The Militarization of U.S. Culture
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In Need of a Proactive Peace Movement

Rick Jahnkow -


Some important stories have appeared recently about disagreements between military commanders and the Bush administration over whether to begin a significant withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2006. A related development is the recent call for an immediate withdrawal by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA). Murtha is a decorated combat veteran who is also considered a military hawk and one of the closest congressional allies of the high-level officer corps.

Peace organizations have been quick to add Murtha’s name to the growing list of those calling for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but they’ve given scant attention to the true significance of his voice and the very potent implications of stories about military commanders’ dissatisfaction with their mission.

A more in-depth analysis of these developments and related issues can offer some important lessons on how the peace movement can hasten the end of the occupation and move proactively beyond the limited goal of ending one war.

Military Generals and the Peace Movement

For a couple of years now, some of us have been arguing that the turning point for the peace movement will come when it recognizes that counter-recruitment organizing is the most practical way to tangibly affect current U.S. foreign policy.

The argument is based on simple but compelling logic: The Bush administration and conservative-dominated Congress can continue to ignore anti-war demonstrations and other symbolic forms of protest, but they cannot ignore the fact that without enough soldiers, it is impossible to sustain a large, long-term occupation in a country like Iraq.

An additional assumption is that if the recruitment climate becomes sufficiently hostile, the military leadership will foresee serious, long-term damage to both the functionality and influence of their institution and will act to protect its interests. The combined criticism of military leaders and their allies in Congress could then produce a crisis that would force an accelerated withdrawal from Iraq and also diminish the likelihood of other U.S. invasions in the region. In essence, an “Iraq syndrome” would replace the deceased “Vietnam syndrome.”

In recent months, some elements of this equation have begun to come together. After an ominous shortfall in first-time enlistments last fiscal year, re-enlistment rates are now falling below quota, and some parts of the armed forces, especially the Army, continue to fall behind in overall recruiting. The prospects for turning this trend around look extremely poor for 2006, and according to reported comments by military insiders, the Pentagon is beginning to panic. This is apparently forcing the Bush administration to budge on its “stay the course” approach and begin talking about troop reductions in the near future.

Journalists Paul Richter and Tyler Marshall wrote the following in a Los Angeles Times article titled “U.S. Starts Laying Groundwork for Significant Troop Pullout From Iraq”:

Some analysts believe the potential long-term damage to the armed forces, not political pressure, could be the decisive factor for Bush and his advisors.

Andrew Krepinevich, a former Pentagon official who heads the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent defense research group in Washington, argues that these strains have become a key factor informing administration thinking.

Unlike the Vietnam era, when the military had a nearly endless supply of draftees, the Iraq experience has sharply reduced the flow of recruits into the volunteer armed forces and attrition rates are alarmingly high, Krepinevich noted.

Other factors, such as federal restrictions on the frequency of National Guard deployments, also limit available personnel.

This summer, differences between the White House and some military commanders over troop reductions were the result of these problems, analysts believe. Although divisions remain within the administration, there are increasing signs that Bush may be calculating that a faster drawdown carries fewer long-term risks.

“I think the administration will yield to the reality of an Army that is apparently beginning to buckle under the strain of these long-term deployments,” Krepinevich said.

The problem for military leaders wishing to express themselves publicly about this issue is that as long as they are still commissioned officers, they are discouraged by military convention and law from doing anything that could be seen as undermining the authority of their commander-in-chief, George W. Bush. If they wish to avoid legal and professional risks for speaking out, they have to find indirect ways to communicate their criticisms. This, in fact, is what some Pentagon insiders say was being done through Rep. Murtha. As noted by Alexander Cockburn in a piece posted at CounterPunch.org, “The immense significance of Rep. John Murtha's November 17 speech calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq is that it signals mutiny in the U.S. senior officer corps.” (See “The Revolt of the Generals,” Counter Punch, Dec. 3, 2005.)

Included in Murtha’s speech was the following statement, undoubtedly based on briefings he received from his Pentagon confidants:

The future of our military is at risk. Our military and our families are stretched thin. Many say the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on a third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military has lowered its standards. They expect to take 20 percent category 4, which is the lowest [intelligence] category, which they said they'd never take. They have been forced to do that to try to meet a reduced quota.

One thing the Army has done to temporarily try to keep the recruiting crisis from snowballing is lower its recruiting quotas for the early part of fiscal year 2006 (33% less than the same period in 2005). This and the acceptance of larger numbers of less qualified recruits have allowed it, so far, to claim success in meeting its quotas; but it is really only a temporary public relations move, since the reduced numbers will have to be made up later in the year. One can only assume that the Army is hoping that the recruiting climate will change by then, and more young people will be willing to enlist. But short of another major attack on U.S. soil, the only thing that is likely to bring such a change is a significant withdrawal of troops from the war zone.

The Peace Movement’s Perceptions of the Issue

All of this is important for the peace movement to understand because it corrects the simplistic assumption often made on the Left that Bush, Cheney and the neocons are totally in control and will have their way. As this view holds, the occupation of Iraq will last at least a decade, Iran and Syria will be attacked, we'll probably have a draft, and, on the extreme side, some even say fascism will be the inevitable result. However, the reality illustrated by the differences between the generals and politicians is that the U.S. government is not as monolithic as many people think, and the power structure has factions that are often seriously at odds with each other.

As we are seeing right now, there are limits to how far Bush and the neocons can go with their plan for global hegemony when the resources for it are running low. Fortunately, we are in a position to help diminish those resources more IF we apply our own efforts with a sharper focus and stronger commitment to countering military recruiting. It would further limit the government’s capacity to wage other aggressive wars and, at the same time, give the generals more motivation to become, essentially, our short-term allies.

A hopeful sign is that college and community peace activists have been giving military recruiting more attention lately. Over the last two years, for example, membership in a key discussion list for counter-recruitment organizing (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/counter-recruitment) has approximately doubled to 573, and the list's message traffic has tripled to 334 postings per month. All across the country, small grassroots efforts are springing up – sometimes attached to existing anti-war organizations, sometimes independent of any other local group. Their effectiveness can be seen in accounts of schools that have tightened up recruiter access and opened their doors to counter-recruiters, and in reports of more frequent protests at recruiting stations and during recruiter visits to colleges.

Nevertheless, there are two weaknesses in what has developed so far. One is that the peace movement in general, including its financial support base, is still focusing primarily on vigils, rallies and other symbolic forms of protest that are not directly related to military recruiting and are having no material effect. And second, among those who are turning their attention to recruiting, many activists see it only as a tactic for opposing the occupation of Iraq, and they would cease their counter-recruitment work as soon as the troops came home.

It is imperative that this issue be given a higher priority and be seen as strategic rather than tactical. The larger context that surrounds it goes well beyond Iraq and relates to, among other things, economic class, race, ethnicity, immigration status and other socio-economic factors that help determine who winds up being sacrificed in our country’s wars. Responding to this aspect of the problem necessitates, for example, compiling information at the grassroots level on employment and educational alternatives that can lessen the pressure on non-affluent youths to join the military. Taking that step, as some of the more thoughtful counter-recruitment groups have done, is an important way to forge links with communities that have traditionally not been reached effectively by the peace movement.

Another important aspect of the problem that needs to be understood and addressed by the peace movement is the ongoing militarization of the educational system that is being driven by the military’s push to recruit. The ideal of democratic, civilian control is literally under assault as our schools are increasingly invaded by programs that teach military values, instead of critical thinking, to future generations of voters and government leaders. Programs like Jr. ROTC have taken over entire high schools in some cities and now have 500,000 students enrolled as “cadets” nationwide. Units of the Young Marines have spread into hundreds of middle schools, and there is a growing network of other military/school partnerships that propagandize students throughout the K-12 system.

Teaching military values in civilian schools is not just grooming a few children to become future soldiers. It is already affecting the general public’s increased acceptance of war as a valid response to the perception of attack. It is numbing the minds of civilians so that they do not ask even the most obvious questions when the government says we must invade another country. It is turning the country further to the right and making it difficult for people to see the direct link between such choices and the lack of healthcare, safe housing, rewarding jobs, and good educations for everyone here at home.

The challenge for the peace movement, then, is to recognize the critical nature of counter-recruitment and the position of strength it offers us if we devote more attention and resources to it. Furthermore, counter-recruitment should be embraced as an important opportunity for addressing the disproportionate impact of war on those who are politically and economically less privileged than the traditional membership of the peace movement. And finally, the full scope of the problem – including the general militarization of schools and youth culture – should be taken up for the long term, not just until the present military crisis subsides. By working as long as it takes to reverse militarization at this level, we can become a proactive peace movement that is capable of preventing war instead of only reacting when it becomes inevitable.

Information sources: Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2005; www.CounterPunch.org; Christian Science Monitor, December 15, 2005.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)

Counter-Recruiting the "Hispanic Market"

Jorge Mariscal -

The 2000 census teaches us two interesting facts about the way in which Latinos are contributing to the changing face of the United States. First, more legal immigrants arrived in the decade of the 1990s than in any previous decade in our history. The economic boom (or bubble) of the Clinton years attracted large numbers of people from around the world. Second, the majority of these immigrants came from Latin America (approximately 51%; 26% are from Asian countries). For the most part, the new arrivals are workers searching for a better life, without much education, and deeply attracted by the promise of economic opportunity north of the border. The overwhelming majority of them will work hard, their children will become educated, and they will make significant contributions to our society.

Because these new immigrants have yet to experience the disconnection between the promise of democracy and equality in this country and what the country has actually delivered to working people of color over time, many of them will adopt an uncritical view of current events. If local and national authorities proclaim that war against Iraq is necessary and the mass media reinforces that message, many new arrivals will accept it as fact. Some will even join the armed forces or encourage their children to join. What better way, they ask, to show our gratitude to the United States? What better way to prove our patriotism and show that we too are real Americans?

Add to this scenario the fact that Mexican American or Chicano/a youth — that is, the children of families who have been in the U.S. for many decades, if not centuries — continue to have a relatively limited range of life opportunities. More than one-third of all Latinos are under 18 years of age. With a high school dropout rate around 40% and high rates of incarceration (in California, Latinos are 36% of the prison population but only 32% of the state population), many Latino youth see little hope for the future. The cost of a college education in California is rising sharply. Even at community colleges, where most Latino college students are found, there are proposals to double the fees. Among high school graduates attending graduate and professional programs, Latinos make up only 1.9% (compared to 3% Black, 3.8% Whites, and 8.8% Asian).

Across the board, conditions for Latinos have deteriorated since the 2000 election. After four consecutive years of increases, the median household income for Latinos decreased between 2000 and 2001. Although Latinos have a high rate of participation in the labor force, over 11% of Latino workers live in poverty. About 7% of Latinos with full-time jobs were still living below the poverty line in 2001 (compared to 4.4% of African Americans and 1.7% for Whites). What is clear from this data is that Latinos and Latinas are working extremely hard but are trapped in minimum-wage jobs. Many hold multiple jobs at low wages.

Military recruiters are well aware of this situation and have targeted Latino youth as the primary objective for their efforts in coming years. A recent "Strategic Partnership Plan for 2002-2007" written by the U.S. Army Recruiting Command notes: "The Hispanic population is the fastest growing demographic in the United States and is projected to become 25% of the U.S. population by the year 2025." The plan goes on to state: "Priority areas are designated primarily as the cross section of weak labor opportunities and college-age population as determined by both [the] general and Hispanic population."

Given the overall economic context and the military's continued interest in Latino youth — a trend initiated by Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera, who once declared that the Army could "provide the best education in the world" — we can be sure that the enlisted ranks will fill up with increasing numbers of Latinos and Latinas. (Very few Latinos make it into the officers' ranks. Among all Latinos in today's Marine Corps, for example, only 3% are officers.)

Visit any high school with a large Latino population and you will find JROTC units, Army-sponsored computer games, and an overabundance of recruiters, often more numerous than career counselors. Recently, at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles, a group of students was so appalled at the intrusive behavior of recruiters that they formed "Students not Soldiers" and demanded that real job counselors be hired.

Such acts of resistance to the ongoing militarization of U.S. culture, however, are rarely reported, so many Latino students and parents will fall prey to a limited range of opportunity and the Pentagon's propaganda blitz. As progressives involved in counter-recruitment work, we must struggle to understand the pressures on Latino communities. It will not be enough to shake our heads in disapproval at their displays of uncritical patriotism.

With war looming in the Middle East, Latino communities are slowly awakening to the fact that a permanently militarized economy and culture will not benefit them or their children. Our message to them should be that they can serve their country by excelling in work and study, by speaking out for peace and equality, and by joining the struggle to bring economic justice to all people.

Jorge Mariscal is a UC San Diego professor, a Vietnam veteran, and a member of the counter-recruitment organization Project YANO.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org)


National Counter-recruitment Movement Enters New Stage

Rick Jahnkow -

Tools makers of PeaceOver 100 activists were present in Philadelphia the weekend of June 25-27 to officially christen the new National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY). Born from a proposal made at the "Stopping War Where It Begins" counter-recruitment conference held a year earlier in Philadelphia, NNOMY is an effort to bring together the growing number of organizations and activists who are working against the militarization of young people in communities across the country. Participating in this first NNOMY conference were people from California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawai'i, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

Most of the conference participants represented organizations that have officially become network members or are considering doing so. Approximately 30 local, regional and national groups have joined so far, some of which are: Veterans for Peace, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Youth Activists/Youth Allies (NY City), Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, Pax Christi USA, CHOICES (D.C.), Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (San Diego), American Friends Service Committee, Madison Area Peace Coalition, Teen Peace in Port Townsend (WA), Los Angeles Coalition Opposed to Militarism in Our Schools, Not in Our Name, Resource Center for Non-violence in Santa Cruz (CA), and Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft. Additional memberships are pending from various other organizations.

To promote more effective networking and organizing, caucuses were formed at the conference around issue and identity themes, such as women in the military, Latinos, draft-related issues, rural organizing, people of color, youth of color and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Questioning). To broaden representation in decision-making, caucuses were invited to apply for membership status that is equal to regular organizations, and some were included in a NNOMY steering committee. Ten organizations and six caucuses were unanimously approved for the steering committee, which will make between-meeting decisions that are subject to review by the larger body of voting network members. Also adopted was a proposal from the youth caucus to have at least two steering committee members younger than 25, and to pursue the goal of majority representation by both youth and people of color.

NNOMY will continue to grow and develop plans, but an immediate course was set at the conference to pursue two goals: facilitating further development of organizing and educational resources, and promoting regional training of counter-recruitment organizers. For the near future, conference participants volunteered to collaborate on some specific resource development projects, and regional caucuses met to discuss what they could do to carry out networking and training in their geographical areas. Progress in these and other areas will depend on additional post-conference communication, so the contact information for participants will be incorporated into the Stopping War email list that was established after the national conference held in 2003. Caucuses will have their own communications networks and will, hopefully, continue to work on the special issues that brought them together.

One important facet of NNOMY is its commitment to including and supporting the various communities that are especially affected by military recruiting and the violence of militarism, including people who are victims of the military's homophobia. And since the conference dates overlapped with gay pride celebrations nationally, special materials were given to conference attendees on issues relating to militarism and sexual identity. An exciting music/spoken word event was also organized and hosted by the Attic Youth Center in Philadelphia, one of the few Queer youth centers in the country.

The NNOMY conference itself was co-hosted in Philadelphia by the American Friends Service Committee and Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. Conference planning and other tasks were shared by a number of groups that had served as an ad hoc steering committee, but the AFSC Youth and Militarism Program office provided the bulk of the on-site resources and logistical support, including the Friends Center where the conference was held.

It was especially appropriate that the founding meeting of this network occurred in a city where some of the most important revolutionary events occurred in U.S. history and within days of the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. While some of the decisions that went into the formation of the U.S. government over 200 years ago were tragically inconsistent with the ideals of liberty and justice for all, one thing that many of the country's founders got right was their perception that the growth and influence of a large military establishment would undermine civil society and progress toward democracy. Over the last 60 years, this lesson has been largely forgotten, and the traditional controls over the military that were once seen as necessary and even taken for granted have greatly eroded. In addition to the considerable influence that the Pentagon has over government decisions (including economic ones), our most important institutions of socialization, the public schools, are being overrun by people in uniform teaching military values, and popular culture is being saturated with messages that popularize soldiering and war. We are rapidly approaching a point where the long-term effects of militarization will be extremely difficult to reverse. A massive effort is needed to turn the trend around, and NNOMY is a crucial step in that direction.

The conference in Philadelphia was a time of sharing, discussing, strategizing and planning that left us at the end with an important opening to build a movement that speaks to the needs of constituencies that have traditionally not been reached very well by the U.S. peace movement. And because it focuses on interrupting the flow of human resources and challenging the mechanisms of propaganda that are needed to wage war, it is an effort that also offers people an effective way to move from war protest to war resistance, while at the same time working for long-term social transformation.

For more information, contact NNOMY c/o AFSC Youth and Militarism Program, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102; 215-241-7176; http://www.youthandthemilitary.org.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org)


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