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John Kerry's comments weren't just offensive. They were wrong.

3:20 PM, Nov 1, 2006 • By ROBERT VERBRUGGEN
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John Kerry's comments stirred up quite a bit of emotion yesterday. The American Legion promptly denounced them, and John McCain and President Bush rushed to hold press conferences. Kerry vowed to apologize "to no one" and insisted that the statement--"education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq"--was a botched joke directed at Yale graduate George W. Bush.

Few, however, stopped to consider the factual nature of the assertions. If they did, they'd realize there's nothing to be offended about, because Kerry's words were simply incorrect. In fact, members of the armed forces are more often high school graduates, and more often of above-average intelligence, than average Americans.

Last year, the Heritage Foundation took the time to study soldier demographics. The resulting report, "Who Bears the Burden?" disproves many of the stereotypes members of the military face. Pertinent to Kerry's comments, the study found that soldiers actually tend to have more education than the general public.

"If one single statistic could settle this issue, it is this: 98 percent of all enlisted recruits who enter the military have an education level of high school or greater, compared to the national average of 75 percent," according to the report.

Of course, because military service often starts right after high school, a lower proportion of recruits have college experience. The Army had the highest proportion of Bachelor's degrees at 2.7 percent--compared to almost 8 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24.

If anything, there are two ways to make military service unlikely: Go to college, or drop out of high school. This doesn't jive too well with Kerry's "study hard or you'll end up in Iraq" message.

Of course, you could argue that since graduating from high school doesn't take a lot of smarts, those in the military are probably people with low intelligence who just have enough work ethic to see tasks through.

But the facts prove this notion wrong, too. People in the military aren't dull, because the military doesn't let dull people in.

The Armed Forces Qualifying test is basically a measure of IQ and is required of all recruits. It divides potential soldiers into categories I, II, IIIa, IIIb, IV, and V. Those who score in the bottom 10 percent (Category V) are disqualified completely, and the next 20 percent (Category IV) can never make up more than 4 percent of a year's recruits.

Every branch of the military is made up of more than 50 percent I to IIIa, in other words, the top-half of the general population. That means above-average IQs are more common in soldiers than in everyday Americans.



Looking more closely at the categories, a pattern consistent with the education trend emerges. Military personnel are over-represented in Categories II through IIIb (the 31st through 92nd percentiles of the general population), under-represented in Category IV (because of the 4 percent rule), and unrepresented in Category V. They are also under-represented in Category I--the top 7 percent of the general population, but only 2.9 to 5.8 percent of military recruits (depending on gender and service branch).



Soldiers, then, are bright people, a solid cut above the American public in high school education and IQ. It is true that few have been to college, and that the very brightest students tend not to join, but Kerry's stated (if possibly not intended) notion--that the military is a last resort for the slackers and Forrest Gumps of the world--is demonstrably false.



Robert VerBruggen is an apprentice editor at the National Interest.