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Are American Evangelicals Seduced by Militarism?

 

Hail Jesus!November 9, 2012 / Preston Sprinkle / Jesus Creed - Are American Evangelicals Seduced by Militarism? Is militarism consistent with Christian faith?

American militarism. The very phrase evokes a cacophony of responses from the public, not least from the American Evangelical church. It’s undeniable that America is becoming more and more militarized, as several recent books have pointed out (e.g. Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism; Rachel Maddow, Drift). Some Evangelicals are quick to celebrate America’s military prowess—the bigger the better—while others see it as dangerous, if not idolatrous. For reasons state in this post and the next, I believe the latter: the American Evangelical church is largely (not completely) seduced by military might.

But what is “Militarism?” According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, “Militarism” is:

    [T]he belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests.

By “militarism,” therefore, I do not mean “the people participating in the military” (I myself come from a long line of Marines), but the overarching “belief or desire” of having a strong military to protect or advance national or religious interests. Not every member of the military, as several of my military friends have told me, actually buy into the overarching agenda of militarism.

BOOK REVIEW: Seth Kershner’s ‘Breaking the War Habit’

A first of its kind, "Breaking the War Habit" —  focuses on the historical and contemporary role of the military’s involvement in American education.


The cover of “Breaking the War Habit” by Seth Kershner, Scott Harding, and Charles HowlettOctober 3, 2022 / Maynard Seider / The Berkshire Edge - At a time when bipartisan support for war and its funding has not been higher, and when any opposing sentiment earns one the label of “Putin apologist,” if not censored, a new book entitled “Breaking the War Habit” and co-authored by a Berkshire County writer, is welcome news.

A first of its kind, the book focuses on the historical and contemporary role of the military’s involvement in American education. Currently, recruiters visit some high schools as much as 100 times a school year, and military officials teach a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp (JROTC) curriculum in more than 3,200 high schools that enroll more than 550,000 student “cadets.” Not so long ago, mandatory enrollment in ROTC at the college level was commonplace. Now, it still exists in some form in over 1,700 colleges and universities. At the same time, resistance to military programs in America’s high schools and colleges has a rich history. This history is well told by the authors.

Subtitled “The Debate Over Militarism in American Education,” the book’s lead author is Seth Kershner, a University of Massachusetts Ph.D. candidate in history from Sandisfield, and his collaborators are Scott Harding and Charles Howlett. They trace the first opposition to militarism in the country’s schools to the preeminent educational reformer, Horace Mann, who in the 1830s “insisted that schoolchildren learn that war is not heroic and demanded that history textbooks devote less attention to the subject.” In a pattern that will repeat itself well into the 20th and 21st centuries, however, the coming of war and war itself valorized military values and demanded loyalty to that end.

In fact, during the Civil War, in 1862, the government passed the Land-Grant College Act (the Morrill Act) which gave subsidies and land to state colleges with the proviso that their male students be enrolled in military training programs, the precursor of ROTC. At the same time, some high schools introduced military training programs, though federal funding for secondary level training wouldn’t become a reality until World War I.

How Counter-Recruiters Take on the U.S. Military

Military recruiters count on economic hardship to lure young people of color to sign up. Counter-recruiters are working hard to thwart their efforts.

Susan from Sustainable Options for Youth (SOY) in Austin Texas High SchoolSep 6, 2022 / Aina Marzia / YES! Media - Year after year, the same foldable table is propped up near the entrance of a high school gym. People with the same uniform but different faces, all eager to tell you about a new “opportunity,” will sit idly at the table. There will be a sign in front of the table and a clipboard on top, ready to jot down any name that will take the bait being offered.

The U.S.’s “all-volunteer military” requires people, and the search for young high schoolers to fill the ranks of the armed forces is always ongoing. Further, the military tends to prioritize recruiting low-income minority kids because, as per Anthony Clark, a U.S. Air Force veteran, “Poverty is the draft.”


Racial and Socioeconomic Discrepancies in Enlistment

From embedding militarism into public schools to setting up shop inside schools, the military will seemingly go to any lengths necessary to get more boots on the ground. Programs like Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), while not directly affiliated with recruiters, attract large enlistments from high schoolers and are introduced to students as early as freshman year. In a report by RAND Corporation in 2017, it is estimated that more than 500,000 students are enrolled in Army training programs. Further, 56% of schools with such programs offered federal reduced or free lunch options, suggesting that they serve students near or below the poverty line.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, around 64% of enlistments are of people from household incomes below $87,000, and 19% are from household incomes below $41,691. Although the CFR classifies such people as “middle income,” many social scientists point out the increasing financial precarity of the American middle class, such as Alissa Quart’s 2018 book Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America. Such research highlights how the middle class is shrinking, making income data unreliable when assessing economic hardship. While there is a common belief that the armed forces are an “all-volunteer military,” the data suggests that low-income students often view the military as an economic opportunity.

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