On the same day that Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, outraged voters of all political persuasions with his comments made at a rally in support of California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides that military personnel were uneducated, National Public Radio followed Kerry’s lead when they aired a segment by correspondent Mandalit del Barco during their Morning Edition program claiming that Puerto Rican military recruits are being duped into military service by unscrupulous recruiters using promises of huge signing bonuses.
For her report, del Barco traveled to two small Puerto Rican towns, Mayaguez and Quebradillas, both of which have lost three local men each during the global War on Terror. The report begins with a major factual error: del Barco makes a claim that 55 Puerto Rican soldiers have died in combat in Iraq, but a review of current statistics finds that only 25 have been killed while serving in Iraq and another 6 during operations in Afghanistan.
An initial claim made in the NPR segment was that Puerto Ricans are being victimized and disenfranchised by the U.S. government. The introduction to del Barco’s piece opens by making that very point:
Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but they lack some of the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote for president. Yet they have served, and died, in the military for generations.
The implication is, of course, that there is some sinister Rovian scheme to deny Puerto Ricans their most basic rights under the U.S. Constitution while Donald Rumsfeld and his minions prey upon the hapless Puerto Rican youth. This theme is brought up again by del Barco herself mid-way through the segment:
Altogether, more than 150,000 Puerto Ricans served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. But as Maria Munoz notes, they're from a territory, not a state, and they can't send a voting member to Congress or vote for commander-in-chief.
What isn’t mentioned in the report, however, is that rather than disenfranchising Puerto Ricans, the U.S. is honoring two separate plebiscites taken twice in the past 40 years where they have democratically decided to remain a Commonwealth territory. In 1967, an overwhelming 60 percent of Puerto Ricans voted for commonwealth status, as opposed to becoming a state or receiving their independence from the U.S. Then again in 1993 (during the Clinton administration), they chose to remain a Commonwealth. Apparently for NPR, Puerto Ricans just aren’t smart enough to know what they were missing by not being able to vote for John Kerry in 2004.
But del Barco’s report is intended to make the case that the U.S. military is exploiting disenfranchised, low-income Puerto Ricans. One example she cites in the case of Pedro Munoz, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in January 2005. Speaking with his family, del Barco reports,
Maria Munoz says her brother volunteered for the Army because he wanted to be able to support his family in a way he couldn't in Puerto Rico, where people earn about half what they make in the poorest U.S. states.
This is evidently conclusive proof for del Barco that Donald Rumsfeld is taking advantage of poor Puerto Ricans by luring them into the military by paying them more than they could probably ever make back home. But is it really true that Sergeant First Class Munoz was unwittingly lured into the military for purely economic motives? Even NPR has to admit that this isn’t the case when they explain that Munoz grew up always wanting to be a soldier, admiring and emulating his father’s military service during the Korean War.
In fact, after Munoz had served in Special Forces during the Gulf War, he not only reenlisted, but volunteered to be paratrooper, eventually earning a spot on the Golden Knights – the prestigious (and dangerous) U.S. Army Parachute Team. And a report on the Special Forces website says that Munoz’s teenage daughter, Dalia, recently won an essay competition expressing her desire to follow in her father’s footsteps. None of that was mentioned in del Barco’s NPR report, however.
But del Barco hits pay dirt when she talks with the parents of Spec. Alexis Roman Cruz, who she explains are “still upset with military recruiters who promised their son $20,000 to enlist”:
“They bought his life,” says Roman de Jesus, whose eyes are red from tears. He says he stares at the shrine every day and sobs, remembering how he and his son used to go fishing and play music together.
“I lost my son and I feel like nothing. Like nobody,” he says. “I lost the greatest man in the world and I blame the U.S. for that. I blame Bush.”
Hearing tales of George Bush’s evil war and Donald Rumsfeld’s blood money from the lips of a grieving family of a fallen hero would warm the cockles of the heart of any NPR correspondent; but once again, the facts don’t support del Barco’s narrative.
An article in the St. Petersburg Times published just days after Cruz’s death features an interview with his widow and mother of his two children, where she relates that rather than feeling victimized, her husband “was very grateful for what military life was able to give him.” The St. Petersburg Times article also states that “with his salary from the military, they were able to buy a house and car” in addition to the other benefits the family received that they never would have been able to obtain elsewhere. NPR must prefer that the Cruz family had continued to wallow in poverty back home rather than improve their lot in life.
We also learn that Spec. Cruz was not wooed away from the supposedly carefree Caribbean lifestyle of Quebradillas, Puerto Rico by sinister military recruiters, but that he and his family had already moved to Florida in order to make a better life on the mainland. It was only after Cruz had spent time working in construction that he decided that military life would allow him to better provide for his family.
But a critical question remains: is the claim made by Sen. Kerry and NPR (and also the Washington Post, L.A. Times, New York Daily News, etc.) that the war-time recruiting is attracting lower quality recruits and that the military is preying disproportionately upon minority and low-income populations true? A new study released last week by Tim Kane of the Heritage Foundation, Who Are the Recruits? The Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Enlistment, 2003–2005, finds that the left-wing conventional wisdom is contrary to reality:
In summary, the additional years of recruit data (2004–2005) support the previous finding that U.S. military recruits are more similar than dissimilar to the American youth population. The slight differences are that wartime U.S. military enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on average than their civilian peers.
Recruits have a higher percentage of high school graduates and representation from Southern and rural areas. No evidence indicates exploitation of racial minorities (either by race or by race-weighted ZIP code areas). Finally, the distribution of household income of recruits is noticeably higher than that of the entire youth population.
The statistics provided in Kane’s new study might threaten to shatter the ideological reality of liberals if they really had any concern for the facts. But as long as they can identify grieving widows, brokenhearted parents and orphaned children to give them the sound bites they need to promote their anti-war narrative, it’s doubtful that the facts will play even a minor role in shaping the reporting of the war by the mainstream media.
As the ancient Greek poet, Aeschylus, said long ago: “In war, the first casualty is truth.” If anything, John Kerry and NPR have proven him right.