The Magazine

The 9/11 Generation

Better than the Boomers.

Jul 30, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 43 • By DEAN BARNETT
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In the 1960s, history called the Baby Boomers. They didn't answer the phone.

Confronted with a generation-defining conflict, the cold war, the Boomers--those, at any rate, who came to be emblematic of their generation--took the opposite path from their parents during World War II. Sadly, the excesses of Woodstock became the face of the Boomers' response to their moment of challenge. War protests where agitated youths derided American soldiers as baby-killers added no luster to their image.

Few of the leading lights of that generation joined the military. Most calculated how they could avoid military service, and their attitude rippled through the rest of the century. In the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, military service didn't occur to most young people as an option, let alone a duty.

But now, once again, history is calling. Fortunately, the present generation appears more reminiscent of their grandparents than their parents.

I've spent much of the past two weeks speaking with young people (and a few not-so-young) who have made the decision to serve their country by volunteering for the military. Some of these men have Ivy League degrees; all of them are talented and intelligent individuals who--contrary to John Kerry's infamous "botched joke" ("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. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq")--could have chosen to do anything with their lives. Having signed up, they have either gone to Iraq or look forward to doing so. Not surprisingly, the mainstream media have underreported their stories.

One of the excesses of the 1960s that present-day liberals have disowned and disavowed since 9/11 is the demonization of the American military. While every now and then an unrepentant liberal like Charlie Rangel will appear on cable news and casually accuse U.S. troops of engaging in baby-killing in Iraq, the liberal establishment generally knows better. They "support" the American military--at least in the abstract, until it does anything resembling fighting a war.

In search of a new narrative, 21st-century liberals have settled on the "soldiers are victims" meme. Democratic senators (and the occasional Republican senator who's facing a tough reelection campaign) routinely pronounce their concern for our "children" in Iraq. One of the reasons John Kerry's "botched joke" resonated so strongly was that it fit the liberals' narrative. The Democratic party would have you believe that our soldiers are children or, at best, adults with few options: In short, a callous and mendacious administration has victimized the young, the gullible, and the hopeless, and stuck them in Iraq.

But this narrative is not just insulting to our fighting men and women, it is also grossly inaccurate.

Kurt Schlichter is a lieutenant colonel in the California National Guard. A veteran of the first Gulf war, he's now stateside and commands the 1-18th Cavalry, 462-man RSTA (Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition) squadron attached to the 40th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The last media representative he spoke with before I contacted him was a New York Times stringer who wanted Schlichter's help in tracking down guardsmen who were "having trouble because they got mobilized."

In describing his unit, Schlichter says, "Our mission is to operate far out in front of the main body of the brigade to find and keep in contact with the enemy, report on its activities, and call in air or artillery fire on it. We are very lightly armed--speed, stealth, and smarts are our best weapons--and our Cav scouts work out of humvees or on foot." Their squadron motto is "Swift and Deadly."

Colonel Schlichter talks about the soldiers he commands with unvarnished admiration. He has 20-year-olds serving under him who have earned combat badges. As to why these young men are willingly and eagerly putting themselves in harm's way, Schlichter flatly declares, "The direction comes from themselves. They like to be challenged."

One of the soldiers in Colonel Schlichter's 1-18th is 28-year-old Sergeant Joseph Moseley. The outline of Moseley's story matches the liberal narrative of the "soldier victim." A junior college student, he served four years in the Army and then four years in the National Guard. During his stint in the Guard, Moseley got mobilized. He went to Iraq, where he had a portion of his calf muscle torn away by an IED. He has since returned to the United States and is undergoing a rigorous rehab program, which he describes as "not always going smoothly." It's virtually impossible that Sergeant Moseley will recover fully from his injuries.