Peaceful Careers Website
Peaceful Career Alternatives is an informational resource for youth with limited life options.

 

Militarization of our Schools

The Pentagon is taking over our poorer public schools.
This is the new reality for our disadvantaged youth.

 

 

What we can do

Corporate/conservative alliances threaten Democracy  .
Progressives have an important role to play.

 

Why does NNOMY matter?

Most are blind or indifferent to the problem.
A few strive to protect our democracy.

  

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.

 

The Poverty Draft

Jorge Mariscal -

Do military recruiters disproportionately target communities of color and the poor?

Recently I stumbled upon an online exchange about why young people join the military. One participant who claimed to be "on the Left" made the following assertion: "Disenfranchisement is the reason why kids join the military and they know going in that it gives them the opportunity to legally and with the blessing of our government kill, torture, and hate other people in order to give an outlet to their hostilities toward society."

Among the many youth I have met over the years as an educator and counter-recruitment activist, I have never met anyone who enlisted so that he or she could "kill, torture, and hate." While "disenfranchisement" may be an accurate word for why some youth enlist, the claim that working-class youth sign up so that they can "legally kill and torture other people" at the very least betrays a profound misunderstanding of why young people join the "all-volunteer military" and at worst reveals biases that separate Americans due to differences of class and race.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, the conservative claim that most youth enlist due to patriotism and the desire to "serve one's country" is equally misleading. The Pentagon's own surveys show that something vague and abstract called "duty to country" motivates only a portion of enlistees. But the vast majority of young people wind up in the military for different reasons, ranging from economic pressure to the desire to escape a dead-end situation at home to the promise of citizenship.

WHEN MANDATORY MILITARY service ended in 1973, the volunteer military was born. By the early 1980s, the term "poverty draft" had gained currency to connote the belief that the enlisted ranks of the military were made up of young people with limited economic opportunities.

Today, military recruiters react angrily to the term "poverty draft." They parse terms in order to argue that "the poor" are not good recruiting material because they lack the necessary education. Any inference that those currently serving do so because they have few other options is met with a sharp rebuke, as Sen. John Kerry learned last November when he seemed to tell a group of college students they could either work hard in school or "get stuck in Iraq."

President Bush led the bipartisan charge against Kerry: "The men and women who serve in our all-volunteer armed forces are plenty smart and are serving because they are patriots—and Sen. Kerry owes them an apology."

In reality, Kerry's "botched joke"—Kerry said he was talking about President Bush and not the troops—contained a kernel of truth. It is not so much that one either studies hard or winds up in Iraq but rather that many U.S. troops enlist because access to higher education is closed off to them. Although they may be "plenty smart," financial hardship drives many to view the military's promise of money for college as their only hope to study beyond high school.

Recruiters may not explicitly target "the poor," but there is mounting evidence that they target those whose career options are severely limited. According to a 2007 Associated Press analysis, "nearly three-fourths of [U.S. troops] killed in Iraq came from towns where the per capita income was below the national average. More than half came from towns where the percentage of people living in poverty topped the national average."

It perhaps should come as no surprise that 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, is focused on inner-city areas.

When working-class youth make it to their local community college, they often encounter military recruiters working hard to discourage them. "You're not going anywhere here," recruiters say. "This place is a dead end. I can offer you more." Pentagon-sponsored studies—such as the RAND Corporation's "Recruiting Youth in the College Market: Current Practices and Future Policy Options"—speak openly about college as the recruiter's number one competitor for the youth market.

Add in race as a supplemental factor for how class determines the propensity to enlist and you begin to understand why communities of color believe military recruiters disproportionately target their children. Recruiters swear they don't target by race. But the millions of Pentagon dollars spent on special recruiting campaigns for Latino and African-American youth contradicts their claim.

According to an Army Web site, the goal of the "Hispanic H2 Tour" was to "Build confidence, trust, and preference of the Army within the Hispanic community." The "Takin' it to the Streets Tour" was designed to accelerate recruitment in the African-American community where recruiters are particularly hard-pressed and faced with declining interest in the military as a career. In short, the nexus between class, race, and the "volunteer armed forces" is an unavoidable fact.

NOT ALL RECRUITS, of course, are driven by financial need. In working- class communities of every color, there are often long-standing traditions of military service and links between service and privileged forms of masculinity. For communities often marked as "foreign," such as Latinos and Asians, there is pressure to serve in order to prove that one is "American." For recent immigrants, there is the lure of gaining legal resident status or citizenship.

Economic pressure, however, is an undeniable motivation—yet to assert that fact in public often leads to confrontations with conservatives who ask, "How dare you question our troops' patriotism?" But any simplistic understanding of "patriotism" does not begin to capture the myriad of subjective motivations that often coexist alongside economic motives. Altruism—or as youth often put it, "I want to make a difference"—is also a major reason a significant number of people enlist.

It is a terrible irony that contemporary American society provides working-class youth with few other outlets besides the military for their desire for agency, personal empowerment, and social commitment. It is especially tragic whenever U.S. foreign policy turns away from national defense and back toward the imperial tradition of military adventurism, as it did in Vietnam and Iraq. Within a worldview of pre-emptive war and wars of choice, the altruism and good intentions of young people become one more sentiment to be manipulated and exploited in order to further the aims of a small group of policymakers.

In this scenario, the desire to "make a difference," once inserted into the military apparatus, means young Americans may have to kill innocent people or become brutalized by the realities of combat. Take the tragic example of Sgt. Paul Cortez, who graduated in 2000 from Central High School in the working-class town of Barstow, Calif., joined the Army, and was sent to Iraq. On March 12, 2006, he participated in the gang rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her entire family.

When asked about Cortez, a classmate said: "He would never do something like that. He would never hurt a female. He would never hit one or even raise his hand to one. Fighting for his country is one thing, but not when it comes to raping and murdering. That's not him." Let us accept the claim that "that's not him." Nevertheless, because of a series of unspeakable and unpardonable events within the context of an illegal and immoral war, "that" is what he became. On February 21, 2007, Cortez pled guilty to the rape and four counts of felony murder. He was convicted a few days later, sentenced to life in prison and a lifetime in his own personal hell.

As ex-Marine Martin Smith wrote recently in Counterpunch: "It speaks volumes that in order for young working-class men and women to gain self-confidence or self-worth, they seek to join an institution that trains them how to destroy, maim, and kill. The desire to become a Marine—as a journey to one's manhood or as a path to self-improvement—is a stinging indictment of the pathology of our class-ridden world." Like a large mammal insensitive to its offspring's needs and whereabouts, America is rolling over on the aspirations of its children and crushing them in the process.

Let us return now to our "friend" who thinks young people enlist so that they can legally kill and torture other human beings. According to this theory, Sgt. Cortez was a rapist before he enlisted. And so are others who enlist.

If young people enlist because of a predisposition to "kill and torture," why do so many U.S. troops crack under the pressure of combat and its aftershocks? Why are at least one in eight of all Iraq veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, according to a 2004 Pentagon study published in the New England Journal of Medicine? Dr. Matthew J. Friedman, executive director of the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, stated that the study's results were far too conservative. As the war in Iraq drags on, many more young veterans will experience some debilitating form of PTSD.

And if the majority of soldiers and Marines enjoy killing, why have so many filed for conscientious objector (CO) status? Hundreds of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have either begun or completed the CO process. According to Bill Galvin of the Center on Conscience and War: "For some people, the training gets to them. From stabbing dummies, to shouting 'Kill!' or 'Blood makes the grass grow!' But in the last year or two, we've been hearing people talking about their experiences in the war, or talking about the children they've witnessed being killed, or the civilians that were murdered. Some of them are wrestling with the guilt about people they may have killed or families they may have ruined."

Most people are not predisposed to kill, and so it should concern us that our children are being increasingly militarized in their schools and the culture as a whole. To take only one example: What does it mean for a society to put young people from ages 8 to 18 in military uniforms and call it "leadership training"? This is precisely what each of the more than 300 units of the Young Marines program is doing at a neighborhood school near you.

From rural America to the urban cores of deindustrialized cities, a military caste system is slowly taking shape. If recent history is any indication, our politicians will use our military less for national defense than for adventures premised on control of resources, strategic advantage, and ideological fantasies. As in the final decades of every declining empire, it's likely that many wars loom in our future.

Exactly who will have to fight and die in those wars will be determined by economic class. In order to accomplish their goals, the recruiters and politicians will exploit the hopes and dreams of mostly well-intentioned youth from humble origins who are looking for a way to contribute to a society that has lost its moral compass. As they did in Vietnam and again in Iraq, young women and men will serve their country. But how well will their country have served them?

Jorge Mariscal is the grandson of Mexican immigrants and the son of a U.S. Marine who fought in World War II. He served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and currently teaches at the University of California, San Diego.


A Call To All Activists to Shut Down the "Army Experience Center"

Pat Elder -

The children of Sparta were drilled in battle using knives and swords. At the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia the same kind of training for warfare is taking place, except children use simulated M-16 automatic rifles and M-240B light machine guns. The training in each scenario is appropriate for different kinds of battle -- facing the dreaded Athenians in hand to hand combat during the Peloponnesian War or launching hellfire missiles to "suspected terrorist targets" in Afghanistan by robotic drones controlled from digital war rooms in suburban Maryland and California.

The Spartans realized the importance of developing the ethos of a warrior caste and we're seeing that same phenomena today in America. This isn't a far-fetched notion. The Pentagon is intent on militarizing American youth at the earliest ages to cultivate this new breed of soldier, based on an ancient model.

Consider the changes made to the U.S. Army's Soldier's Creed. The old creed, discarded in 2003, had soldiers recite, "No matter what the situation I am in, I will never do anything, for pleasure, profit, or personal safety, which will disgrace my uniform, my unit, or my country. I will use every means I have, even beyond the line of duty, to restrain my Army comrades from actions disgraceful to themselves and to the uniform."

These words were scrapped for:

"I am an American Soldier. I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat."

In 2005, when Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker ordered Army recruiters in the nation's public schools to wear combat uniforms, it signaled a philosophical sea change in the tenor of military recruiting throughout the nation. It was disturbing to many recruiters, used to wearing Class A or Class B uniforms. It squarely placed the subject of polarizing, unpopular wars on the table of national discourse, reflective of President Bush's "us vs. them" mindset. Career recruiters recognized the change. Recruiter manuals were purged of references of "contracts" or references to selling. Instead, a new creature, a new animal was to be cultivated -- the warrior. Articles in the U.S. Army's Recruiting Command's "Recruiter Journal" became bellicose overnight. There was no overall strategy in the shift, according to two recruiting insiders, except that a strident, jingoistic tone was adopted in communications from the command to recruiters. The August-September 2009 edition of the Recruiter Journal calls on recruiters to "Take Back the Schools" and is filled with combat-related analogies to recruiting in high school hallways.

Another phenomenon has shaped the drift toward the goal of recruiting lifelong warriors rather than "citizen soldiers." As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged, recruiting company commands faced a diminished pool of talented, educated officers with some semblance of an educated, world view. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed a tremendous strain on the Army officer corps and systemic shortages exist in many key ranks and specialties. Consequently, this shortage of Captains and Majors has necessitated the assignment of many lower quality officers to recruiting command.

For many, war is preferable to the hassle of recruiting. "Rolling a donut," i.e., coming up with no recruits for a month, can be tortuous. Consider the five Houston battalion recruiters who've killed themselves in a relatively short period of time. Recruiters work 12- to 14-hour days, six or seven days a week. If they don't fill monthly quotas, they're criticized as failures, punished with even longer hours and threatened with losing rank or receiving poor evaluations, according to media sources. It's all about producing "bodies on the floor," that is, recruits at MEPS, the local Military Entrance Processing Command. These changes are evidence of a fundamental paradigm shift.

This shift is also characterized by a drift toward a more cloistered existence for recruiters, as evidenced by the successful unveiling of the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia. Increasingly, recruiters are persona-non-grata in thousands of communities across the nation. Their calls are anathema to parents and teens in millions of households. To counter this trend, the military is micro-targeting potential recruits. At Franklin Mills Mall, the Pentagon is going after teens "who don't have X-boxes at home," according to an active recruiter in the battalion. The Army has been disconnected from the entire southeast Pennsylvania region since the Philadelphia Battalion was moved to exurban Lakehurst Naval Air Station in NJ and renamed the Mid-Atlantic Battalion. Also, the Philadelphia MEPS wasmoved from the cityproper to Fort Dix, NJ. These actions further cloistered recruiting leadership and MEPS personnel from the citizenry they serve.

These trends will continue nationally. Since the AEC opened, five area recruiting stations have closed. Recruiters will no longer be coming into contact with the mainstream and that's just fine with the Pentagon. Developing a Warrior Caste isn't dependent on popular support. With the AEC, the Army is exposing/indoctrinating teens to a very narrow slice of what the Army does - "killing bad guys." There are nearly 200 occupational specialties in the Army. Even those serving in the infantry are called on to do a whole lot more than shoot people. The Pentagon's agenda is very clear - present a narrow view of the Army experience and hope that those indoctrinated will a) enlist; and b) volunteer for a combat MOS on their own accord.

Throughout world history, warrior castes have been built from particular regions and/or ethnicities within the territorial confines of an empire -- and we're no exception today. Our warrior caste is being built disproportionately from recruits who reign from the old south. We are witnessing the development of a military radically unmoored from the intellectual and popular center of American socio-political thought, further contributing to the refinement and further development of a new caste in American society - the warrior caste.

That brings us back to the two 13 year-olds giving each other high fives in a suburban shopping mall in Philadelphia for "wiping out ragheads" with automatic machine gun fire. The Army has plans to extend these "Experience Centers" across the country. We'd better wake up before it's too late. Join us on September 12, 2009. See: www.shutdowntheaec.net

Articles on the web about the Army Experience Center:

Counter-Recruitment Deserves Higher Priority on the Peace Agenda

Pat Elder -

The mainstream peace and justice movement is beginning to see that countering military recruitment deserves a higher priority and should be viewed in strategic, rather than tactical terms. Resisting the unprecedented and relentless militarization of American youth transcends the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countering military recruitment confronts an ugly mix of a distinctively American brand of institutionalized violence, racism, militarism, nationalism, classism, and sexism.  It gets to the root of the problem.

Confronting the work of military recruiters, particularly in the nation’s public schools will provide a catalyst for activists to shift gears from the traditional antiwar tactics of vigils, protests, sit-ins, and CD actions to the long-term strategy of opposing the militarization of youth.  The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One however, treats symptoms; the other addresses causes.

Simply put, the strategy of the counter-recruiting movement is to put the imperial armed forces of the United States into a kind of vice that squeezes new recruits from the ranks.  One end of the vice is the near universal rejection of the return of the military draft.  Remember how the House voted 402-2 against reinstating the daft back in October of 2004?  Bringing back the draft is unthinkable.  Conscription would result in demonstrations of millions that would ultimately end the war and result in a political revolution.  The crushing steel on the opposite side of the vice is the counter-recruitment movement, aided by an American public that increasingly recognizes illegal and immoral wars.

Counter recruitment activists are putting on the squeeze.  They’re doing it by learning about high school policies that favor military recruiters and they’re organizing their communities to change it.  They’re providing youth with training, employment and educational alternatives to military service.  They’re engaged with community leaders and the press in promoting a greater awareness of encroaching militarism.  And they’re being successful across the country.

The military is feeling the pressure.  The Pentagon has seriously dumbed down its enlistment qualifications and lowered its monthly quotas.  The Army is dredging the bottom of the barrel by dramatically lowering the bar for enlisting.  The percent of all Army recruits without a high school diploma has risen to 18.8%, the highest level since 1981.  The Army has also relaxed the minimum scores necessary on the standardized Armed Forces Qualification Test, (AFQT).  The percent of soldiers who have been granted waivers for alcohol or drug abuse, criminal misdemeanors, and various medical conditions has been raised from 10% to 15%.  The Army has also increased its maximum age for enlistment from 35 to 42.  The vice is turning.

Do you know the policies of your local school system regarding military recruitment?  This is how we turn the vice.  The pentagon must approach vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds and convince them it’s in their best interest to join.  It is an insidious practice and chances are you’re allowing it happen.

The military may request a list of the names, addresses and phone numbers of all the high school children in your town.  What’s your school district’s policy regarding the military recruitment “opt out” form?  Federal law says your schools are supposed to tell parents they have the right to remove their children’s names from lists being sent to the Pentagon.  What’s your high school doing?  Can students opt themselves out?  The law says they can.  Once a parent or student removes his or her name from such a list, do they have to repeat the process every year?  The law says once is sufficient.

Does your school have a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) Program?  Your local high school has probably been forced by the Federal No Child Left Behind Act to hire highly qualified teachers.  Many school districts are requiring classroom teachers to have master’s degrees after a few years of service.  Meanwhile, JROTC instructors need only a GED to teach credited courses. The stringent “No Child Left Behind” regulations exempt JROTC instructors.  There’s usually little or no curricular oversight to the program. What are they teaching?  Certainly more Clausewitz and Machiavelli than Jefferson and Thoreau!  What kind of curricular oversight does your high school exercise over this program?  If you want to stop wars, you might start asking.

Over 600,000 school children in public schools take the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test every year.  Does your school offer the test?  Why is the Pentagon testing children in the public schools?  Military recruiting manuals admit it is primarily to produce leads for recruiters.  The ASVAB is supposed to be voluntary, but many schools require all juniors and seniors to take it.  Students are forced to sign a “Student Privacy Statement,” to take the test.  This may violate your state’s laws.  One Maryland school district thought so and requires its students to have a signed permission form from their parents to take the test.   Does your school automatically forward the results from the four hour test to military recruiters?  Most do.  Some school districts have stepped in to protect student privacy and have stopped this practice.

Are military recruiters allowed to greet children as they enter the cafeteria during lunch while college recruiters are required to meet with students by appointment in the Guidance Office?  Federal law calls for military and college recruiters to have equal access to children.  Schools across the country have ordered the military to meet with students in guidance and career centers, rather than allowing recruiters to have access to the entire student body.  This is the toughest nut to crack in some districts.

Do you know if your local high school lets children out of class to shoot M-16 rifle and M-9 pistol simulators in the increasingly popular Army recruiting vans?  You should!  Are military recruiters frequenting some schools more than others due to racial and economic factors?  You ought to know.  Call your local high school principal and start asking questions.  They’re your schools and you’re paying for them, even if your children don’t attend.  The war starts in your community and it can end there too.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is a co-founder of the DC Antiwar Network (DAWN) and is a member of the Steering Committee of the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, (NNOMY).  Pat is currently involved in counter-recruitment projects in a dozen jurisdictions in the DC metropolitan area.  Pat’s work has prominently appeared in NSA documents tracking domestic peace groups.

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