Introduction by Tom Engelhardt , editor of Tomdispatch
The Bush administration has "basically committed most of the army's active
forces (including much of the National Guard), rotating them to the point of
exhaustion," said retired Lieutenant Colonel Charles A Krohn, former army
deputy chief of public affairs at the Pentagon and in Baghdad, in the Washington
Eric Schmitt and David S Cloud, in a front-page story in the Monday New York
Times sum up part of the problem this way:
The army says it has found ways to handle the dwindling pool of reservists eligible
to fill the support jobs [in Iraq], but some members of Congress, senior retired
army officers and federal investigators are less sanguine, warning that barring
a reduction in the Pentagon's requirement to supply 160,000 forces in Iraq and
Afghanistan, or a change in its mobilization policy, the army will exhaust the
supply of soldiers in critical specialties. "By next fall, we'll have expended
our ability to use National Guard brigades as one of the principal forces,"
said General Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star army commander who was dispatched
to Iraq last month to assess the operation. "We're reaching the bottom
of the barrel."
All of this has come in the course of fighting two small, ugly, colonial-style
wars. And just because Iraq in particular is increasingly, in Krohn's phrase,
a "sustained and unpopular war", refilling the ranks has proved no
small problem for the Pentagon, which has recently found itself scraping the
bottom of that recruitment barrel in all sorts of ways.
This may sooner or later result in what Krohn calls a "hollow army".
Add to this, the near-guaranteed loss of much of what's left of the none-too-impressive
"coalition" in Iraq in the next year - the Italians announced their
first withdrawal of forces this week (to begin in September), the British are
planning a major drawdown relatively soon, the stay of the Japanese troops (already
largely locked inside their base in southern Iraq) is in question - and the
Bush administration is soon likely to find itself, like the cheese of children's
song, standing very much alone in its mission, with a major domestic and international
recruitment crisis on its hands.
In fact, we may be watching a new phenomenon: withdrawal by military overstretch.
Now, thanks to one of those documents that seems to leak constantly from crucial
file drawers in England these days - a memo written by British Defense Minister
John Reid - we know that not just the British, but the Pentagon has been seriously
considering a major draw-down of forces in Iraq by early 2006, a near halving
of American troop strength there.
According to the Washington Post, "The [British] paper, which is marked
'Secret - UK Eyes Only', said 'emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces
could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006', allowing a reduction in
overall US-led forces in Iraq to 66,000 troops ... The undated memo, which was
reported in the newspaper The Mail on Sunday, stated that 'current US political
military thinking is still evolving. But there is a strong US military desire
for significant force reductions to bring relief to overall US commitment levels'."
Of course, given that it's Iraq we're talking about, between planning document
and reality there are likely to be many pitfalls.
And the "withdrawal" is conceptual as well. The American imperial
mission is visibly buckling under the strain. (The 19th century British must
be turning over in their graves as American power crumbles under the weight
of small wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.) Until recently, the Pentagon, in its
congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review, has stuck to a two-war
model of global dominance - our military should, in essence, be able to mount
a decisive invasion of Iraq and fight a second major campaign elsewhere on the
planet almost as decisively at more or less the same moment (while still being
capable of defending what is now commonly referred to as "the homeland").
Just last week, however, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times
reported ("Pentagon Weighs Strategy Change to Deter Terror") that
the "Pentagon's most senior planners" were challenging that model
in fierce internal debates and were opting instead for being prepared to wage
but a single invasion-of-Iraq-style war combined with smaller counterinsurgency
operations and a bolstering of domestic anti-terrorism defenses. As Fred Kaplan
recently commented in Slate online ("The Doctrine Gap"), this will
probably make no actual difference in the size, shape or staggering cost of
our military. But it is significant nonetheless. It represents a downsizing
of ambitions, what the ancient Chinese might have called "the rectification
of names" - or the bringing of the naming of things back into line with
And inside the Pentagon that reality couldn't be clearer right now. After all,
with the civilian leadership of the Bush administration proving itself almost
incapable of finding willing natives out there in the imperium to fight its
wars for it, military representatives have been discovering in the past year
that the natives at home are restless as well. The services have responded to
this situation by trolling desperately for future troops, thinking about a draft,
and, as we know from recent news reports, starting to cut endless corners. Recruiters,
for instance, preying on the supposed naivete and susceptibility to bullying
tactics of adolescents, have been discovered instructing teens in lying to their
parents, forging documents, and beating the army's drug-test system. When all
else failed, jail time seems to have been a threat of choice. Interestingly,
some of those teens have fought back, going public with a spate of scandalous
revelations that forced a one-day "values stand-down" during which
the military's recruiting standards were to be reviewed.
As Nick Turse shows below, the military has ramped up its operations not only
out there in the real world, but in the ether of the Internet, where that handsome,
friendly civilian you might just happen to run across may turn out to be none
other than your local recruitment officer on the prowl.
How the Pentagon targets teens
By Nick Turse
It's been a tough year for the US military. But you wouldn't know it from the
Internet, now increasingly packed with slick, non-military looking websites
of every sort that are lying in wait for curious teens (or their exasperated
parents) who might be surfing by. On the ground, the military may be bogged
down in a seemingly interminable mission that was supposedly "accomplished"
back on May 1, 2003, but on the Internet it's still a be-all-that-you-can-be
world of advanced career choices, peaceful pursuits and risk-free excitement.
While there has been a wave of news reports recently on the Pentagon's problems
putting together an all-volunteer military, or even a functioning officer corps,
from an increasingly reluctant public, military officials are ahead of the media
in one regard. They know where the future troops they need are. Hint: they're
not reading newspapers or watching the nightly prime-time news, they are surfing
the Web, looking for entertainment, information, fun and perhaps even a future.
In addition to raising the maximum enlistment age, no longer dismissing new
recruits out of hand for "drug abuse, alcohol, poor fitness and pregnancy",
allowing those with criminal records in, and employing such measures as hefty
US$20,000 sign-up bonuses (with talk of proposed future bonuses of up to $40,000,
along with $50,000 worth of "mortgage assistance") to coerce the cash-strapped
to enlist in the all-volunteer military, one of the military's favorite methods
of bolstering the rolls is targeting the young - specifically teens - to fill
What the military truly values is green teens. Not surprisingly, the Pentagon
pays companies like Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU), which claims it offers
its "clients virtually unlimited methods for researching teens" to
get inside kids' heads. It was also recently revealed that the Department of
Defense, with the aid of a private marketing firm, BeNow, had created a database
of 12 million youngsters, some only 16 years of age, as part of a program to
identify potential recruits. Armed with "names, birth dates, addresses,
Social Security numbers, individuals' email addresses, ethnicity, telephone
numbers, students' grade-point averages, field of academic study and other data",
the Pentagon now has far better ways and means of accurately targeting teens.
Pentagon on the prowl
BeNow and TRU, however, are just two of a number of private contractors working
through JAMRS - the Pentagon's "program for joint marketing communications
and market research and studies" - to fill the ranks of our increasingly-less-eager-to-volunteer
military. JAMRS claims that it's only developing "public programs [to]
help broaden people's understanding of military service as a career option".
However, it also hires firms to engage in all sorts of not-for-public-consumption
studies that are meant to "help bolster the effectiveness of all the services'
recruiting and retention efforts". Put another way, behind the scenes the
military is in a frantic search for weak points in the public's growing resistance
to joining the armed services. Some of this is impossible to learn about because
access to the studies via the JAMRS web portal is restricted. Should you visit
and inquire about examining their research, you are told in no uncertain terms
that "access is currently limited to certain types of users" - none
of which is you.
What we do know, however, is that JAMRS is currently focusing on the following
areas of interest in an attempt to bolster the all-volunteer military:
Hispanic barriers to enlistment. A project to "identify
the factors contributing to under-representation of Hispanic youth among military
accessions" and "inform future strategies for increasing Hispanic
representation among the branches of the military".
College drop outs/stop outs study. A project "aimed to
gain a better understanding of what drives college students to ... drop out
and determine how the services can capitalize on this group of individuals (ages
Mothers' attitude study. "This study gauges the target
audience's (270 mothers of 10th and 11th-grade youth) attitudes toward the military
During the Vietnam War, Hispanics took disproportionate numbers of casualties
and similar disparities have been reported in Iraq. JAMRS, apparently, is looking
to make certain that this military tradition is maintained. Additionally, eyebrows
ought to be raised over a Pentagon that is looking at ways to influence the
mothers of teens to send their sons and daughters off to war and at a military
eager to study what it takes to get kids to "drop out" of school and
how the military might then scoop them up.
Perhaps the most intriguing line of research, however, is the "Moral Waiver
Study" whose seemingly benign goal is "to better define relationships
between pre-service behaviors and subsequent service success". What the
JAMRS informational page doesn't make clear, but what might be better explained
in the password-protected section of the site, is that a "moral character
waiver" is the means by which potential recruits with criminal records
are allowed to enlist in the US military.
Another of JAMRS' partners is Mullen Advertising, which "works with JAMRS
on an array of marketing communications, planning, and strategic initiatives.
This work includes public-facing, influencer-focused joint offline and online
advertising campaigns". One Mullen effort is the very unmilitary-sounding
MyFuture.com. It's a slick website with information on such topics as living
on your own, writing a cover letter, or finding a job and includes tips on dressing
for success. ("Take extra time to look great.")
Without the usual tell-tale ".mil" domain name, MyFuture offers what
seems like civilian career advice (albeit with some military images sprinkled
throughout). You can, for instance, take its "work interest quiz"
to discover if you should "go to college or look for a job". However,
the more you explore, the more you see that the site is really about steering
youngsters towards the armed forces.
For example, when you take that quiz, you are prompted to ask your school guidance
counselor "about taking the ASVAB Career Exploration Program if you'd like
to know more about your aptitudes, values, and interests..." Not mentioned
is that the ASVAB is actually the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery
- a test developed during the Vietnam War as "the admissions and placement
test for the US military".
When I took the quiz, I was told: "Based on your responses to the activities
listed, here are the work styles that may be appropriate for you: investigative
[and] artistic." To follow up on my investigative aptitude, MyFuture.com
offered eight civilian career suggestions, ranging from veterinarian to meteorologist.
It also recommended eight military counterparts, including law enforcement and
security specialist. For my artistic aptitude, MyFuture suggested that I "may
like activities that: 'Allow [me] to be creative [and] let [me] work according
to [my] own rules'." Apparently, there are eight military jobs that will
allow me to stretch my imagination and do just what I want, artistically speaking.
Who knew, for example, that the perfect move for an artistic, freethinker would
be joining an organization based on authority and conformity - and then becoming
a "food service specialist"?
MyFuture.com claims that its "website is provided as a public service",
while the JAMRS site refers to it as a "public site for potential military
candidates to discover more about career opportunities appropriate for their
interests". Of course, it's really an effort to recruit kids.
Tomorrow's military, today?
Another Mullen Advertising-created site is aimed at a different population.
Like MyFuture, Today'sMilitary.com is a polished-looking site that lacks a ".mil"
in its web address, but instead of targeting teens, the website announces that
it "seeks to educate parents and other adults about the opportunities and
benefits available to young people in the military today". In JAMRS-speak,
that means it's a "public site targeted at influencers".
Today'sMilitary.com is filled with information on financial incentives available
to those who join the military and web pages devoted to "what it's like"
to be in the armed forces and how the military can "turn young diamonds
in the rough into the finest force on the face of the earth". We learn
that army basic training is "[m]ore than just pushups and mess halls".
In fact, quite the opposite of a torture test, it's actually a "nine-week-long
journey of self-discovery".
The Marines' boot camp comes across as an even more routine, though less introspective,
affair with nary a mention of its rigors aside from "a final endurance
test of teamwork". Scanning through the pages, we even learn that life
in the military is not just "exciting, challenging and hugely rewarding",
but that in their off-time, military folk "go for walks ... and they even
shop for antiques" (which may account for some of the antiquities that
seem to go missing from Iraq).
Today'sMilitary even takes the time to dispel "myths" like: "People
in the military are not compensated as well as private sector workers."
According to Today'sMilitary they are - just don't tell it to the Marines, who
recently roughed up their highly-paid mercenary counterparts in Iraq. "One
Marine gets me on the ground and puts his knee in my back. Then I hear another
Marine say, 'How does it feel to make that contractor money now'?" So reported
a former Marine now working in the war zone as a "private security contractor".
Mercenaries in Iraq generally rake in $100,000 to $200,000 per year. Earlier
this year, under pressure from Congress, the Pentagon announced that it, too,
would start paying out this type of cash. One caveat - you've got to be dead.
Such unpleasantries as death and combat go largely unmentioned on Today'sMilitary.com
(or on any of the other sites mentioned in this article). In fact, the only
such allusion is on a web page that coaches parents on ways to push their children
to consider the military. It instructs parents to "encourage them with
subtle hints" to foster conversation on the subject and offers talking
points to refute the possible trepidations of your own little potential enlistee
about the armed forces. Among the "tough questions" a child might
raise is a simple fact, driven home nightly on the news - "It's dangerous."
Today'sMilitary offers the following answer:
There's no doubt that a military career isn't for everyone. But you and your
young person may be surprised to learn that over 80% of military jobs are in
non-combat operations ... A military career is often what you make of it.
Tell that to non-combat troops like Jessica Lynch, the late Corporal Holly Charette
and her fellow 14 casualties from a recent suicide car-bomb attack on a Marine
Corps Civil Affairs team in Fallujah, or the large number of other troops in
support roles who have found themselves directly in harm's way. As a Voice of
America article recently put it, "Increasingly, there is a fine line between
combat and non-combat jobs, especially in a place like Iraq, where there is
no front line, and any unit can find itself in a firefight at any moment."
Assault and (aptitude) battery
Major General Michael Rochelle, head of the Army Recruiting Command, recently
stated, "Having access to 17 to 24-year-olds is very key to us. We would
hope that every high school administrator would provide those lists [of student
phone numbers and addresses] to us. They're terribly important for what we're
trying to do." In the wake of the revelation of the Pentagon's massive
new database of America's youth, chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita claimed,
"We are trying to use appropriate methods to make ourselves competitive
in the marketplace for these kids who have a lot of choices." But as Nation
magazine editor Katrina van den Heuvel recently wrote in her Editor's Cut blog,
it isn't just choices keeping the kids away:
The debacle in Iraq has made recruiting an impossibly difficult job and recruiters
are sinking to new lows in the face of growing pressure to fulfill monthly quotas
as well as fierce opposition from parents who don't support the president's
botched Iraq war mission.
One of the military's new lows brings us back to the subject of ASVAB and the
methods of the Vietnam era. Faced then with the need for expendable troops,
secretary of defense Robert McNamara instituted an unholy coupling of the war
on poverty and the war in Vietnam - Project 100,000. Project 100,000 called
for the military, each year, to admit into service 100,000 men who had failed
its qualifying exam. The program claimed that it would outfit those who failed
to meet mental standards, men McNamara called the "subterranean poor",
with an education and training that would be useful on their return to civilian
life. Instead of acquiring skills useful for the civilian job market, however,
"McNamara's moron corps" as they came to be known within the military
were trained for combat at markedly elevated levels, were disproportionately
sent to Vietnam, and had double the death rate of American forces as a whole.
Today, a desperate Pentagon seems to be following a strikingly similar path.
As Eric Schmitt of the New York Times has written, the army is increasingly
turning to high-school dropouts, has already almost doubled last year's number
of recruits scoring in the lowest level on the ASVAB and is "accepting
hundreds of recruits in recent months who would have been rejected a year ago".
Meanwhile, those who happen on the Pentagon's ASVAB website will find another
slick design, with few military trappings, no ".mil" web address and
lots of objective career counseling. You have to troll around the site to discover
in the fine print that it's offered as a "public service by the US Department
of Defense, Defense Manpower Data Center".
Like Today'sMilitary.com, the ASVAB site makes a pitch to parents, exhorting
them to "encourage your teen to take the ASVAB". It also tries to
influence teachers to "integrate the ASVAB program Into the classroom",
even recommending that portions be "assigned as homework" to students.
Strapped for bodies, the Pentagon is putting on a full court press to fill
the ranks. Its new package of promotion includes: big signing bonuses and drastically
lowered standards; NASCAR, professional bull-riding, and arena football sponsorships;
video games that double as recruiting tools; TV commercials that drip with seductive
scenes of military glory or feature The Apprentice host Donald Trump; disingenuous
career counseling websites; and an integrated "joint marketing communications
and market research and studies" program actively engaged in measures to
target Hispanics, "drop outs" and those with criminal records for
military service. The Department of Defense, in short, is pulling out all the
stops, sparing no expense, and spending at least $16,000 in promotional costs
alone for each single soldier signed up.
Obviously, the Pentagon wants recruits badly and cash-strapped teens represent
one of the best chances to fill uniforms. The military clearly thinks that America's
youth couldn't really pass your basic intelligence test. Its websites downplay
danger and its slick TV commercials show bloodless scenes of adventure and heroism
that don't square with images (and news) now coming home from Iraq to anybody's
neighborhood. From hiccuping recruitment rates, it's clear, however, that America's
teens already know these ads and websites are missing a few critical elements
- scenes of American troops acting as foreign occupiers, killing civilians,
torturing detainees, fanning the flames of discontent and failing to deliver
basic safety or security not just for Iraqis but for their own troops.