Spurned by the elite
That leaves 4.5m young Americans eligible to serve, of whom only around 390,000 are minded to, provided they do not get snapped up by a college or private firm instead—as tends to happen to the best of them. Indeed, a favourite mantra of army recruiters, that they are competing with Microsoft and Google, is not really true. With the annual exception of a few hundred sons and daughters of retired officers, America’s elite has long since turned its nose up at military service. Well under 10% of army recruits have a college degree; nearly half belong to an ethnic minority.
The pool of potential recruits is too small to meet America’s, albeit shrunken, military needs; especially, as now, when the unemployment rate dips below 6%. This leaves the army, the least-favoured of the four services, having either to drop its standards or entice those not minded to serve with generous perks. After it failed to meet its recruiting target in 2005, a time of high employment and bad news from Baghdad, it employed both strategies zealously. To sustain what was, by historical standards, only a modest surge in Iraq, around 2% of army recruits were accepted despite having failed to meet academic and other criteria; “We accepted a risk on quality,” grimaces General Snow, an Iraq veteran. Meanwhile the cost of the army’s signing-on bonu