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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
13 Feb 2016
Make America Great Again -- at Torture!

The undisputed front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination who, like every other remaining … Read More.

6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

American Elite: AWOL From U.S. War in Iraq


The Gridiron Club, an invitation-only organization of fewer than 70 Washington reporters and columnists founded in 1885, exists almost solely to host an annual white-tie dinner attended by Supreme Court justices, Cabinet secretaries, congressional leaders and assorted celebrities. Every U.S. president since 1885 except Grover Cleveland has attended and endured the satirical skits and speeches needling the powerful, including every leader of the free world himself.

The Gridiron evening begins with the Marine Corps band playing, in turn, the anthems of each of the U.S. military services, during which dinner guests who served in that branch of the military stand in respect. I was invited to my first Gridiron dinner during the first Reagan administration and was interested to see which guests stood for which service song. When the Marine Corps hymn was played, I stood and looked to see who else was doing the same.

As I best recall, the former Marines included: Secretary of State George Shultz, White House Chief of Staff Jim Baker, Treasury Secretary Donald Regan, and U.S. Sens. John Glenn, D-Ohio, Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., John Warner, R-Va., Pete Wilson, R-Calif., Chuck Robb, D-Va., Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., and John Chafee, R-R.I. I do not know if Adlai Stevenson III, D-Ill., or Howell Heflin, D-Ala., was in attendance. In addition to several other dozen people I did not know, columnist Rowland Evans, humorist Mark Russell and PBS anchor Jim Lehrer — all former Marines — stood tall.

At the 2007 Gridiron dinner, only a handful of guests stood when the Marine Corps hymn was played. I saw now-former Virginia Sen. Chuck Robb and Jim Lehrer, and, maybe, another four or five. The same was true for the songs of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard. Probably fewer than one out of six male guests stood for any service anthem, when just a quarter of a century ago, at least two out of three men stood. That's one major difference between the all-volunteer military and a military draft for which all males must register.

Think about it: Of all the leading 2008 Republican presidential candidates, including Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich — all of whom were eligible for the draft — only John McCain has worn the uniform of his country.

Does military service affect the public policy decisions of a politician? You bet it does.

Only one major presidential candidate in either party has made the outlawing of all forms of torture of prisoners his cause. That's right, the only presidential candidate who, as a prisoner of war, has himself been tortured: John McCain.

In our romanticized self-delusion about ourselves, we may imagine that in our nation war has demanded equality of sacrifice. But not this war. The wealthiest and the most highly educated young males have overwhelmingly chosen to be missing from hostile action. Why, when the nation has turned against this war, are their no student protests paralyzing Ivy League campuses? Two words: no draft!

In the "Greatest Generation," the American Army that liberated Europe and conquered Japan was a drafted military — two out of three soldiers were draftees. They truly represented the ethnic, racial, and social diversity which is America. The inevitable result was soldiers came to know, and often to appreciate, fellow Americans from different classes, cultures and educational backgrounds.

One interesting comparison: In the drafted U.S. Army, throughout World War II and the Cold War up until 1973, only one out of 10 recruits failed to complete his initial tour of duty. In the all-volunteer Army, one-third of all recruits fail to satisfactorily complete their first tour. Among recruits without a high-school diploma, one out of two now washes out.

Missing since the abolition of the draft has been the healthy and positive cross-pollination between the civilian and military communities, which led to a mutual understanding and respect. Fewer than one out of four members of Congress today has had any military experience. Just 50 years ago in the United States, seven out of 10 American 26-year-olds were serving or had served in the military.

If war truly does demand equality of sacrifice, then the children of the most advantaged in this society, whose property and position have been so well-protected by their government, have a reciprocal obligation as citizens to defend their country by military service. Believe me: It guarantees we will have a long and serious public debate before any reckless, macho rush to the Next War.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




1 Comments | Post Comment
In 1967 my brother at age 19 was drafted and he actually went since my World War II parents would of expected any else, it was a responsibility. My father after years in WWII was called back in 1951 and actually went back. Out of guilt I joined the Reserves at age 34 and served nearly twenty years till called up for the war in Iraq. I answered the back door draft as it was called.
You guys with an opinion got it all wrong, we know the militray is screwed up and the leadership can be full of baloney at times. However, it is about being part of something greater than self, a responsibility to serve the nation if capable. You make an obligation and you see it through. I know military service means nothing for many americans, states even want to end war veteran preference for government jobs? Politicans sons and daughter often get safe military assignments if deployed.
None of tha matters, I served with heroes and still to this day being quarter master, I avoid wearing my uniform in public fearing praise I do not deserve since I was not in combat or wounded. I am happy I got to serve, I know even my government doesn't care. My father who passed away would of been proud of me now that matters do you understand. Even the General can not understand the little guy does it not for glory, but duty and good citizenship.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Mike Moritz
Sat Aug 6, 2011 4:14 PM
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Mark Shields
Mark ShieldsUpdated 13 Feb 2016
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