The Militarization of U.S. Culture
Militarism destroys our hopes for a sustainable and truly democratic society.
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Before You Enlist (2018)

Straight talk from soldiers, veterans  and their family members tells what is missing  from the sales pitches presented by recruiters  and the military's marketing efforts.

 

How Military Recruiters Pitch to Latinos

Jorge Mariscal -

PowerPoint Racism

In a 1958 CIA information report on revolutionary activities in Cuba, the agent in charge wrote "Che [Guevara] is fairly intellectual for a Latin." A racist assertion such as this was not uncommon in government documents. Throughout the Cold War, official bureaucratic language and content continued to be influenced by long-standing"scientific" theories about national character and racial psychology.

Those of us engaged in anti-racist activism and research are well aware that many racial stereotypes with origins in earlier centuries persist in corporate boardrooms, universities, and shop floors across America. But although we know the conservatives’ claims about "level playing fields," "the end of racism," and "post-civil rights society" are hollow rhetoric, we can still be stunned to find 19th century images and assumptions being reproduced in public spaces at the beginning of the 21st century.

As has been widely reported in the media over the last two years, the Pentagon’s interest in young Latino men and women peeked in the late 1990s when demographic indicators revealed that Latino youth would be the largest pool of military age youth in coming decades. Because Latino youth were (and continue to be) underrepresented in the military and because their educational and economic opportunities are limited compared to other groups, recruiting strategists have been busy concocting a series of well-funded "Hispanic initiatives."

For almost a decade, the Pentagon has thrown millions of dollars at Spanish-language recruitment campaigns and promoted fast-track naturalization procedures for non-citizens. Even laudable proposals that would provide provisional residency for non-citizen students so that they could attend college (the DREAM Act) have been salted with covert military options (see note below).

The Return of "Scientific" Racism

One of the founding documents of modern racism is Count Arthur de Gobineau’s The Inequality of Human Races (1853-1855). This remarkable manual of racist thinking found its most enthusiastic audience in the German Reich but also exerted its influence over all Western racisms, especially their North American mutations.

In the conclusion to his chapter on the "Inequalities of languages," Gobineau writes: "All the facts, however, mentioned in this chapter go to prove that, originally, there is a perfect correspondence between the intellectual virtues of a race and those of its native speech; that languages are, in consequence, unequal in value and significance as races are also that their qualities and merits, like a people’s blood, disappear or become absorbed, when they are swamped by too many heterogeneous elements Hence, though it is often difficult to infer at once, in a particular case, the merits of a people from those of its language, it is quite certain that in theory this can always be done."

Today, Gobineau’s name is known to only a handful of scholars. But the racist logic that informed his writings lives on deep in the structures of U.S. society.

During a 2005 training session for employees of the Department of Defense’s Joint Advertising and Marketing Research and Studies program (JAMRS), representatives of the New York-based Michael Saray Hispanic Marketing firm made a power point presentation designed to upgrade the military’s campaign to attract Latino youth.

The mission of JAMRS, according to the official website, is the following: "Our marketing communications programs help broaden people’s understanding of Military Service as a career option, while our internal government market research and study programs help bolster the effectiveness of all the Services’ recruiting and retention efforts." The presentation by the Saray group, whose clients include major corporate players such as Allstate and Geico, was designed to explain "Hispanics" to JAMRS employees in order to facilitate the military’s niche marketing efforts.

This kind of activity belies the Pentagon’s frequent contention that recruiters do not target by ethnicity. In fact, reports such as the one prepared by the CNA Corporation in 2004 reveals that the Marine Corps recruiting station in San Diego, California, collects detailed information on "economic and race/ethnic distributions in its fifteen substations and eleven contact areas." The report notes that "Hispanics" make up 31% of the population in this station area that stretches from the U.S.-Mexico border to southern Utah.

In the "Language and Cultural DNA" section of the Saray group’s presentation, we learn three important assumptions: 1) "Latinos are culturally ‘hard wired’ differently," 2) "Hispanics" are "right brain" and thus "emotional, intuitive, creative, and visionary" (unlike "left brain" groups who are "intellectual, sequential, analytical, logical"), and 3) "America’s system of education was built on a strong cultural bias toward the left hemisphere of the brain."

Citing a study by the influential Yankelovich, Inc., public opinion research firm, presenters showed audience members a typology of consumers composed of four basic types: "Fervents, Indifferents, Practicals, and Emotionals." According to the study’s authors, "Hispanics are twice as likely to be Emotionals."

Simply put, JAMRS trainees were taught "the Spanish language has not favored intellect over emotion. It’s [sic] bias or thought process has not favored the left brain over the right brain. This is a real cultural difference." Therefore, the Saray group’s advice to Pentagon ad men devising Hispanic campaigns for military recruitment is to "avoid blatant overuse of numbers. You want to reach the heart, not the left brain." To sum up, "the traditions of Hispanic culture are not necessarily in-synch with the concept of ‘mainstream society’ or the ‘American Dream.’ In general, Hispanics are right brain thinkers. The marketer must ‘acculturate’ or risk losing relevancy by continued reliance on left brain thinking."


The Fastest Growing Segment of the Population-Hispanic Right Brain Emotionals

What is not at all clear is the extent to which Pentagon officials subscribe to the Saray’s group language-based system of racial types. One can only assume that the consequences for diversifying the officer corps, to take one area where Latinos are grossly underrepresented, would be quite negative since undoubtedly no one wants "right brain" non-logical and emotional officers leading troops into battle.

A cursory examination of recent recruiting advertisements, however, suggests that the JAMRS audience, like other government and corporate policymakers, was already in tune with the contents of the Saray presentation. Ads featuring adoring Latina mothers and slogans like "¿Estás listo para lo que te espera?" ("Are you ready for wait awaits you?"-emotional and painfully ironic given the war in Iraq) have proliferated since the "war on terror" began.

As journalists Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, authors of One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century, told Amy Goodman on a recent "Democracy Now!" program, Republican planners in the 2004 election operated from a set of stereotypes similar to those promoted by the Saray and Yankelovich marketers: "George W. Bush won 40% of the Hispanic vote nationally, which is a pretty remarkable number for Republicans and they did this with a strategy that some strategists call the "I love you" strategy, where they manage to appeal to a sense of emotion, rather than issues, in the case of Latinos."

According to this racializing model, "right-brain" irrational Hispanics, unsuited for "America’s system of education," will vote their way into Karl Rove’s projected Republican majority, and for decades to come fill the ranks of the lowest echelons of the service sector, the prison system, and the combat units of America’s imperial army. Were he alive today Che Guevara, whom a CIA operative once described as "fairly intellectual for a Latin," would undoubtedly be asking progressive Latinos what they plan to do about it.

JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran and director of the Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at: jorgemariscal.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


What Veterans See

Jorge Mariscal -

A Country in a Bubble

In August of 1945, Ralph Mariscal, Jr., a 23 year-old son of Mexican immigrants and a U.S. Marine, sat waiting off the coast of Japan with thousands of other troops. The invasion would be bloody, they had been told, but as it turned out history would take a different course. Rather than invading Japan, my father and U.S. forces landed at Sasebo among the first contingent of U.S. occupation forces. What he saw in nearby Nagasaki would stay with him forever.

Military veterans tend to view commonplace things through a different lens. Because they have seen the best and the worst of human behavior they have little patience for empty bravado and posturing. Today my father and his 80-something veteran pals refer to President Bush as "Little Napoleon." The cowboy swagger with arms swinging wide at the hips signals "chicken hawk" to them. They always get a good laugh at the commander-in-chief’s expense.

When my colleague Gus Chavez, who taught for years at SDSU, is at the San Diego airport, he watches the young Marines just out of boot camp. Most of them will wind up in Iraq. What he really sees are the injured soldiers and Marines he treated as a Navy corpsman at the Balboa Hospital throughout the early years of the U.S. war in Southeast Asia.

When Vietnam vet Charley Trujillo listens to interviews with young GIs in Iraq, he hears the voices of his comrades in arms whose only objective was to get home alive. When he listened to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation speech in which he implied the war in Iraq was simply too complex for the American public to understand, he heard the arrogant assertions of Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara, the architect of the U.S. adventure in Vietnam.

Most folks are amused when the Dodge Nitro commercial shows a car being blown a hundred feet into the air. But the veteran sees improvised explosive devices going off on Iraqi roads, their friends blown up before their eyes.

Most folks are shocked to hear a "special report" on CNN about how military recruiters distort the truth in order to meet their quotas. Veterans smile knowingly. They never met anyone in the service to whom a recruiter had not told a half-truth or an outright lie.

Most folks parrot the slogan "Support our troops." They put yellow ribbon and American flag stickers on their cars. Veterans wonder how supporting our troops can mean sending them to fight in a war with no clearly defined mission and no clearly defined exit strategy in a country that never posed a threat to the United States.

What is most striking to all veterans when they return from the combat zone is the way in which daily life appears to go on as if nothing was different. Football, malls, movies-does anyone realize that young men and women in uniform are surrounded by death and dying in a killing field faraway? Civilians see the headlines about Britney Spears’ divorce, but veterans see a country living in a bubble.

JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran and director of the Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at: jorgemariscal.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Growing the Military

Jorge Mariscal -

In late December 2006, the Bush administration reversed its previous position and agreed to a permanent expansion of the Army and Marine Corps. In reality, the size of the two "ground services" has grown steadily since 2001 when Congress approved a temporary increase of 30,000 to the Army and authorized additional increases to the Army and Marines in 2005 and 2006. The current proposal would make these increases permanent and by 2012 achieve the objective of an active-duty Army of 542,400 and a Marine Corps of 190,000.

In their public statements, Pentagon officials claimed that finding the bodies to reach these goals would not be difficult. Increased bonuses, massive publicity campaigns, and appeals to patriotism would be enough to attract volunteers, they argued.

Lesser-known programs such as the Army GED Plus Enlistment Program in which applicants without high school diplomas are allowed to enlist while they complete a high school equivalency certificate are expected to help (interestingly, the GED Plus Enlistment Program is available only in inner city areas). The Army’s recent fudging of entrance requirements to accept an increased percentage of recruits with minor criminal records may also raise enlistment numbers.

Given the prospect of a prolonged U.S. presence in Iraq, however, the Pentagon’s optimistic predictions about increasing the size of the ground services by making minor adjustments to existing recruiting practices may not pan out. In anticipation of difficult days ahead for recruiters, no sooner had Bush announced his decision than conservative think tanks began to recycle proposals about recruiting foreigners into the U.S. military.

In a recent Boston Globe article, unidentified Army sources reported that Pentagon officials and Congress are investigating "the feasibility of going beyond U.S. borders to recruit soldiers and Marines." Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute, and Max Boot of the Council on Foreign relations cited historical precedents for using foreign troops. Since at least 2005 Boot has been recommending the establishment of "recruiting stations along the U.S.-Mexico border" as a way to solve the problems of military manpower and illegal immigration.

But the fact that several sources in the Globe article, including spokesmen for the Army and the Latino advocacy group National Council for La Raza (NCLR), expressed disagreement with proposals to recruit foreign nationals means that other more feasible options may begin to surface.

A likely scenario is that the Pentagon will focus on one specific sector of the undocumented population–foreign nationals raised and educated in the United States. According to the Urban Institute, every year approximately 60,000 undocumented immigrants or children of immigrants (who have lived in the United States five years or longer) graduate from U.S. high schools. By marketing the military to this group, problems associated with the recruitment of foreigners such as poor English language skills and low educational levels could be alleviated.

So far military recruiters have limited their efforts to the pursuit of citizens and permanent residents (green card holders). It is a little-known fact, however, that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 amended current legal statutes by allowing military service secretaries to waive citizenship and residency requirements "if such Secretary determines that the enlistment of such person is vital to the national interest" (U.S. Code Title 10, Chapter 31, §504: 2006).

Is the DREAM Act the Pentagon’s Dream Too?

If the Pentagon were to decide to exercise its new prerogative and begin to recruit undocumented youth in order to grow the Army and Marines, the most obvious selling point would be permanent residency and eventual citizenship. This in fact is one of the little-known aspects of the DREAM Act, legislation that would grant conditional residency to most undocumented high school graduates and permanent residency in exchange for the successful completion of two years of college or two years of military service.

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 10, 2006, Under Secretary of Defense David Chu said: "According to an April 2006 study from the National Immigration Law Center, there are an estimated 50,000 to 65,000 undocumented alien young adults who entered the U.S. at an early age and graduate from high school each year, many of whom are bright, energetic and potentially interested in military service…Provisions of S. 2611, such as the DREAM Act, would provide these young people the opportunity of serving the United States in uniform."

More recently, Lt. Col. Margaret Stock of the U.S. Army Reserve and a faculty member at West Point told a reporter that the DREAM Act could help recruiters meet their goals by providing a "highly qualified cohort of young people" without the unknown personal details that would accompany foreign recruits. "They are already going to come vetted by Homeland Security. They will already have graduated from high school," she said. "They are prime candidates."

The lure of citizenship is already a tool for recruiting green card holders, especially because of expedited naturalization procedures put in place for military personnel in 2002. In San Diego, for example, recruiters have told permanent residents "I can help you get citizenship" when in fact the military has no input into the final granting or denial of citizenship.
Although exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, roughly 20% of legal residents in the military who have applied for naturalization since late 2001 have been denied citizenship. This suggests that military service carries no guarantee that permanent residents will be granted the one benefit for which they probably enlisted and for which they may be forced to risk their life.

Other anecdotes recount recruiters threatening that the immigration status of recruits and their family would be affected should the recruit try to back out of an enlistment agreement. More devious recruiters have used the law requiring undocumented youth to register for Selective Service as a way to convince non-English speaking parents that there is obligatory military service in the United States.

The expansion of the recruiting pool to include the undocumented would be a Recruiting Command’s dream and may be the only way for the Pentagon to increase the size of the Army and Marines Corps. A 2006 study by the Migration Policy Institute calculated that passage of the DREAM Act "would immediately make 360,000 unauthorized high school graduates aged 18 to 24 eligible for conditional legal status [and] that about 715,000 unauthorized youth between ages 5 and 17 would become eligible sometime in the future."

Ironically, nativist and restrictionist groups as well as anti-militarism activists will oppose the recruitment of the undocumented although for completely different reasons. Organizations such as National Council for La Raza (NCLR) that oppose the recruitment of foreigners would most likely support a vehicle for recruiting undocumented graduates from U.S. high schools. In May 2006, NCLR praised the passage of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (Senate Bill 2611) that included a DREAM Act provision.

While the DREAM Act may facilitate access to college for a small percentage of these undocumented students, in many cases other factors will militate against the college option. Given the difficulty undocumented youth have in affording college tuition, the pressure on them to make financial contributions to extended families, and the tendency among many to adopt uncritical forms of patriotism based on "gratitude," military not college recruiters may be the ones who benefit the most.

As one undocumented student wrote to me:

"I was brought to America [from Mexico] when I was 12. I am 21 now and I am only going to college because in the state of Illinois I pay in-state tuition despite being illegal. I would serve in the military if I was given an opportunity to do so and DIE for America if necessary. Shouldn’t I be able to be legal?"

Military manpower needs, limited economic and educational opportunity, and the desire for social acceptance could transport immigrants and their children to the frontlines of future imperial misadventures such as the quagmire in Iraq.

JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran and director of the Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at: jorgemariscal.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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