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The Old Ball And Chain

We've known for some time that military recruiters tend to prey upon communities of color, which have overperformed as a proportion of war dead since the Iraq offensive began. The "poverty draft" is likewise well underway. Now we're hearing that convicted felons are slowly but steadily swelling the ranks of our armed forces. I mean, we do lock up pretty much anyone in sight in the US, but this is still bad news:

The bulk of the crimes involved were burglaries, other thefts, and drug offenses, but nine involved sex crimes and six involved manslaughter or vehicular homicide convictions. Several dozen Army and Marine recruits had aggravated assault or robbery convictions, including incidents involving weapons.

Both the Army and Marine Corps have been struggling to increase their numbers as part of a broader effort to meet the combat needs of a military fighting wars on two fronts. As a result, the number of recruits needing waivers for crimes or other bad conduct has grown in recent years, as well as those needing medical or aptitude waivers.

Rep. Henry Waxman, who is usually spot-on in his critiques of the administration and its conduct, may have stumbled, however, in placing the emphasis on readiness (surely a problem in its own right). "Concerns have been raised that the significant increase in the recruitment of persons with criminal records is a result of the strain put on the military by the Iraq war and may be undermining military readiness," he said. Both clauses are true, of course. But the quantitave argument ignores the fact that violent criminal soldiers will also undermine our ability to litigate this war on battlefields and among civilians in Iraq, and--most importantly--in the world's imaginary. Far be it for me to judge the current needs of the military, but enlisting soldiers who are temperamentally prone to aggression seem like a qualitative disadvantage. And don't we have Haditha, Bagram and Abu Graib to show for that already?

--Dayo Olopade