Charles Withuhn - Thursday, February 02, 2012 - Counter-recruiters at Fair View High School, Chico, California
Under the banner “Chico Youth Action”, Chico Peace & Justice Center’s counter recruitment campaign hit the road again. For the first time in years, (how many is in dispute), a group of Chico activists put together a program and got on a local high school campus. A couple of Thursdays ago, Chuck Greenwood, Charles Withuhn, Steve Tschudi, and Butte College student, Courtnie Burns, our only youth, braved the rain, and set up shop on the Fair View High School campus. Armed with 5 – 2’ x 4’ professionally designed panels on matching white easels, four sets of brochures, four sets of flyers and chocolate cup cakes, many thanks to Linda Furr, we interacted with, perhaps as many as 50 high school juniors and seniors.
It is remarkable how persuasive the smell of chocolate cup cakes can be in getting the attention of teenagers. We arrived about 11am and set up at the entrance of the cafeteria. You couldn’t have planned a better spot for catching the students as they came and left the lunch room. And at lunch time that is a popular spot. We would offer passing students a brochure or a cup cake, and before you know it, we were getting them information about military life that they had not heard from the evening news, their radio show, or recruiter.
It is incredible what we dug up. You know, Chico California has a major recruiting store front, with a big fancy back lit sign. A boy can join the military, go from Chico to Iraq and be more likely to die by his own hand than in combat. A girl, from Chico, can join the military and have a 1 in 3 chance of being sexually assaulted and a 9 in 10 chance of being sexually harassed. Vets are more likely to be homeless or commit suicide than their civilian counterparts, and young vets have a higher unemployment rate.
We now know from the Pentagon, itself that we no longer go to war for moral or reasons of self defense. To quote a Pentagon paper of 1991, “Our objective is to maintain access to the region’s oil.” We must admit that we have crossed a line. We now go to war for merely economic considerations. Does this mean our men and women of the military have become just mercenaries for multi-national companies, companies that have allegiance not to County, but only profit? So now, counter recruitment, for me, has become a moral response to these circumstances in which we find ourselves. As Vaclav Havel put it, “a genuine, profound and lasting change for the better…can no longer result from the victory of any particular traditional conception, but …from the fundamental reconstitution of the position of people in the world, their relationships to themselves and each other, and to the universe.”
By the end of the lunch hour we were happy with the response we got from school officials and students alike. We felt like we had connected with many students who might have considered the military. We raised questions, opened eyes, and handed out cup cakes. All was good. We folded up our exhibit and went back to our lives encouraged by the connections we had made.