The MAGA Face of JROTC
January 18 2021 / Gary Ghirardi / Op-ed / NNOMY - With the violence witnessed in the beginning of 2021 at the nation's capital, we have been forced to acknowledge the culture war that exists in the United States in full expression. We also witnessed in the subtext of that event, and the emerging crisis that will follow it, the government's promise of increasing securitization as a reaction to it. That process did not start at the "surge on the capital" but has been in a steady progression of growth for many years. This latest event only provides an additional justification for the need to increase the militarization of our "democracy."
Nowhere is that trend more evident as in the Junior Reserves Officers Training Corps (JROTC) military cadet program slated for a massive expansion. What is billed by the Pentagon as a character building and good citizenship program designed to instill leadership qualities in young people, now is being funded to expand from 3500 nation-wide units to over 6000. JROTC corps are constructed increasingly of ethnic minority and black youth disadvantaged with a lack of opportunities to jump start their lives. This is not an organic development. Those poorer youth lacking in programs designed to prepare them for college are specifically profiled and targeted for JROTC programs. In Chicago that targeting has gone a step further in configuring actual public schools as military academies complete with military school uniforms, protocols and curriculum.
Beyond the surface representations of what JROTC claims it imparts to its participants is an underlying culture of militarized exceptionalism that more reflects the characteristics we have seen in the MAGA political movement of the last four years under the Trump administration.
JROTC claims to be a values development program designed to make better citizens but it is funded by the military recruiting command for preparing youth for induction into our military branches. Lying beneath the official JROTC narrative fostering personal development and good citizenship is a organizational culture rife with bullying, sexual abuse, misogyny, and even torture in ritual hazing reminiscent of what has been prevalent in the military branches that it mimics and ostensibly prepares youth for.
Investigating what life for cadets inside the corps programs is actually like beyond a programmatic level is more difficult because there exists a code of silence on all things that may disparage the corps. There is evidence of modeling self-censorship after the military branches that discourage and punish those who come out with revelations publicly about problems that may embarrass or present a negative picture of the corps to other students, parents, and school officials. After so much push back, in past decades, by concerned community activists to eliminate or limit these programs in our public high schools, this tendency to paint a positive picture of JROTC is even more pronounced.
Finding evidence of these traits and events are piecemeal and willing witnesses of these transgressions are cautious to not be revealed and targeted for truth telling. When this violence is revealed in a public way, it is quickly made invisible in the media except in the most egregious examples, primarily of sexual abuse and hazing.
There are some cases of JROTC abuses that have received public notice:
Some Queens Junior ROTC cadets who tormented their younger peers in a disturbing hazing ritual — and branded one student’s butt with a clothes iron — have been sentenced to two years in prison, officials said.
A Grissom High School student's family and Huntsville area advocates for gay and lesbian teens are seeking accountability from the school system following an April incident in which a JROTC instructor told students that homosexuality is a sin.
Sexual abuses against cadets by sexual predator instructors are probably the most common type of abuse that makes it into public view:
The Sweetwater Union High School District agreed to pay a former Mar Vista High School student $2.2 million to settle claims it negligently hired and retained a Navy Junior ROTC substitute teacher who pleaded guilty to statutory rape, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by Voice of San Diego.
The JROTC participation in National Rifle Association of America sponsored shooting range training has resulted in one national tragedy where a 19 year old ex-JROTC cadet, Nikolas Cruz, went into his former high school and killed 17 people including three of his former fellow cadets. Disturbed youth who had former affiliations to JROTC had committed other shootings in high schools around the U.S.as well. Another JROTC cadet, Jared Padgett, 15, was a freshman at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon, who took the life of another freshman student and then his own life with a gun he brought into school.
That culture of bullying and abuse extends into the military branches as well often leading to acts that prove lethal to victimized soldiers. Non-combat deaths of soldiers caused by base violence has caused a crisis for the military as more soldiers, often women, sexually predated, end up murdered for speaking out. Here are two recent examples that made it into the media:
As an investigation into the death of Spc. Vanessa Guillén continues, service members and veterans take to social media to share stories of sexual assault and harassment in the U.S. military.
Under the hashtag #IamVanessaGuillen, users call for justice for Guillén and an end to what her family and advocates call an "epidemic" of sexual violence in the armed services
In recent years, considerable public attention has focused on hazing and bullying within the military, particularly in the Marine Corps. Media and Congressional attention followed the suicide of Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, who shot himself six years ago after repeated abuse and taunting by fellow Marines, and the March, 2016 death of Raheel Siddiqui, a Moslem recruit at Parris Island Marine Recruit Training Depot. The Marine Corps claims Siddiqui committed suicide by jumping down a 40-foot stairwell; his family and supporters are convinced he fell while running away from a drill instructor who had struck and bullied him.
JROTC has also been the location of right wing political extremism. There should be no surprise with this tendency existing within the corps as militaristic values have historically supported these types of political ideologies and the resultant violence that it produces. Here is an example of this occurring with a JROTC cadet:
Andrew Brewer is an 18-year-old fascist Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet at Hohenfels Middle/High School and an incoming freshman at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Andrew attempted to join the white supremacist hate group Patriot Front three separate times before his 18th birthday. He regularly describes himself as a fascist, and makes hateful comments about LGBTQIA+, Jews, and minorities on internet forums such as Reddit and Quora.
Constructing a Culture of Violence
The United States is addicted to war in a way that permeates nearly every aspect of our economy and the lives of our citizens. We are sequestered by its demands. JROTC curriculum imparts to its cadets a nationalism built upon historical amnesia and unquestioned assumptions of national exceptionalism. We are allowing our military to indoctrinate, in the name of preparing our young for their futures, endless war as the permanent normal. At a minimum it is time for activist organizations, concerned citizens, and legislators to withdraw their support of allowing the JROTC expansion in our schools and to organize to limit these programs at current levels or even call for a reduction.
- You can visit NNOMY's Military Recruiting Tools & Methods page to visit an overview of all the types of programs that the U.S. Department of Defense has impacting our youth in their schools. Go to: https://nnomy.org/en/what-is-militarization/school-militarization.html