran in Thursday's Wall Street Journal.

Felipe, U.S. Marine
By David Asman

NEW YORK -- Three years ago, on the night of his 19th birthday, my wife and daughter and I took my stepson to dinner. The restaurant was one of Manhattan's best. But none of us at the dinner remember even tasting the food. This was not just a birthday celebration. Felipe had decided about a month earlier that he was going to quit college to join the Marines. The very next day he was heading off to boot camp. Dinner went down hard that night.

At 4 a.m. the next morning, Felipe stood at the door, ready to head off to Parris Island, S.C. I still wasn't convinced he knew exactly what he was getting himself into. Like many families with teenagers, we had been through rough times in the preceding years. Through all the lectures about responsibility and discipline and the standard non-response of rolling eyeballs, there were few moments of mutual understanding or tenderness. So when Felipe looked me square in the face and told me he loved me, I was completely caught off guard. It wasn't just that I hadn't heard that from him in years; this was an expression of love from a man who had a full measure of its meaning. I realized then that he knew exactly what he had committed himself to.

* * *
Like other affluent youth who've joined up, Felipe's decision baffled his friends and teachers. In fact, no one in his Upper West Side prep school could remember the last graduate who had joined the Marines. But what made Felipe's decision particularly remarkable was that he wasn't even a citizen when he joined.

I had brought Felipe and his mother to the U.S. from Nicaragua in 1988. Because of enormous snafus with the INS, Felipe had turned 18 without having his papers for citizenship approved. The INS had misplaced documents that had been sent to them two years earlier by my wife. When I asked him whether he was bitter that the country he was about to serve had fouled up in granting him citizenship, he mused that maybe it was better this way: "Now I can earn my citizenship."

My pride in him practically burst at that moment, though there were to be many other days of feeling such pride, not the least of which was watching him graduate as a Marine private after three months of boot camp.

His mother's appreciation of Felipe's decision to join up took a bit more time to develop. In her experience growing up in Nicaragua, the military was almost always the enemy -- whether fighting the National Guard of the Somoza dictatorship or the secret police of the Sandinistas. So when Felipe expressed interest in joining the Marines, we had to introduce her to the very different world of the U.S. Armed Forces. With time, and the help of good friends who had served, she warmed up to the idea and was as giggly as I was at Felipe's advances and promotions -- until September 11, 2001.

On that morning, I was sitting at my desk when I noticed the sound of a low flying plane just outside my midtown window. A few minutes later I got a call to rush down to the newsroom floor to broadcast a report to our affiliates about a plane crash at the World Trade Center. Just as I ran into the studio, the second plane hit the south tower. At that point we all realized this was no accident. I could see the shock and anguish in the faces of the producers just outside the glass enclosed, soundproof studio. That one moment of shock -- lasting perhaps a few seconds before the adrenaline kicked in and folks sprang into action -- has become a frozen tableau that I can't shake.

I spent the rest of the day sucking in my own feelings, trying to report on air as coolly and calmly as I could whether our airspace had been secured; whether our reporters were safe, and whether our nation was still under attack. When I finally went home that night, my wife and I were emotional wrecks, barely knowing what to say. But my daughter was clear: her concern was that her Marine brother might be sent into action. "I don't want to become an only child," she cried to her mother and me. That started us all crying and provided a target on which we focused our anxiety, our sadness and our prayers.

Felipe was in Okinawa at the time of the attack. He called us shortly after to say that he was likely to be shipped with fellow Marines "to the region." He wouldn't say exactly where that was, but we figured out when he added, "I'm willing to make the full sacrifice if I have to." My wife had been holding up pretty well until that point.

But then Felipe said something that should be considered by all those with children in the military. "I'm prepared to fight under any condition and fire practically any weapon," Felipe began. "And I'm not the target. You aren't prepared for war and you are the target. So who should be afraid for whom?" That simple wisdom stopped us cold. For a brief moment he had forced us to stop worrying about him and consider the risks of simply living in a free country.

Today Felipe is a corporal. He is an expert marksman and has no doubt that he will carry out every order as a Marine in the difficult days ahead. But he's not a gung-ho airhead. He remains a thoughtful sensitive man, who wants war no more than Barbra Streisand (and has far more to lose than she).

Like most Marines, he is an extremely hard worker, putting in long hours for little direct compensation. He's modest about his faith, in practice and expression. But he knows it is faith that will see him through. He is generous to a fault, and his generosity extends beyond his circle of friends and loved ones.

* * *
In short, Felipe embodies those notions of U.S. citizenship that the world used to acknowledge and in which we all used to take pride. Those who would describe us today as greedy and self-centered should look around and try to find another group who would sacrifice as much and fight as hard for others to share our liberties.

And those among us who would deny immigrants the opportunity to join in our good fortune should ask whether they have earned their citizenship with as much grit and passion as this 22-year old Marine corporal. In the days of an all-volunteer military, not bloody likely.

But to paraphrase Felipe, we're all in it together now. Neutrality is not an option when all those who favor freedom have been targeted. I'm just glad Felipe realized freedom was something worth fighting for three years ago.

Mr. Asman is an anchor at the Fox News Channel and the host of "Forbes on Fox."

More thoughts on Rep. Rangel's Draft Proposal

After talking with some friends about Rep. Charlie Rangel's idea, I've developed an even deeper sense that we should not pursue this option. I've already argued the military reasons (below). But I have two more arguments which I'd like to offer:

1. The rich and powerful avoided service before through a variety of means, and there's no reason to think things would be different this time. Whether through medical ailments, college deferments, or other means, the sons and daughters of America's elite largely avoided the draft, or sought refuge in the National Guard, during Vietnam. So few members of this upper crust of society have volunteered for military service; it's possible that they would continue to avoid military service through other means once conscription began. Even since 9/11, the numbers haven't changed.
If this is true (and more research ought to be done as to why rich kids won't/don't serve), then this poses a major problem for Rep. Rangel's draft proposal. After all, his entire argument for the draft hinges on "shared sacrifice," and the moral imperative to spread the human cost of war across all American racial and socio-economic classes.
If the rich and powerful can avoid service, then Rep. Rangel's bill may have an unintended consequence of spreading the human cost more unequitably. A draft may actually bring in more of the poor than the current volunteer system; it may add more distance between the military and America's elite. We need only look to Vietnam for such an example.

2. We have all been drafted already, in a sense, in this war against terrorism. The front-lines in this war do not just exist in Afghanistan, Indonesia or Iraq. The front-lines include New York, Chicago, Dallas, and other cities across America. Our police, firefighters, EMTs, ER doctors, nurses, sanitation workers, janitors, postal workers, and many others have become front-line soldiers in this war. We already have a feeling of shared sacrifice; 9/11 did that, and the subsequent anthrax and sniper attacks added to it. If Al Qaeda strikes again, it will turn more of us into foot soldiers in this war -- or into casualties. There is no need for conscription to create this feeling of "shared sacrifice". We already have sacrificed enough of our own citizens to know that feeling.