Cure obscure in response to Pentagon report

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It’s great that retired military leaders are speaking up, but their battle plan doesn’t resonate.

The group “Mission Readiness: Military Leaders for Kids” has been staging press conferences around the nation, including one Thursday in Jackson. They hang their braid-rimmed hats on a Pentagon report estimating that three out of four young American men and women are ineligible to enlist in any branch of military service because they have either failed to graduate high school, engaged in criminal activity or are physically or mentally unfit.

It is an indictment of our times.

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“We need a bold strategy to inspire our young people to do better and to increase the chances that they will succeed,” the group says. And they’re right.

What is the strategy?

“As former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it’s clear to us that our military readiness could be put in jeopardy given the fact that nearly 75 percent of young Americans are unable to serve in uniform. We joined Mission Readiness because we believe that investing in our children through early education is not a Republican issue or Democratic issue. It’s a plain common sense issue critical to our national security,” say Gen. John M. Shalikashvili and Gen. Henry H. Shelton in a statement.

Increasing spending and programs for preschoolers is not a bad idea, but how it assures better choices and more maturity among teens remains obscure. The last time this nation mobilized for a global war is beyond memory for most of us, but there was no Head Start then, no public kindergartens. We feel comfortable saying there were more responsible parents “back in the day” who instilled real pride and a sense of worth in their children. That would likely still work today.

But the generals, despite all their deserved dignity, can’t force better choices by parents or by youths who take a pass on opportunities far more abundant than yesteryear. It would be great if the generals could order everyone to orient their judgment to their own best interests. Sadly, that’s a power that didn’t come with their rank.