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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Influencers 

Courtesy of our stalwart colleagues at Cursor: For black Americans especially, the military life has lost its lustre. The Daily Press reports that African-American recruitment numbers are down 41 percent since 2000: "They've gone from 23.5 percent of recruits in fiscal 2000 down to 13.9 percent in the first four months of fiscal 2005." A CBS News article points to the obvious reason:
Young blacks have grown markedly less willing to join the Army, citing fear of being sent to fight a war in Iraq they don't believe in, according to unpublicized studies for the military that suggest the Army is entering a prolonged recruiting slump.

Fear of combat also is a leading reason fewer young women are choosing the Army, the studies say. Although female soldiers are barred by law from assignments in direct combat, they nonetheless have found themselves under attack by insurgents in Iraq, and 32 have died.

"More African Americans identify having to fight for a cause they don't support as a barrier to military service," concluded an August 2004 study for the Army. It also said attitudes toward the Army among all groups of American youth have grown more negative in recent years.

"In the past, barriers were about inconvenience or preference for another life choice," the study said. "Now they have switched to something quite different: fear of death or injury."
Army officials also mention the "booming economy" and increased employment opportunities as reasons for the shortfall. Maj. General Michael D. Rochelle of the Army Recruiting Command, who is black, blames the influence of parents, teachers, coaches, and clergy: "The influencers of these youth are causing them to be less inclined to listen to what good the Army could do for them in the long run."

Our distinguished colleagues Avedon Carol and Eli at Left I mention one group of "influencers" who may indeed be a factor. Buried deep in a Saturday NYT story on politics and religion -- which is focused, naturally, on the rise of conservatism among the black clergy -- you will find the mysteriously underreported news that black Baptist leaders convened in January to denounce the war, along with other Bush administration policies, on moral grounds:
Asked if issues like same-sex marriage will galvanize African-Americans, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said, "Well, they didn't make the Top 10 with Moses, and Jesus didn't make mention of them." Still, looking to bolster their own political power, the leaders of four black Baptist conventions representing 15 million parishioners met in January to fashion their first united stand in almost a century on social and economic issues and to bury past differences.

At the end of their four-day session, the ministers called for an end to the war in Iraq and withdrawal of American troops. They declared their opposition to the confirmation of Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general. They stated their opposition to making the president's tax cuts permanent, and warned that reductions in spending on children's health care programs would be "immoral."

They say they are trying to counter the growing influence of white evangelicals in national politics. "They have a strong voice now in national politics, and it would seem they are the only voice," the Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, said of white evangelicals. "And the challenge to us is to be a voice that is soundly biblically based and that doesn't provide a blanket sanction to government policy as others have done. This is a dangerous time when white evangelicals dictate government policy."

But they also raise questions about the conservatives in their own ranks, accusing them of being seduced by Mr. Bush's "faith-based initiatives" program to funnel federal monies to church-run social service programs and asking how much sway they really have.

"Where did this come from?" said the Rev. Madison Shockley, pastor of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, Calif., who with Mr. Calloway wrote an opinion article in The Los Angeles Times in response to the "Black Contract With America." "It came from Bush and the Christian right, and the carrot is faith-based money."
Jasmyne Cannick has more on the "Black Contract with America" at The Black Commentator.

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