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Understanding the psychographics

on which women would be interested in joining the Marine Corps. The most notable thing about the article (aside from the fact that Code Pink has to be given two paragraphs) is the impression that the Marines have a problem recruiting. I thought that they were doing better than the other services.

Discussions - 23 Comments

It would strike me as odd that the Army and Marines would opt to accept more convicted felons than in the past if they didn't have any problems recruiting. Kind of takes the luster off of the marketing of "the few, the proud" and similar slogans.

Craig the Army is generally willing to take chances on people and let them prove themselves with a fresh chance. I had a Sergent Major who told us of his past as a a drug dealer in the Bronx. He joined the Army because he had a kid and sensed the need to grow up and take responsibility. The Army changed his life completly. He didn't join because he was "patriotic", but became more patriotic as he matured, and may have re-enlisted for higher reasons or for any case he showed great devotion because he had found something he was able to thrive at doing and recognized that he and his familly were better off for the experience.

I had a sergent who was a convincted fellon and while his morals may have been in some sense suspect he could turn a wrench, shoot a riffle or march with the best of them. He was hard working and hard nosed and solid in a way that a typical number cruncher looking at convicted fellon statistics would be unable to discern.

I don't happen to know if you support affirmative action, but as I understand it its best defense is that it gives people who might not otherwise get a shot at showing what they can do...a shot at proving the numbers wrong.

As far as the army is concerned what you did previous to joining the army is of little import, provided you don't fall back into such patterns.

I never worked in retention so I don't know demographics but I would guess that the policy of allowing people into the army with less than stellar pasts is actually a bonus on at least a few fronts. Of course the army does run into problems with a few recruits and sometimes has to discharge people...but by and large the people who are discharged are not the people who entered the army from less priveledged circumstances, but those who think that the army is a waste of time. Once in the Army the same standards apply to everyone as set forth in the AM's and FM's. Often times the people with the worst pasts and the least to look foward to elsewhere, take to this sort of regimentation with the greatest is a last chance and they aren't about to squander it.

In the slideshow of ads that accompanies the Times article, the one from 1978 reads "If you've got the heart, the head, and the diploma... maybe you can be one of us."

I suppose today's update on that would have to be an asterisk and an explanation that "ok, don't worry about the diploma, and a felony conviction for a sex crime might be acceptable too."

John Lewis (Comment 2): I don't think your affirmative action comparison is appropriate here at all. Yes, it's correct that "it gives people who might not otherwise get a shot at showing what they can do" but the reason they might not otherwise get that shot is unreasonable and irrational prejudice based on skin color or ethnicity - things that people have no personal control over. The military granting waivers for felony convictions is giving people a shot who might not otherwise get another chance based on the entirely valid reason of previous criminal behavior. Discrimination based on skin color and discrimination based on past behavior are completely different things.

Then there is no such thing as redemption? To me, one of the appealing aspects of Christianity was the idea of repentance, that you might turn away from whatever evil you had done and become someone else; change was inherent in the deal. I love the idea of redemption.

Are these young felons incorrigible? That is the best argument ever for the death penalty - kill those convicted of crimes as they will never change and ought to be excised from society. Eliminate them all, as it is the only way to ensure they will never commit another crime.

Otherwise, military training is supposed to be transforming. If so, such training would be giving those people, especially those young men, the chance to turn their aggressive inclinations to a better use. That is a good thing, isn't it? Unless they are irredeemable. In which case, why ever return them to society? At least in the military, there is a greater measure of discipline and oversight, to help keep them from hurting themselves and others. In the past, putting convicts into the army was fairly routine. That was forced. These men are allowed to volunteer. That volition argues against incorrigibility, irredeemable anti-social attitudes and could be argued as an inclination to continue repaying the debt to society incurred when they committed their crimes. Craig's article does not imply, "The Marines are looking for a few well-hardened criminals." Maybe a chance to make themselves proud is just what those men need.

Remember that some states have reclassified as felonies what previously were considered mere misdemeanors. Things like participating in bar room brawls for instance.

Another thing to recall is that there is a VERY LONG history of men with checkered pasts making exceptional soldiers, guys like "Commando" Kelly and "Pappy" Boyington, {though Boyington wasn't a soldier per se, he was a Marine and a fighter pilot, but you get the gist}.

Dan is right. Between the world wars, judges would often give `juvenile delinquents' the choice between jail and the army. The army was, of course, a bit tougher in those days, but the purposes were the same as today: discipline, exercise, getting a young idiot to shoot at targets, and maybe our enemies, instead of at us.

This section really struck me on the 2nd read of the article I linked to previously:

"At least 235 of the Marine Corps' 350 waivers were for various types of thefts in 2007, and another 63 were for assaults or robberies that may also have included use of a weapon. The remainder included one for manslaughter in 2007, compared to none in 2006; four for sex crimes, compared to one in 2006; and five for terror threats, including bomb threats, compared to two in 2006."

I'm curious to learn how someone can go from being convicted for making terror(ist) threats to enlisting in the armed forces of the country claiming to lead the world in rooting out and defeating terrorism. Is this some new and absurd twist on the old saying, so now it's "If you can't beat them, have them join!"?

But wait, I know, I know - all of those convictions were just for frathouse-style hijinks, right? Just some good kids pranking their high school with a little bomb threat. As long as they weren't black or Muslim, what could possibly be cause for concern? I would be very interested to know what kind of Gitmo-style questioning these felon recruits had to undergo to convince their all-American interrogators that THEY wouldn't go from serving their country to attacking it upon their return from battle duty, a la McVeigh.

John Lewis, I really have no objections to the armed forces giving felons second chances. Actually, I really like the idea (with a few limited reservations that I won't get into here). But I think it's time that all of the elitist rhetoric used by the Marines (who actually had more sex crime waivers, by proportion, than the Army did, and more felons convicted of terrorist threats, in absolute numbers, than the Army did) and, to some extent, all of the services, be treated as merely the marketing b.s. that it is. Especially when one considers that, as the article notes, both the Army and Marines have had to increase their health and aptitude waivers as well as taking on more felons. I mean if a convicted felon can magically become part of an American elite simply by shifting his risk environment from the streets of crime to the streets of Baghdad, well, that's a pretty sweet deal, isn't it? From being at risk of serving prison time (or possibly much worse) to being, say, a prison guard with a reputation as a manly combat vet (provided that one's photos of him/her posing with naked prisoner pyramids don't show up), that's a step up, I guess.

Yeah, I'm not really going to dignify that affirmative action comparison though...

Kate, your paragraph about incorrigible felons and America's apparent options of either killing them or allowing them to enlist - well, that was something.

But, no Kate, the article I linked to doesn't imply that "The Marines are looking for a few well-hardened criminals." But it does clearly show that the military branch known far and wide for its "The Few, The Proud..." marketing based on appeals to elitism is quite willing to accept some criminals. Criminals that I'd bet might have a hard time getting aboard a commercial airliner (what with their records of bomb threats and all), let alone getting into George W. Bush's Harvard or Yale. So again, I would urge a more realistic view of the military, rather than all of this elitist pretension that so often surrounds any discussion of it (particularly here).

Craig the hype is always greater than the reality a truth that Bilbo knew well. "We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't think what anybody sees in them..."

Mellisa, I can see how you say that it is irrational prejudice that justifies Affirmative Action...but I don't think this is correct or that strong of an argument. I think the new argument is that the social-economic conditions in which they were raised prevented them from achieving the fullest potential. There are conservatives and liberals who denigrate the SAT+ACT, as innacurate measures. If the instruments of measurement are less accurate then affirmative action is itself less objectionable, since it is in fact an attempt to more fully grasp the potential of students. I think Obama himself advances this argument. He says that it is not discrimination to adjust the scores of those who were raised in less than favorable circumstances. If your teachers are horrible and you have to worry about being shot, odds are your 25 on the ACT could actually be a 35. Likewise if you were raised in a crime ridden environment your criminality which is demonstrably more statistically probable is to a certain extent forgiveable if you are willing to take responsibility and change your ways.

A Bilbo quote?

Melissa, the diploma did and still does apply only to officer candidates, not recruits. As to Craig's article, the recruits are screened on an individual basis. If the Marine Corps finds them deficient in character then they won't take them. It's as simple as that. Good people, especially young men, can make mistakes. However, once in the Marine Corps, crime is not permitted. If an enlisted Marine is not seperated he'll at least be busted down in rank. The officer corps is even more strict; a DUI will pretty much end your career.

As to the original article, it doesn't even discuss "psychographics", it's just a crappy story the NYT wrote in order to use the phrase "the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan" a dozen times in one article.

Craig, recall that through Bilbo speaks Tolkien, and Tolkien was a serving officer in His Majesty's Armed Forces, and was one of those who knew what it was to go "up the line."

Tolkien KNEW war, knew what it was to kill, knew what it was to order men in his command to kill and thus knew a thing or two about what kind of men make good soldiers.

So Bilbo isn't off point.

I'm not taking sides here, just defending the introduction of Tolkien into the thread.

As for the strictness of the officer corps, it isn't so much a question of character, for decent men get drunk and have since time immemorial. It's about political correctness.

Yeah Craig, a Bilbo Baggins quote makes total sense there, so shut up!

I'll go afield, too; wasn't Henry V partly about what sort of men a king will take into an army? Speak to such a man's higher nature and he might rise to the occasion. Or, as Andrew points out, he'll be "busted," as Shakespeare also shows.

Does anyone know, if someone with a criminal record does rise to the occasion and serves with distinction, can his past record be expunged? I'd be all for that. I know a local businessman, convicted for drugs (yes, he was a pusher, once upon a time) and his criminal record has been expunged. He really is a model citizen and a remarkable man and did not deserve to be forever saddled with the results of his youthful foolishness. Redemption.

What none of you have addressed is Craig's original point- if the Marines aren't having problems recruiting, as the good Professor Schramm suggests, then why would they lower their standards? It is not a question of whether accepting convicted felons is right or wrong, but just that if the Marines have recently begun to do so with more frequency, what is the reason?

Because the Marine Corps and the Army are expanding, Livingston Brewster; the Marine Corps from 190k to 212k by 2010. I recently completed Officer Candidate School - the attrition rate was 39%. The Marines aren't taking just anyone.

The numbers cited in that article are not big numbers. "According to the Army, 18 percent of the recruits needed conduct waivers in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2007, compared to 15 percent in the 12-month period ending in Sept. 30, 2006." The Marines may not even need to lower standards, if you look at the statistics in Peter Schramm's second link.

So, I go poking around the Internet and find that the pool of available candidates is somewhat muddied. Are you surprised to hear that crimes tend to be committed by young men? Most of the data out there is being used by those who would allow felons to vote. If such a large percentage of the young men in our population are to be on our streets and beyond the pale at the same time, that seems to me to be a problem. My hyperbolic point in #4 was to ask what are we going to do with those young men?

Before we had a volunteer military, during the draft, accepting such men and creating waivers was pretty standard (though I do not know where to get statistics on that.) Guys my age used to have pretty wild stories about the other draftees in their units. An egalitarian military used to be considered a good thing. With the volunteer force, having good p.r. and effective slogans for recruitment is necessary, but why do we pretend that the highest standards are required to have an effective military?

Uhm, Livingston, the reason Marines may have lowered their standards is that though they are meeting present recruiting needs, they desire, for various reasons, to EXPAND the size of the Corps. Thus the Corps is looking for additional numbers to fill additional slots.

So just because standards have been lowered doesn't mean ipso facto that the Corps is failing to meet existing recruiting numbers.

If you guys recall, Congress provided for growth in the size of our Army, which Rumsfeld initially resisted, but Congress overrode that resistance. And if I'm not mistaken, they did the same for the Corps.

Oh what a slippery bunch. It must be difficult to maintain the Marine mythology (they're exceptional, they're bright, they're manly, they're morally exemplary, etc.) in the face of this sort of news - they're even reaching out to WOMEN! Now we've fallen to "why do we pretend that the highest standards are required to have an effective military?" Wasn't it Bush himself who talked about the "soft bigotry of low expectations"?

Yes, Andrew, "the Marines aren't taking just anyone" but as I've noted, they are accepting more and more recruits who require medical, aptitude, and criminal waivers. According to this synopsis of Marine recruiting, "About one-third of the Marines who have enlisted in the Corps" from 2001-2006 "received a waiver for the recreational use of marijuana." That's higher (no pun was intended initially, but now I intend it) than what I would have guessed, in all honesty. According to Capt. Patrick Callahan, "We are allowing people into the Corps who have lower readiness, integrity and character than we used to. We are letting people in whom we would not have let in a few years ago."

You say those "are not big numbers" Kate (from the other article), but think about it - 18 percent, that's nearly one in five. That's significant.

Andrew, as for your assertion that the story Mr. Schramm linked to was one that the "NYT wrote in order to use the phrase 'the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan' a dozen times in one article." - what are you suggesting, exactly? That the war is popular? That Americans are stupid for not being as gung-ho for it as the NLT bloggers are? Let's not forget that the NYTimes helped enormously to cheerlead us right into this war (see Judith Miller and her WMD articles), and recently hired right-wing fave Bill Kristol to continue cheerleading for it (despite his uncanny ability to make predictions that turn out to be 180 degrees wrong).

The war is unpopular, and the economy is on the skids. Military recruiters have their work cut out for them, esp. if the Army and Marines are slated to expand. Thus, that's why hear about these waivers, wallet-stuffing incentives, raising the maximum age for new recruits (twice - it now stands at 42), and stop-loss being implemented for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's funny to hear the military being lauded for working to rehabilitate and redeem these guys who get waivered in. I didn't realize that the armed forces were also a division of our (no doubt faith-based) federal correctional facilities. If this were any other context, and didn't involve recruiting people to serve in, yes, an unpopular war, I guarantee we'd be seeing the typical "get tough on crime" rhetoric, replete with exhortations to lock 'em up and throw away the key.

So, if the armed forces are NOT having problems reaching their recruiting goals, then perhaps they can afford to cease and desist with all the waivers, for starters?

As noted above, the Army and Marine Corps are increasing their numbers. We were able to be much more selective in the closing years of the Cold War and during the quiet 90s because we didn't need that many troops; however, we're now engaged in a global counter-insurgency which requires a larger, more war-time style military. I would bet that, though the recruiting process is not as selective as it has been for the last decade, it's still more selective than at any point during the draft years or up until the late 90s. Craig, ask someone who was in the military in the early 80s (if you know anyone) what it was like. You'll find that, though they're allowing a few more individuals into the institution who might not have been allowed in recent years, the institution as a whole is doing fine.

The war can't be all that unpopular among the recruiting pool, because people are signing up. Yes, the terms have to be somewhat competitive with the opportunities in civilian life. Still, no one signs up because they are promised a life of ease. The economy is not that bad and unemployment is at 5.1%, historically, not that bad.

As to marijuana use among the young, anecdotally, I just had a class discussion about legalization of recreational drugs and could find myself only mildly surprised that not one student in my 80% male class did not use marijuana. The boy writing a paper on the topic was recently arrested for possession. One boy suggested that once his generation was politically engaged, marijuana would be treated as alcohol is today. He is probably right and the military is merely accepting the reality of their recruiting pool in giving waivers.

I hope my student who will be going to court on the possession charge is given the option to enlist. I like him, even if his Mohawk haircut looks stupid. Discipline would do him good.

I think all other serious points have been covered by Andrew and Dan.

It's very gracious of you Kate to like the boy who has the haircut that doesn't please you.

Since most of my points on the military recruiting and elitism were essentially side-stepped, I'll just exit the thread with this.

I wasn't being gracious. I was poking fun at myself and my prejudices, as you did more pointedly. I find it hard to take whatever this young man says seriously when his head is so seriously unserious and he is so proud of it. I've seen him; you haven't.

Your points were not sidestepped. You just don't like or accept the responses. But thank you for the Onion article. They are often funny.


Sorry about the hit and run. I have not time to write, but this issue of Craig's is addressed in that transcript.

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