The True Definition of Privilege: Protestants and Jews Sharply Underrepresented in U.S. Military

The death the other day in Lebanon of Uri Grossman, 20, an Israeli soldier and the son of the novelist David Grossman, who has been a peace activist in Israel, underscores a big difference between Israeli society and ours: In Israel, the children of the elite serve in the armed forces. If the 20-year-old son of an American novelist died in Iraq, we’d just think, Well that kid was a headcase. Privileged children have a choice here. Not in Israel.

As any fool knows, there is a “moral hazard” in our society’s imbalance. When the elite make the big decisions, say to go to war, and are immunized from the second-heaviest duty of citizenship—getting the knock on the door that Cindy Sheehan got, and David Grossman—there’s something very undemocratic about that, and wrong.

And because we know it’s wrong, this issue is gnawing at our public life. In Fahrenheit 911, Michael Moore went after congressmen for not having kids at risk. Last night on Charlie Rose, the usually-equable Richard Holbrooke spat at the neocon militarist Bill Kristol, who wants us to take on Iran and Syria, that unlike Holbrooke, Kristol had never been shot at. In his latest column for the Israel Policy Forum, M.J. Rosenberg goes after neocon hawk Charles Krauthammer over Krauthammer’s urging Israel to go even harder at Lebanon.

Krauthammer, who lives in Maryland, does not have to see the faces of the boys he is so cavalier about sending into battle against fanatical terrorists.

Readers of this blog know that I often look at the American power structure in religious and tribal terms: I think that the new establishment is basically affluent WASPs and affluent Jews, working happily together. (Just thumb through the Almanac of American Politics.) So: let’s look at the composition of the American armed forces in religious terms.

Watch out, here come the statistics! Non-geeks are encouraged to jump over the next two paragraphs.

[According to CUNY’s American Religious Identification Survey, Episcopalians make up 1.7 percent of the adult population (18 and over), Presbyterians make up 2.7 percent, Lutherans 4.6, Methodists 6.8 percent. That’s my Protestant sample. Then there are Baptists (evangelical Protestants) at 16.3 percent, Mormons at 1.3 percent, and Catholics at 24.5 percent. Jews make up 1.3 percent of the adult population.

[Now turn to the Armed Forces. This will be a little rough; (because the two bowls of statistics, the military’s and CUNY’s, don’t quite line up, and I have therefore thrown out the Unknowns in the Defense Department’s tables because they are not a category in CUNY’s tables) but let’s consider the universe of 1,254,000 people in uniform who say something about their religious preference, including the 20 percent or so who say None.]

You’d expect there to be 21,000 or so Episcopalians in uniform. There are only 9,600. You’d expect 33,000+ Presbyterians. There are 13,000. Lutherans, you’d expect 58,000. There are 35,000. Methodists? 83,000 expected. 44,000 in fact. Jews: 16,000 would be predicted by the CUNY percentage—there are 3,973 Jews in the military. Indeed, there are more Buddhists in the military, 4400, than there are Jews!

As I say, it’s rough (and a little unfair to the Protestants; I haven’t factored in the 53,000 Protestants the military calls nondemoninational) but that’s my Establishment pool. Note that Episcopalians and Presbyterians (who I think of as the more affluent) are sharply underrepresented, showing up at about 40 percent of expected numbers; and Jews at about 25 percent.

By the way, Muslims are also underrepresented, by about half. You’d expect 6270. The military says it has 3,459 in uniform.

Compare these numbers to Catholics, Baptists and Mormons. You’d expect 307,000 Catholics in uniform; there are 291,000. Underrepresented; but close. Baptists should weigh in at 204,000. There are 219,000 of them. (I imagine that other evangelicals and Pentecostals, whom I don’t have the patience to even try and sort out in these conflicting tables, are even more overrepresented). And then there are Mormons. You’d expect 16,000. There are nearly 18,000.

What does this all add up to? Just what we knew: the privileged make out bigtime. What’s the answer? What Charlie Rangel has always said: a draft. Then maybe our leadership might show a little more imagination about how to deal with the so-called clash of civilizations.