Done with school? Jenna and Barbara Bush should enlist

If President Bush is serious about the war on terror andrespects the men and women in the military, he could do somethingno president in decades has done:

He could suggest that his twin daughters enlist.

Why not? For the last four years, the Bush twins Jenna andBarbara have enjoyed the life that children of affluence accept astheir due: education at a good college. On Monday, Barbaragraduated from Yale. Jenna graduated on Saturday from theUniversity of Texas. Grad school is not immediate, and certainlythey have more options than most people their age.

The military might be an option – and a good idea.

For one thing, they could continue a family tradition. Theirgrandfather, the first President Bush, enlisted in the Navy afterhigh school and flew planes into combat in World War II. Theirfather also served; if not in a combat zone, at least he flewairplanes. Neither Bush daughter would have to become a pilot.Instead, the military could use the two liberal arts educations inintelligence, administration or operations.

A Bush enlistment would emphasize that this war needs men andwomen from every stratum of society, including the affluent.

Many people think that the military is an option mostly forblue-collar and lower-middle classes. They point to large numbersof minority recruits, a disproportionate number from poorer statesand counties. One reason for the publicity surrounding the death offormer National Football League player Pat Tillman, killed as anArmy Ranger in Afghanistan in April, was that he gave up alucrative career to serve – which is very unusual in 2004.

It wasn’t always so. In World War II, affluent young men signedup by the thousands. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s sonsenlisted, as did the sons of senators, congressmen and ambassadors.Were the Bush twins to enlist, it would do more for troop moraleand recruitment than all the TV “Army of One” advertisements.

Enlisting might permit the Bush twins some personal growth. Oneproblem with privilege is that people born into it often think thatthe whole world operates by the same rules as their household orschool: food will always be in the refrigerator, the car willalways start, everyone gets interesting vacations, and most peopleare polite and deferential and want to do things for you. Not a badway to grow up, but most of the world doesn’t work that way.

And neither does the military. If Barbara and Jenna Bush wouldenlist, they would learn about a different world, one in whichreveille goes off at 4 in the morning, and people dumber than you(or, in some cases, smarter) demand that you do push-ups, stand inline, shine your shoes. Someone has to stand fire watches, dish outmashed potatoes, clean heads, give up weekends, and there isnothing like doing it for a few months or years to make youappreciate what you have and the other men and women who do it.

Affluence breeds a form of insularity. Yale and the Universityof Texas, which advertise their diversity, are limited to peoplewho can attend Yale and the University of Texas. There are lots ofchildren of affluence in both places but not many Alabamans, PuertoRicans, cowboys, children of mail carriers and cops. The military,as perhaps the most inclusive institution in the nation, has all ofthose. Being around that mix of people is, in its own way, aneducation as valuable as Yale ever provided.

Finally, if the Bush twins enlist, they will earn GI Bill money.In two or three or four years, when they apply to grad school, thefederal government will pay for it.

By then, they’ll be older, smarter, have a better sense of whatthey want to do with their lives – and they’ll make betterteachers, lawyers or whatever because of it.

I can imagine President Bush saying, “Sign up.”

Bill Earls of Middletown, Conn., left Holy Cross Collegeafter a semester to serve in the Navy from 1961 to 1965, and helater used the GI Bill to earn bachelor’s and master’sdegrees.

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