Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ben Stein Speaks: Looking for the Will Beyond the Battlefield

My friend, Jim Savard, is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, where one of his classmates was Roger Staubach. Jim served as a naval aviator, and is a life-long student of leadership and a fervent patriot. He is a frequent and trusted source for materials that find their way onto the pages of The White Rhino Report.

Jim made me aware of this recent New York Times column by the brilliant and insightful Ben Stein. In the following article, Mr. Stein makes some excellent points, especially in the second half of the piece when he talks about the stark contrast between the sacrifices made in the past by the "ruling class" in sending their sons into combat and the demographics of those who serve in the present conflict in Iraq. While Mr. Stein's observations are valid in general, I would submit that there are still those who come from backgrounds of privilege who have not abandoned the idea of "noblesse oblige." I can think immediately of two extraordinary young men - brothers Kyle and Kevin Kalkwarf - who chose to enter West Point and pursue careers as Army officers despite the fact that they had many other attractive options available to them. Their father, Dr. Kenneth Kalkwarf, is Dean of the University of Texas Dental School and President of the American Dental Education Association. Dr. and Mrs. Kalkwarf clearly inculcated in their sons a spirit of service and sacrifice that is a throwback to the era that Ben Stein glorifies.

Other anecdotal examples come quickly to mind. Nate Fick, author of "One Bullet Away," took his Ivy league degree in classical studies and chose to become a Marine Corps Officer fighting on the front lines in Iraq. My friend, John Serafini, raised in one of Boston's most prestigious and wealthy suburbs, went to West Point and became an Army Ranger. Grace Park, world class judo competitor and violinist, also chose West Point and a career as an Army officer. And these are only a handful of individuals I know personally who have walked away from a guaranteed life of privilege in order to serve our nation in time of war. There surely are many more that Ben Stein and I are not aware of.

So, the bottom line is that I am much more sanguine about our future leaders than is Mr. Stein. Perhaps it is because I have had a chance to look into their eyes, hear the passion in their voices, read their letters and e-mails from the front lines, and stand with them as they bury their comrades. This is a generation of leaders who have chosen sacrifice and commitment over easier paths of privilege and professional advancement. They deserve our support, encouragement and thanks.


Looking for the Will Beyond the Battlefield - New York Times

1 comment:

Rob said...

Al, I just blogged on this same article. Interesting to separate this issue into three questions. (1) Is the upperclass underrepresented? (2) Why is the upperclass underrepresented? (3) Does it matter?

I think you cover one nicely ... there are plenty of examples from your experience and mine where I know there is still upperclass representation.

I tend to have a pretty egalitarian view on the world so question three is important to me ... does it actually matter. I tend to think not. In a nation where there is not a draft and people are freely able to determine whether they will serve in the military, upperclass representation doesn't seem an issue. In fact, I would say that aside from making the upperclass feel better about themselves as a whole, the military doesn't suffer much from their absence.

I tend to think this whole argument smacks somewhat of elitism. The officers and enlisted I served with who came from other social strata were just as capable as any from the upperclass establishment.

That said, I would encourage people from any social strata to consider the military ... the leadership, management and crisis response experience gained is second to none. Service aside, the skills gained are hard to replicate in the civilian world.