Deceptions in Military Recruiting
by Chris White
ZNet - January 4, 2003
The points in this essay concerning the dark side of military recruiting largely inform my decision to work incessantly to dissuade young men and women from enlisting. My primary audience is every U.S. citizens because it is necessary that as many people as possible understand the manipulation used by the military to lure young Americans. It is important to question the notion that the all-volunteer military is truly made up of volunteers. If one is lied to about a profession by the people who convinced them to join that profession, then is the person who was lied to a volunteer in the clearest sense of the word? My research has led me to forsake the ideology of “once a Marine, always a Marine”, that imposes on us to refer to ourselves as “former Marines” and never “ex-Marines”. I condemn my past Marine identity, and therefore, I proudly call myself an “ex-Marine” who is against any offensive use of the U.S. military.
I am not against the men and women serving in the military per se; I am against the way in which they are used by the government to promote the interests of its richest constituents. My doctoral research on U.S. foreign policy also convinces me that when viewed through the lens of the deceptive process of military recruiting, our actions abroad are further exposed as corruptly violent. Furthermore, I have learned that rarely has our military been used for national defense in its 228-year history. We can remember the War of 1812 and WWII as possibly the only national defense wars, but mostly poor young men and women, for the cause of defending the interests of the rich and the politicians, have fought hundreds of other engagements both here and abroad. Every service member contributes their share, which is why I work hard to dissuade anyone from joining the military.
The Bush administration’s justification for waging war on Iraq is permeated by a fleet of hypocritical holes. From the absence of proof, to the double standards, to the erasure of history in public discussions, to all of the other deceitful practices that support the military industrial complex, it is clear that those who favor peace are up against a simultaneously powerful and tenuous force. The force is powerful because it has monetary and physical strength as well as the media to maintain power over the masses. Yet, the grip of the warmongers is tenuous as long as there are those who will speak out to expose the hypocrisies and lies that legitimize their rule in the first place.
Military recruiters are the first line of offense in this machinery that serves the interests of the power elite at the expense of the less fortunate. Recruiters are creep into the civilian world touting slogans to make an otherwise dismal job seem appealing. Their training is largely oriented toward marketing and sales techniques: on the first day at recruiting school, a recruiter friend of mine was told to come up with a gimmick for selling a pen. What business does the military have teaching recruiters to sell anything? Are the lives of America’s youth just another commodity for the government to exploit? If the war is justified, then why do recruiters have to exist at all? Why do they even have to sell the military to young people? Why do they have to use manipulative sales techniques to convince young, uneducated minds to carry out the dirty work of war? As an assistant recruiter, I witnessed first hand how recruiters manipulate the poor and young into fighting for the rich.
First, recruiters have every incentive to be dishonest. Speaking for the Marine Corps only, recruiters have monthly quotas and, once filled, they can slack off for the rest of the month. However, the more people they sign up, the better their chances for promotion. Therefore, the incentive for dishonesty is high indeed. Recruiters lie about college benefits, duty station assignments, veterans’ benefits, and countless other aspects of the military in order to convince their clients to sign. Once you are in boot camp, it is too late to change anything.
How do they lie about college benefits? They fail to tell you that you must pay 1200 dollars in your first year of the military in order to get the G.I. Bill, which is quite a chunk of money when your salary is only 700/mo. You will be lucky if you get your monthly G.I. Bill check in your first three months of college anyway, as the bureaucracy is so inept that you had better hope to have enough money saved up before you arrive. Another point recruiters leave out is that most students who are independent and over 25, civilians and veterans alike, are eligible for enormous amounts of financial aid anyway. That is, unless you already receive the G.I. Bill.
Wait a minute. Back up. So, if I earned the G.I. Bill for serving “my country”, then I may not be eligible for any financial aid? Yep, ask any veteran over 25 working in college, and they will tell you that the financial aid office determines one’s eligibility for grants and fellowships (free money) according to one’s income, and then deletes one’s income from the amount of aid one is eligible for. Therefore, if one were eligible for 9,000 dollars in grants, but received 9,000 from the G.I. Bill, well, one gets no grants. One can get loans though. All the loans one desires. This may seem like a petty argument, but remember, recruiters use the G.I. Bill to lure civilians into joining the military. So, if the G.I. Bill is not necessarily a benefit, then why should one join for the college money?
How do recruiters lie about duty station assignments? Recruiters tell potential reservists that they can go to college and serve one weekend a month, with very little chance of being called back to active duty. However, the current administration wants to call up to 300,000 reservists to the Gulf alone. I can further illustrate this with the story of my neighbor’s daughter who had considered joining the National Guard. As an incentive to get her to sign, her recruiter told her that she would be stationed in Kansas, but luckily, I persuaded her not to join. Her friend was not so lucky. Shortly after joining the Guard, he was called to active duty and sent to Bosnia for two years. Thousands of National Guard and other reservists have been called back to active duty since 9/11, and thousands more will still be called to go to Iraq.
How do recruiters deceive us about veterans’ benefits? I can use VA medical facilities if I want to wait five months for an appointment, but my wife cannot use them (at least in Kansas). We are both veterans, but I am 30 percent disabled, and she is not at all. Of course, who would want to use the VA hospital in Kansas City anyway? According to an AP report in March 2002, the infestation of mice, maggots, and flies in the years leading up to 2001 created such as scandal as to pressure VA Secretary Anthony Principi to remove “the director and deputy director for the regional network, which includes Missouri, Kansas, and southern Illinois."1 The janitorial staff did not touch the food storage areas or cafeteria for a year, and maggots had nested in two of the comatose patients’ noses! This is not necessarily the fault of the VA because the federal government decides how much money will be allotted to our disabled veterans.
Ron Kovic exposed the horrible conditions of the VA hospitals during the Vietnam era in his book, Born on the Fourth of July. As a wounded Vietnam veteran, Kovic was outraged at the outdated equipment, under-qualified and uncaring staffs and the unsanitary conditions that disabled veterans were forced to endure. Therefore, not much has changed since 1970s, and any hope of future change is diminished by dubya’s slashing of the VA’s healthcare budget by 275 million dollars in 2002, and further cuts all around to the VA. Of course, recruiters never mention this in their deceit-filled speeches about the benefits of the military, which is why more veterans need to speak to high school students and parents about the realities of military life.
Although the lies are bad enough, interactions with recruiters can be hazardous to one’s health. One poolee (person waiting to go to boot camp who has already enlisted) wrote me that my first essay had helped him to decide to leave the Marines. The recruiter lied to the poolee by saying that it was too late that he had already enlisted and therefore he was obligated for the next four years. During my recruiting days, I learned that any poolee can get out before boot camp, and after several more e-mails, the poolee told me that he had finally received his discharge after pushing the matter a little more. His recruiter responded to him with a physical threat by saying, “If I was in front of you right now I’d knock you out.” Great example of the quality of leadership instilled by military service.
My recruiter in 1994 was a Marine sniper who had served in El Salvador and Somalia among other places. He actually admitted to me with excitement that he had killed non-combatants in Somalia with a .50 caliber sniper rifle, a weapon only to be used on vehicles, and that he had taken pictures of his victims afterward. His story was semi-confirmed for me seven years later, once I read Scott Peterson’s Me against my Brother. Peterson wrote, “the snipers killed more than 14 Somalis, some of them children who were found later to have a toy pistol, or nothing.”2 UN spokesperson George Bennet later told Peterson, “They were shooting at anything by the time they left,” and this statement only further confirms my recruiter’s story.3
Unfortunately, I too am guilty of following an unlawful order from that same recruiter, but of a much lesser magnitude. While assisting him for two weeks just after I graduated from boot camp, part of my job was to make poolees lose weight before they shipped out. One poolee was still twelve pounds overweight the day before boot camp, so naturally my recruiter ordered me to force the poolee to eat an entire box of Ex-lax, after which I had to make him do calisthenics until he lost the twelve pounds. Needless to say, he was admitted to boot camp the next day, but I am still ashamed that I made him do that. The business of recruiting is dark indeed.
Recruiters now have even more access to the young minds of America, with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002. These Acts require every high school receiving federal education funds to hand over the names, addresses, and phone numbers of every junior and senior to local recruiters upon request.4 That means that even 15 years olds, with no idea whatsoever about the real world, let alone the military, are now vulnerable to the manipulation and deception of recruiters in their own homes. If a school refuses to hand the information over, the Department of Defense steps in and pressures the school, after which federal funding may be withdrawn. According to Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the Acts give students more access to college, but we need to ask why it is that the government does not offer any alternative to the military for unskilled high school graduates that wish to go to college but are unqualified for college.
Our commander in chief himself took the opportunity to join the military, then took a Bush prerogative and failed to return to his duty station for a year and a half. Of course, he did not have to serve the prison sentences that others who left for that long did. Nevertheless, it makes perfect sense. After all, the president is not any different from half of Americans, who support our impending war on Iraq. While over fifty percent support an invasion, approximately 1 percent serves in the military. Therefore, only 1 percent of us is willing to fight a battle that over 50 percent of us favor, which makes it much more palatable to start a war. As long as the majority faces no direct military consequences, I guess anything, including deceptive measures in recruiting, goes. Thus, the cycle of historical amnesia is allowed to continue, and future U.S. military action will surely bring about more 9/11s.
1 Libby Quaid, “VA Officials Reassigned Amid Scandal,” Associated Press 28 Mar 2002.
2 Scott Peterson, Me against my Brother: at War in Somalia, Sudan, and Rwanda (New York: Routledge, 2001) 149.
3 Quoted in Peterson, 149.
4 Secretary Paige and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “Joint Letter from Secretary Paige and Secretary Rumsfeld,” 09 Oct. 2002.