Whole Truth Programs

 

 

To the editor of the Daily Hampshire Gazette:

 

Recently, U.S. Rep. John W. Olver said that the No Child Left Behind law should be changed from giving parents the right to opt out of the school’s release of private information to requiring that parents and students opt in before private information is released. He was absolutely correct! But the requirement for opting in should apply equally – and separately – for military recruiters, employers who recruit for civilian jobs, and educational institutions. For example, parents and students should be allowed to have information sent to educational institutions and employers for civilian jobs, but not to military recruiters. This could easily be handled by asking parents and students three simple questions.

 

Military recruiters have long been given free access in most high schools. But that ought not to be the case. Every public school district should have – and follow - a policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, handicap, sex, creed, political beliefs, age, economic status, or sexual orientation.

 

The Rochester, NY, school district decided not to allow military recruiters access to the Rochester public schools, for instance at job fairs, because the U.S. military has a written policy that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. (Rochester guidance personnel could still tell inquiring students how to contact recruiters.) When the case (Lloyd v. Grella,) was decided, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the law gave military recruiters only equal access - not guaranteed access - to the schools. That means, the schools are allowed to apply the same non-discrimination tests to military recruiters that they apply to all others desiring to set up tables at job fairs or use a bulletin board. All employers attending job fairs should be required to indicate that they have no policies of discrimination in protected areas.  Kudos to the Rochester schools for leading the way on this!

 

It’s also important for people to know that, under present law, counter-recruiters have the same right of access to the schools that recruiters are given. That is because military service has long been a recognized subject of controversy, requiring the presentation of alternative views in the interest of basic fairness. Two important Federal appellate decisions on this subject, in two different federal districts, are Searcey v. Crim and CARD v. Grossmont. If recruiters can speak to students in assemblies, so can counter-recruiters. If recruiters can have space on bulletin boards, so can counter-recruiters. If recruiters can set up at job fairs, so can counter-recruiters. Et cetera. There are very sound reasons for this law.

 

How do programs providing the “whole truth for youth” regarding military service usually start? Often it is students themselves who take the lead, either because of religious training, or through a decision by a school club interested in human rights issues. Sometimes the school club associates itself with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, or a similar group. However, under the law, it is not necessary that students initiate the “whole truth” programs. Any group of concerned citizens could do it. When people from outside a school start such a program, some students usually soon participate.

 

Veterans for Peace and other organizations have studied recruiting policies and practices in depth, and have found some pieces of advice students need to be given. Examples of necessary advice are: don’t speak to a recruiter alone, take plenty of time to think and get advice before signing anything, and keep a copy of anything you sign in a safe place. Recruiters are under the same pressure to fill quotas that the old draft boards were under when it was up to them to classify potential draftees and supply the military. It’s normal for recruiters under pressure to mention all the reasons for joining the armed forces (money, promised education in and after service, respect from others, tradition, pride, service to the country, opportunity to travel, etc.) but none of the many reasons not to join. Students have a need for all the truth.

 

Many thousands of troops forced to remain on active duty in Iraq far beyond their normal discharge dates were shocked to learn of the stop-loss provision, also called the “back-door draft,” which was allowed by the fine print of their contracts but which was never mentioned to them by any recruiter. The fact is, under current military contracts, and with an endless war against terrorism constituting a perpetual “national emergency,” a person could be required to spend thirty years on active duty – a virtual lifetime. All it would take is another executive order signed by the President, similar to the one Bush hurriedly invoked only days after 9/11 which allowed for two-year extensions of active duty.

 

It is tragedy enough that lives are so often ruined by people tricking others into making bad decisions. It is worse when those who are tricked are relatively defenseless youths who stand little chance of reaping the rewards from the wars in which they may be forced to fight and the huge sacrifices they will be required to make. It is to the shame of the United States that it is one of only a handful of countries that has fought against a United Nations effort to prohibit the use of children under age 18 in military service.

 

George Desnoyers

Pittsfield, Massachusetts

 

May 2, 2005

 

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