Against the War Machine: Military Recruiters
Face Youth and Student Resistance
by Ian Thompson
"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 is down.
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 goals.
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 so dim.
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 service.
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.
Chumming up with students
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 School Recruiting Program Handbook
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 things.
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 motives.
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 as well.
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 back.
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.
The Solomon Amendment
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 other campuses.
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 recruiters away.
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 movement.
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. imperialism.
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 and bigotry.