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2005 Could Be a Turning Point for the Antiwar Movement

Rick Jahnkow -

Despite 2005 being the start of a second presidential term for George W. Bush, this year may bring together a number of factors that will offer the antiwar movement an important opportunity to shorten the U.S. occupation of Iraq and begin to reverse the decades-long growth of militarism in this country. However, to take advantage of this opportunity, the antiwar movement will have to think critically about its emphasis on symbolic war protest and look more closely at strategies for interfering with the flow of human resources needed for war, especially through counter-recruitment organizing.

As the year began, it should have been clear to everyone that the neocon plan for the Middle East pursued by the Bush administration had run into a brick wall. The invasion and occupation of Iraq is now the quagmire that many predicted, and U.S. actions in the region have created less political stability instead of more. Meanwhile, total annual spending on war and the military has reached almost half a trillion dollars, which is being financed by running up major deficits and proposing budget cuts in domestic programs that will generate much anger in the coming months toward Bush and his Republican majority. The increasing reports of Republican realists publicly criticizing Bush policies — especially over Iraq — indicate that beneath the surface, opinion against the neocons is growing even within the conservative base of Bush's own party.

Perhaps most importantly, a developing crisis in the military force structure caused by Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will soon push the Pentagon into a position where
it can no longer carry out the mission that has so far been handed to it. Reserve and National Guard forces now make up 40% of the troops in Iraq, but the National Guard missed its recruitment quota by 13% last year and Reserve forces are "rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force," according to a December 2004 memo by the chief of Army Reserves, Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly. Earlier in the year, a report by the Defense Science Board, a Department of Defense advisory group, concluded that the U.S. military could not maintain its current peacekeeping commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan without a significant increase in the size of the armed forces or scaling back the objectives of its missions. The Bush administration has publicly stated it intends to "stay the course," but trying to resolve this problem by increasing the size of the military is appearing to be impossible without a draft, and that route, if chosen, would be an absolute disaster for the Pentagon.

Thirty years ago, the public image and influence of the military establishment had reached a low point because of controversy over the Vietnam War and the draft that was used to fight it. When massive war resistance and the general social upheaval of the time forced an end to the draft, the Pentagon had to begin relying on aggressive marketing to fill the armed forces' ranks and improve its relationship with the public. As a result of this forced shift in strategy, the military has been gradually expanding its presence in K-12 schools and strengthening its ability to propagandize through other institutions of socialization. Those efforts, together with a less risky war fighting doctrine that grew out of the so-called Vietnam Syndrome, have helped the military establishment rehabilitate its image and expand its influence to an unprecedented level.

Right now, however, public opposition to the war in Iraq is increasing and antagonism toward the draft is still running extremely high — so high that the Republicans in Congress felt it necessary to bring Congressman Rangel's nonviable draft bill to the floor just so it could be voted down 402-2, and both Bush and Kerry felt compelled to publicly promise there would be no draft if they were elected. Furthermore, the Pentagon knows that all of its political gains over the last 30 years would be jeopardized by the firestorm of hostility that would be triggered if, once again, conscription were used to force people to fight an unpopular, risky war. It would mean that recruiters and ROTC programs would come under fierce attack on college campuses, as would the military recruiters and military-linked programs that have invaded our K-12 schools, including Jr. ROTC, military aptitude (ASVAB) testing, the Young Marines and the many military/school partnerships that have been taking root at all school levels.

If the military believes it can't marshal the resources needed to carry out its mission, and if the draft is an unacceptable solution because of the perceived likelihood of a severe political backlash, it leaves only the choice of changing the mission — which essentially means the U.S. would have to find a way to begin phasing out its occupation of Iraq relatively soon. And even though Bush has talked about staying the course, there is little else he can do if the troops, money and will are not there to continue, and if the career officers at the Pentagon become more publicly vocal in defending their own vital institutional interests — which in this case are served by changing the mission rather than resorting to a draft.

The key to actualizing this result is maintaining the perception that neither a draft nor aggressive recruiting can enable the mission to continue. The antiwar movement has an opportunity to do this by shifting its strategy to make counter-recruitment organizing and the demilitarization of schools a higher priority.

Doing this can accomplish several goals:

1. By supporting and facilitating more organizing against the military's presence in schools, we can communicate clearly that even more dire consequences are around the corner if there ever is a draft.

2. It encourages more youth activism and addresses the dangerous trend toward greater militarization of education, which if not reversed will lay the foundation for future wars and make a draft much more likely.

3. More than just offering protest, it provides a way to materially interfere with the government's ability to sustain the occupation of Iraq and pursue other preemptive wars, and in the process, we can push the Pentagon toward expressing more direct public criticism of the administration's handling of the war and of the Bush Doctrine in general.

One of the barriers to counter-recruitment activism in colleges and universities has been a set of laws, known as the Solomon Amendments, which since 1997 has threatened campuses with the loss of federal funds if they ban recruiters and ROTC. A parallel law was implemented in 2002 to stop high schools from restricting recruiter access to students and student lists. Multiple lawsuits challenging the college-related law were introduced in 2003, and on November 29, 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the Solomon Amendments violated the plaintiffs' free speech. While there is a good chance the federal government will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, there is currently an important window of opportunity to escalate college counter-recruitment organizing to a level of intensity that hasn't existed in recent years. There is also a possibility for some high school districts that formerly had restrictions on recruiter access to reinvoke them, which in the current climate of concern about predatory recruiters and the Iraq war could inspire a larger number of districts to adopt such restrictions.

Even if the court ruling against mandatory recruiter access to colleges is eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, there are still many possibilities for challenging and resisting the military's efforts to recruit and indoctrinate young people, as has been demonstrated by the grassroots groups belonging to the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (www.youthandthemilitary.org). And there is also new inspiration to be drawn from the creative direct action protests that have been recently occurring at recruiting stations, including the takeover of one recruiting center in Madison, Wisconsin, by individuals demanding that it be turned into a college financial aid office.

Organizing such activities is a way for people to actually nonviolently stand in the way of what's being done in Iraq and have a tangible effect. More antiwar activists are gradually realizing how much this is needed and that symbolic protest, though valuable, is not enough. Hopefully, a larger portion of the antiwar movement will also realize it, and 2005 will become the turning point that is badly needed.

Sources: New York Times, September 20, 2003; Baltimore Sun, January 5, 2005.

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


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)

Revised: 10-19-2019

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