Editor's Note: Last Sunday ... on Mother's Day ... my family and I were driving
through Pennsylvania on Route 220 near Ebensburg, PA, returning to Boston following
visit with my aging mother. We stopped at a pharmacy next to a large Walmart
store. As I waited in the car, I noticed a white van pull up to the front of
the Walmart. A young woman dressed in a U.S. Marine uniform got out of the van,
opened the back doors and began unloading materials. When I realised what was
happening, I decided to take a couple of photos.
With the help of a young man in civilian clothes, the young Marine Recruiter
set up an outdoor Marine recruiting station in front of the Walmart to intercept
young people, purchasing gifts for their mothers. So the "Few and the Proud"
are now targeting our young people while they shop for their mothers. It spoke
to me of desperation and lack of honor - Recruiting our sons and daughters -
in partnership with Walmart - to die for the corporate war in Iraq - on Mother's
Day. How low can they go?
In Ian Thompson's riveting report below, he explains why the U.S. military
is having to take such desperate measures to recruit young people to fight and
die in an unprovoked, genocidal war that the United States has already lost.
- Les Blough, Editor
“We’ll give you up to $70,000 for college.” “You won’t
have to go to Iraq.” “Your service will only last four years.”
Much of what recruiters promise is based on exaggeration, half-truths and outright
lies. Recruiters have to fill quotas and will do almost anything to meet them,
especially during wartime.
The U.S. military—the most powerful and destructive in the world—is
growing increasingly desperate to fill its ranks.
In 2005 alone, the Army seeks to recruit 101,200 new active-duty regular Army
and Reserve soldiers. But recruitment in nearly all branches of the military
The National Guard missed its recruitment quota by 13 percent last year. The
Army fell short of its goal by more than 27 percent in February 2005 and is
more than six percent behind its year-to-date recruiting target. The Reserve
is 10 percent behind its target and the Guard is 26 percent short. January through
March 2005 was the first time in a decade that the Marines missed their monthly
What is causing this sudden decline?
The Iraqi resistance is the biggest factor. The popular resistance to occupation
in Iraq has fiercely and heroically opposed the U.S. presence from the beginning.
Many young people do not want to join the military to die in an unpopular war.
The strength and depth of the massive global anti-war movement has also contributed.
Over the past three years, tens of millions have participated in demonstrations
opposing war and occupation. The protests have impacted millions more and reflect
widespread opposition to the war.
One dynamic new element of the anti-war movement is the growing youth and student
movement to stop military recruiters from infiltrating high school and college
campuses. Young people all over the country are confronting recruiters, staging
protests, and kicking them off campuses by legal means or through militant action.
In response to their dwindling numbers, the military recently added 1,200 recruiters
to the field and said it would spend more than the $4 billion already allotted
for advertising and recruitment in 2005. It is also increasing economic and
educational incentives to entice young people to enter. The military is continuing
to push its predatory tactics wherever it can.
Recruiting the ‘volunteer army’
Thirty-years ago, the military’s public image reached a low point because
of deep-seated opposition to the Vietnam War and the draft. When the perseverance
of the Vietnamese people, combined with the social upheaval at home and military
resistance, forced an end to the draft and then the war, the Pentagon began
to construct a military recruitment strategy for a “volunteer army”
based on heavy marketing and propaganda.
Now, military recruitment stations are scattered in cities and towns throughout
the United States. They are concentrated mostly in working class neighborhoods.
In urban areas, they target predominately Black and Latino populations. The
same model is used with recruiter placement in high schools and colleges. Recruiters
know that people with few economic opportunities are the most likely to enlist.
Uncertainty and a lack of opportunity cause some working-class youth to see
military enlistment as a viable alternative. Guaranteed income and steady work
from any source is appealing when college is unaffordable and job prospects
Recruiters claim to offer students a path to higher education. They often entice
students to sign up with the military before they get to college, promising
them money for education in the form of GI Bills and vocational training. In
return, they say, enlistees only have to give four years of their lives to military
People who enlist do not get nearly as much money for education as recruiters
lead them to believe. In reality, most receive little more than students who
qualify for Pell Grants—currently $4,050 per year. Pell Grants are the
primary federal financial aid grants available to low-income students. (“Before
You Enlist,” Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors)
Many who join never get any money. Only 35 percent of military veterans receive
money for college. More telling is that only 15 percent eventually graduate
from college at all.
With around 135,000 troops occupying Iraq and 18,000 in Afghanistan, many who
enlist will have to go to war overseas.
In addition, all enlistees must sign a contract binding them to eight years—not
four—of active military service. The contract may be extended without
the recruit’s consent in times of conflict, “national emergency”
or on orders of the president.
But it is difficult for students to resist. They are exposed to recruiters
and the supposed “benefits” of military service touted by them on
television, in movies, at the mall and at school.
Working-class students targeted
Most vulnerable for recruitment are public high school students. They are treated
to an influx of military recruiters in their schools, especially those least
likely to send graduates to college.
At Downey and Sylmar High Schools, both southern California schools with mostly
low-income Latino students, military recruiters roam the campuses in groups
of two or three and talk to students with impunity, according to a recent Los
Angeles Times article. Sylmar student Erika Herran said, “I can’t
even remember a time when I have seen a college recruiter on campus.”
Yet, at nearby San Marino High School, located in a wealthy neighborhood, the
career center director has seen only one military recruiter this school year.
Unlike Downey, 98 percent of San Marino graduates attend college.
“You’re not going to waste your resources if you’re in sales
in a market that is not going to produce,” said Dave Griesmer, spokesperson
for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command. “If 95 percent of kids in that
area go on to college, a recruiter is going to decide where the best market
is,” he added. (Los Angeles Times, April 5)
Schools like Downey and Sylmar can do little to restrict the access of recruiters
on their campuses. As part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002—the
Bush administration’s sweeping education law—all public high schools
are required to turn over the contact information of their juniors and seniors
to military recruiters.
Parents can “opt out” and withhold their child’s information,
but most are not aware of this option. Congress passed the act, in part, so
the military would have an easier time recruiting high school students. Expensive
private schools are not subject to the law.
Once on high school campuses, recruiters prey upon youth not only by promising
them money for education, but also by chumming up with them. Recruiters purchase
prom tickets from students, chaperone dances, invite students to workout sessions,
play simulated war games and take them out to dinner to lure them in.
Military recruiters at college campuses focus primarily on community colleges
and public universities in working-class communities. They set up tables in
common areas and at job fairs. Some professors invite them into classes to discuss
the benefits of military careers.
The Army’s “School Recruiting Program Handbook” outlines
how recruiters approach their jobs. The book describes the Army as a “product
which can be sold.” It lays out standard recruiter tricks and tactics.
Included are: instructions to high school recruiters to attend faculty and parent
meetings; participate in Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month events;
meet with the student government, newspaper editors and athletes; among other
The book tells recruiters at colleges and universities to work with the financial
aid office and to target freshmen because “they will have the highest
dropout rate.” Many students are unaware of the recruiters’ ulterior
Recruiters do not befriend anyone unless it helps their bottom line. They aren’t
concerned with honoring the struggles and victories of African American or Latino
people. Their goal, like that of the racist, imperialist military they serve,
is to enlist as many young people as possible. It is about numbers. They need
more troops to fight in Iraq and future imperialist wars.
Though the draft has not officially been in place since 1973, a kind of “economic
draft” puts working-class and oppressed young people in uniform today.
The Pentagon is anxious to fill openings in the armed forces with low-income
young people. These youth are disproportionately from the most oppressed communities—Black
and Latino, Asian, Arab and Native American. Many poor whites enter the military
Resistance to recruitment grows
Although its massive recruitment budget gives the military the upper hand,
students at high school and college campuses across the country are fighting
Students in recent weeks have taken action against recruiters. The majority
of activism is coming from college and university campuses. Some are using legal
means—they simply vote the military off their campus.
Student governments at colleges like Hamline University in Minnesota and University
of California Berkeley have voted to deny recruiters use of campus facilities
and assets because the military discriminates against LGBT people with its “don’t
ask, don’t tell policy.” Universities previously would not ban military
recruiters for fear of losing federal funding.
A 1995 law, known as the Solomon Amendment, bars the federal government from
disbursing money to colleges and universities that obstruct campus recruiting
by the military. However, in November 2004, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia
found that the law violates the First Amendment’s right to “convey
a message opposing discrimination.” It means schools with anti-discrimination
policies can exclude military recruiters without losing funding.
The lawsuit was brought by law schools like Yale, NYU and George Washington
University after students there fought to keep the military’s Judge Advocate
General (JAG) Corps from attending job fairs.
Banning bigoted institutions by using the law is a useful tactic. It gives
students a tool to use against recruiters when school administrations attempt
to intervene on behalf of the military, which they often do.
But students are not just passing resolutions; they are also taking more militant
action and launching campaigns to bar recruiters. Students are organizing walkouts,
protests, information booths, pickets and petitions against military recruitment
at their schools.
In February, around 500 students at Seattle Central Community College, led
by a student anti-war group, surrounded an Army recruiter and chased him off
campus. Angry students chanted loudly and some threw newspapers and soda cans
at the recruiter.
Similar protests have occurred at University of Illinois-Chicago, University
of the District of Colombia, Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts, East
Los Angeles Community College, City College of New York, Southern Connecticut
State University, William Patterson University, Santa Monica College and countless
Hundreds of San Francisco State University students recently staged a sit-in
against the United States Air Force and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This
prevented them from talking to any would-be recruits and eventually drove the
On April 5, over 300 University of California Santa Cruz students marched through
campus and kicked Army, Navy and Marine Corps recruiters out of the school’s
annual job fair.
High school students are also rising up against recruiters.
Earlier this year, a group of Los Angeles high school students refused to take
the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a test given in thousands of
working-class schools that helps recruiters gather information to pull students
into the military. And in March, Black and Latino students at a New York City
public high school in the Bronx kicked off military recruiters, yelling “We
don’t want you here!” until they left.
Some of these actions are spontaneous. Others are well organized by student
anti-war or anti-racist groups and aligned with community groups and the anti-war
Defeat U.S. imperialism
The most advanced sectors of the burgeoning student movement see the anti-recruitment
drive as part of the larger fight to stop the war and, ultimately, defeat U.S.
According to Aimee Hunter, an 18 year-old student at Mission College in Sylmar,
California, “We are against recruiters because we don’t want working-class
people to fight in this imperialist army. Wars like this only benefit Wall Street
and big corporations. Instead of fighting against workers in Iraq, we want youth
and students to join the struggle here at home.”
Like all imperialist wars, the war and occupation of Iraq hurts working people
in Iraq and the United States. This includes workers in uniform who are being
used as cannon fodder by the ruling class.
Student activism to keep young people out of the U.S. military serves the worthy
goals of diminishing military numbers and building resistance to its hegemonic
aims. Those who do not enlist in the military because of these efforts should
join the ranks of the people’s movement against imperialist war, racism
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