This is in response to the first four paragraphs of the Dean Barnett Weekly Standard article:
In the 1960s, history called the Baby Boomers. They didn't answer the phone.
In the 1960s, the population of the US was under 200 million. For several years there were over half a million soldiers on the ground in Viet Nam, a number never approached in Iraq. The cold war was still on, so we had a large force in Europe and about 50,000 still in Korea.
This wasn't a volunteer force. The Baby Boomers may not have answered their phone, but they did respond to draft notices. Soldiers reporting to basic training learned to march to "They say that in the army the pay is mighty fine...they give you $100 and take back $99."
At their first pay call, they learned the literal truth of those words. Privates in stateside units worked from 6am to 5pm five days a week and from 8am to 12am on Saturdays, over 250 hours a month at 40 cents an hour. This compared to a minimum wage at the time of $1.20 an hour. That's right, a minimum wage earner who worked 160 hours a month earned twice as much and worked almost half as long as a draftee.
Care to do the same comparison on modern pay scales? Care to compare the proportion of the population who served in the Viet Nam era with the proportion in Iraq?
Confronted with a generation-defining conflict, the cold war, the Boomers--those, at any rate, who came to be emblematic of their generation--took the opposite path from their parents during World War II. Sadly, the excesses of Woodstock became the face of the Boomers' response to their moment of challenge. War protests where agitated youths derided American soldiers as baby-killers added no luster to their image.
Twelve million US citizens served in WWII out of a population of about 100 million. Most came either by way of the draft or enlisted to avoid the draft. The draft at the time reached up to age 45. In fairness, most of the servicemen who saw early combat had enlisted before the war began. They were the true patriots, but VERY few of those early birds later became publicly notable.
While young folks, like Barnett, may think that Woodstock defined a generation, he might like to know that in the early days, the war had great support. Labor unions with American flags painted on their hard hats marched in support of the war.
The war lost support, and in retrospect deserved to lose support, because it was mismanaged by that part of the WWII generation that had moved into leadership positions. Johnson and McNamara were afraid to win the war and didn't understand that a war will inevitably be lost if the enemy is allowed sanctuaries. Johnson and McNamara never disrupted the import of war material, either through Haiphong or by bombing the railroad bridges on the China border. For some time, even the Ho Chi Minh trail was off limits to bombing.
As an aside, the latest bill that Mark Udall has put forward in Congress repeats this EXACT historical mistake. It makes Iran into an untouchable sanctuary.
US casualties, because of this mismanagement, numbered about 500 a week dead for some time. And still, most Baby Boomers answered their draft notices. Only a relative few went to Canada.
Few of the leading lights of that generation joined the military. Most calculated how they could avoid military service, and their attitude rippled through the rest of the century. In the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, military service didn't occur to most young people as an option, let alone a duty.
Except for the Civil War and WWII, there has been no time in history when more than a few of the "leading lights" of any generation joined the military. Both of those wars were manpower intensive, relative to the population as a whole.
Once most of the Civil War veterans died out, around the turn of the twentieth century, the need for military service in a politician's bio died with them. That need didn't revive itself until after WWII, and then for the same reason-so many voters were veterans. Again, the veteran population driven need for a politician to have military service in his bio evaporated about 35 years after the end of the war.
While the WWII generation has been styled "The Greatest Generation," that title more properly belongs to the generation that lived through the Revolutionary War. Once you get past Washington and Hamilton, you would be hard pressed to name a single political "leading light" who served in the Continental Army, even for a day. It has been estimated that only about one and one-half percent of the population served in that war and many who did weren't property owners, a prerequisite for voting in that era.
History suggests that few "leading lights" will emerge from this war because such a small part of the population is involved in fighting it.
But now, once again, history is calling. Fortunately, the present generation appears more reminiscent of their grandparents than their parents.
It is unfair for Barnett to castigate a whole generation as unpatriotic when there are 50,000 names on the wall in Washington; when today's military pay scales provide even privates with a living wage; and when the leadership actually wants to "win" the war. More than unfair, it is offensive.