AWOL by Kathy Roth-Douquet & Frank Schaeffer

AWOL is subtitled “The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service – and How It Hurts Our Country,” which sums up the basic theme of this book. Organized in a she-said, he-said, they-said fashion, AWOL gives the reader an inside view of how the Upper Classes view today’s military through the eyes of coauthor Kathy Roth-Douquet, while simultaneously counterbalancing this with a solidly middle class counterpoint from Frank Schaeffer.

While Kathy and Frank peel back the layers of this problem, meticulously documenting their arguments, another story emerges. Kathy is the product of privilege and position, staunchly and unquestioningly Democrat, but she found herself falling in love with a young Marine Corps Officer. As she stepped outside the corridors of privilege to pursue her passion, she discovered a world she never imagined, a world so different from what she thought, that it forever changed her.

Frank is the product of solid middle-class values who became a bohemian novelist on the fringes of his Republican heritage. When his son joined the Marines, Frank’s life came into sharp focus.

Together, Kathy and Frank explore the role the military plays in our society, and the roles played by members of various cultural and social groups within our society as they relate to the military. They argue persuasively that when a country’s leaders are derived primarily from the Upper Classes, and when they have no military experience to speak of, and when their children sidestep military service, a serious gap develops between society and the military. This gap, they argue, is a growing problem that threatens to undermine the very fabric of our society.

With poignant personal accounts, Kathy and Frank illustrate how far removed from things military the privileged classes in our society have become, and how important military service has been to many in the middle and lower classes. Kathy relates conversations with her privileged friends that illustrate their complete disconnect with things military, and their often total misunderstanding of how the military and its members fit into society. Frank tells of his visits to an American Legion Post in Harlem where primarily African American veterans embraced him as brother and toasted his son as a fellow Marine – Semper fi!

I was moved to tears on several occasions as I read of the heroic sacrifice of young men in battle, and of their immediate superiors who took the time to write home, and I experienced anguish and depression by the rejection of these heroics by otherwise decent Americans who simply didn’t understand, because they never experienced first hand what it is all about.

AWOL is an affirmation of everything that is good and decent about America and its military might, and a siren call for participation by every American. Despite her wealth and privilege, and her Democrat background, Kathy urges voluntary persuasion to entice privileged youth to participate in America’s military. Frank, whose Republican tradition supports volunteerism, urges a universal draft to solve the problem. But both agree that, unless we solve this looming problem, our country is headed for a clouded future, where leaders have no experience with and no stake in the military they send into battle.

AWOL needs to be read by every thinking American, from all levels in society. As General Tommy Franks wrote in his introduction: “When we look for balance in a dangerous and complex world, AWOL is a good place to start.”

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