Senator Kerry's comments about uneducated people being "stuck" in Iraq essentially calling the men and women of the American military stupid is one of the political blunders of the age. Seldom does a candidate single-handedly sink his party once, let alone twice, though William Jennings Bryan came close. Mr. Kerry may have done so.
Worse, it's simply not right to promote the idea that soldiers are dumb or even undereducated. New York Times reporter Chris Hedges asserted, "poor kids from Mississippi who could not get a decent job joined the Army because it was all we offered them." In reality, however, the American military yes, even the foot soldiers is the most educated in history and better educated than the American public on average. Annually, thousands of top honor students take the military entrance exams. The recruitment test, which all inductees must pass, includes questions that many Ph.D.s would miss, and I would gladly hold a contest pitting any 10 American Army soldiers, randomly selected, against any 10 public school teachers on a standardized test.
Perhaps today would be the day to consider some of the math questions on the "Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery," the standard application test for potential recruits:
1."The area of one circle is four times as large as a smaller circle with a radius of 3 inches. The radius of the larger circle is ... "
2."Staci earns $9.50 an hour plus 3% commission on all sales made. If her total sales during a 30-hour work week were $500, how much did she earn?"
3. "If 7p + 5q = 3, find q when p = 1."
Space prohibits running the comprehension questions equally difficult but there are also language and vocabulary questions: 1. "Adversity most nearly means a) help, b) hardship, c) love, d) ease." Or, 2. "Caustic most nearly means a) smooth, b) corrosive, c) soft, d) heavy." As Tim Kane of the Heritage Foundation has shown in his own study, "Who are the recruits?" 90% of current recruits had at least a high school degree, and 92% of the officers had at least a college degree.
Our military is strong because it's always featured the best and the brightest. Since we've been measuring such standards, we have found that our military forces are on average smarter than the average American citizen. The anecdotal evidence is that we can take the trend all the way back to the Revolution, when "elites" joined the military regularly, and not just as officers. Before America even entered World War I, Yale students were asked to volunteer for the Connecticut version of the then National Guard. Yale authorities hoped to get 150 volunteers they got 900. In 1914, several of those young men collaborated to buy a used seaplane and their own pilot instruction because they were aware that America would be drawn into conflict. They recognized that America had merely a few dozen aircraft, even as the Kaiser was turning out a thousand a month.
Today is no different. A quick survey of Harvard, Cornell, Princeton, MIT, and Northwestern shows active ROTC programs, most of whose recruits, at one point or another, get "stuck in Iraq" because, after all, that's where the American military is fighting terrorists today.
It's also wrong to say that the poor are overrepresented in today's military. Our fighting men and women come from every zip code in the country, including the famous 90210 zip code. Since September 11, demographic regions in the highest-income quintile provided the greatest positive proportional increase in recruits.
And it's equally false to say that the sons and daughters of our lawmakers don't serve. At last count, eight of the 535 House and Senate members had children in the military, a percentage higher than the average among the American public as a whole. Duncan Hunter of California, Joe Wilson of South Carolina, Todd Aikin of Missouri, Kit Bond of Missouri, and Tim Johnson of South Dakota all had sons serving in the military, and the son of Mayor Daley of Chicago, who joined the Army, and the eldest son of Governor Pataki, a lieutenant in the Marines, constituted other members of the "political class" who joined up.
The only category of heroes where the current military seems to come up short is in celebrities. Unlike World War II, where Hollywood sent its brightest stars Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, just to name a few and hundreds who would later be stars, the current crop of Hollywood heroes only knows how to look tough on screen.
Furthermore, contrary to the theme of so many modern war movies, such as "Black Hawk Down," "We Were Soldiers," or even "Flags of Our Fathers," where soldiers only "fight for each other," surveys of American servicemen and women show that they are quite perceptive as to the reasons for which we are in Iraq and Afghanistan, and see the struggle as a moral clash.
In short, to look at those who currently serve in harm's way and see the poor, the stupid, the brutal, and the baffled is to apply a liberal, aristocratic lens more appropriate to 19th-century Prussia than to 21st-century America, and it's the lens John Kerry applies today. It's the same lens he applied in 2004, as well as the lens he used in the Vietnam era. And it's still the wrong one.
Mr. Schweikart is a professor of history at the University of Dayton and the author of "America's Victories: Why the U.S. Wins Wars and Will Win the War on Terror."