The armed forces today are a much smaller, professional, and - since 1973 - an all-volunteer force. There are only 1.3 million people on active duty, including 372,000 in the U.S. Navy, and 172,000 in the Marine Corps. The World War II navy of more than 6,000 ships is now just over 300. The mindset of massive reserve force mobilization (four out of five serving in the U.S. Navy in 1945 were reservists) has given way to more professional reserve forces (89,936 in the U.S. Navy, 40,018 in the Marines) that contribute 20 percent of our everyday, global missions, resident only in the reserves. We spend only about three percent of our gross national product on defense, the lowest level since the 1930s.
Our weapons systems give us combat power that goes a long way toward replacing the sheer numbers of people and equipment used in World War II. Precision weapons have helped tremendously in this regard, as well as advances in command and control, and intelligence capabilities. As recently witnessed in Iraq and Kosovo, these weapons and the care with which we employ them are achieving military and political goals with very few casualties - on both sides.
Our military is well educated. Virtually all service members are in the top two-thirds of our population on standardized tests; a significant majority are in the top half. More than nine out of ten enlisted men and women are high school graduates. All officers are college graduates. Several thousand have Ph.D.s. Officers with master's degrees are common. The training received by both officers and the enlisted force is highly technical, and, with smaller cohorts, they increasingly experience responsibility and leadership at an early age. There has been a rise in the professionalization - and specialization - of our service members.
Of course, we have created challenges with our successes: our technology has created ex-pectations that we can achieve military gains with less and less risk - an admirable, but not always attainable, goal; our professional and highly educated enlisted and officer corps are more difficult to retain because they are more marketable in the civilian workforce than ever before; the success of the all-volunteer force requires us to revamp our personnel systems so that we value soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines as highly trained professionals, not a fluctuating force of conscripts as in the past; and a smaller force assumes a great deal about the nature of conflict to come, leaving us open to risk should the scale and nature of conflict differ from our expectations.
Perhaps the greatest challenge, however, comes from our collective need for perspective. . . . the significant changes in our society since World War II have meant that the military and society at large gaze across a divide of sorts. As a result, we are starting to ask important questions: while a majority of America's young men served in World War II, now only five percent of young people will serve with the military. How will that affect support for our armed forces and the integration of service members into our national life? How disconnected are the military from the society it protects, including academia, government, and business? And, how much does that matter?