Explaining Success Away

Army tops recruit goal by lowering standards,” screams the headline tacked onto an Associated Press story posted at MSNBC.com

“The U.S. Army recruited more than 2,600 soldiers under new lower aptitude standards this year,” states the article’s lead, “helping the service beat its goal of 80,000 recruits in the throes of an unpopular war and mounting casualties.”

You’d hardly guess that this was the Army’s most successful recruiting class since 1997, or that the success had little to do with “lower standards.” But in fact, the Army beat its enlistment target this year, recruiting 80,635 soldiers — roughly 10% more than last year.

Taking the contentions of the AP story in turn:

  • The impact of lower aptitude standards.

    The aptitude standards of the all-volunteer U.S. Army are far higher than those in effect during the combat eras of Vietnam, Korea, or the World Wars.  The army subjects potential recruits to a battery of aptitude tests.  Prior to this year, no more 2% of those scoring below “passing” levels could be recruited on a discretionary basis.  This year, 3.8% were so recruited.  This 1.8% increase in aptitude test waivers accounted for 1,452 recruits, or roughly 1/5th of  the total increase from the previous year – NOT 2,600, as reported by AP.

  • The impact of “an unpopular war.”

    By some measures – none of them reported in this article — Operation Iraqi Freedom is an unpopular war.  But it is unclear why this hypothesis should be interjected in a story describing a banner year in voluntary enlistments.  The war is evidently not unpopular among enlistees.
  • The impact of “mounting casualties”

    If “mounting casualties” means anything in terms of recruitment, it must mean “mounting casualty rates” – the likelihood of a recruit being killed or wounded in action.   September ’06 was a rough month for U.S. troops in Iraq.  But year-to-year, casualty rates for U.S. troops in Iraq have declined.  The rate of U.S. “wounded in action” in 2006 is down 3% from 2005, and down 28% from 2004.  The rate of U.S. “killed in action” is down 16% from both 2004 and 2005.

The mythology that Operation Iraqi Freedom is a quagmire, another Vietnam, requires mounting casualties and debilitated troops.  The defeatist Leftwing press would happily comply.  But when combat troops in an all-volunteer army re-enlist at record levels, it contradicts the pre-selected narrative.  When new recruits enlist at record levels, it is less a fact to be recorded than an anomaly to be explained away.

And when casualty rates go down, the Leftist journalist has no recourse but to lie.

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