Articles

A Strategic Blind Spot for Progressives

Rick Jahnkow -

Many advocates of progressive social change in this country are asking important questions about possible directions to follow after the 2008 election. For the peace movement, this question is particularly challenging because, while there is good reason to celebrate the defeat of the Republican Party and the election of the first African American president, there is also a real danger that Obama’s victory will undercut anti-war protest if he doesn’t move quickly to end the Bush administration’s two wars.

Many liberals might feel overly confident about the degree of change that is coming and decide that the new administration deserves to be given breathing space. It would then become much harder to mobilize opposition if Obama made good on his promise to shift the emphasis on military action from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Surprise Attempt to Force Military Training into High Schools Fails — for Now

Rick Jahnkow -

On September 17, 2008, the U.S. Senate was presented with an amendment to the 2009 military authorization bill that would have forced high schools to accept military training. The amendment would have accomplished this by denying all federal funds to any school district that did not allow the various military branches to establish, maintain or operate a unit of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). Each military branch has its own JROTC program.

The amendment was introduced by Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and was buried among over 250 other amendments proposed for the 2009 military authorization bill. The method of attaching such amendments to major pieces of legislation is the way Congress passed laws in the 1990s that require colleges and universities to grant access to military recruiters and permit the establishment of college ROTC units. Those laws, which were later upheld by the Supreme Court, paved the way for an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 that is now forcing school districts to give recruiters access to secondary school students.

2005 Could Be a Turning Point for the Antiwar Movement

Rick Jahnkow -

Despite 2005 being the start of a second presidential term for George W. Bush, this year may bring together a number of factors that will offer the antiwar movement an important opportunity to shorten the U.S. occupation of Iraq and begin to reverse the decades-long growth of militarism in this country. However, to take advantage of this opportunity, the antiwar movement will have to think critically about its emphasis on symbolic war protest and look more closely at strategies for interfering with the flow of human resources needed for war, especially through counter-recruitment organizing.

As the year began, it should have been clear to everyone that the neocon plan for the Middle East pursued by the Bush administration had run into a brick wall. The invasion and occupation of Iraq is now the quagmire that many predicted, and U.S. actions in the region have created less political stability instead of more. Meanwhile, total annual spending on war and the military has reached almost half a trillion dollars, which is being financed by running up major deficits and proposing budget cuts in domestic programs that will generate much anger in the coming months toward Bush and his Republican majority. The increasing reports of Republican realists publicly criticizing Bush policies — especially over Iraq — indicate that beneath the surface, opinion against the neocons is growing even within the conservative base of Bush's own party.

Perhaps most importantly, a developing crisis in the military force structure caused by Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will soon push the Pentagon into a position where
it can no longer carry out the mission that has so far been handed to it. Reserve and National Guard forces now make up 40% of the troops in Iraq, but the National Guard missed its recruitment quota by 13% last year and Reserve forces are "rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force," according to a December 2004 memo by the chief of Army Reserves, Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly. Earlier in the year, a report by the Defense Science Board, a Department of Defense advisory group, concluded that the U.S. military could not maintain its current peacekeeping commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan without a significant increase in the size of the armed forces or scaling back the objectives of its missions. The Bush administration has publicly stated it intends to "stay the course," but trying to resolve this problem by increasing the size of the military is appearing to be impossible without a draft, and that route, if chosen, would be an absolute disaster for the Pentagon.

Thirty years ago, the public image and influence of the military establishment had reached a low point because of controversy over the Vietnam War and the draft that was used to fight it. When massive war resistance and the general social upheaval of the time forced an end to the draft, the Pentagon had to begin relying on aggressive marketing to fill the armed forces' ranks and improve its relationship with the public. As a result of this forced shift in strategy, the military has been gradually expanding its presence in K-12 schools and strengthening its ability to propagandize through other institutions of socialization. Those efforts, together with a less risky war fighting doctrine that grew out of the so-called Vietnam Syndrome, have helped the military establishment rehabilitate its image and expand its influence to an unprecedented level.

Right now, however, public opposition to the war in Iraq is increasing and antagonism toward the draft is still running extremely high — so high that the Republicans in Congress felt it necessary to bring Congressman Rangel's nonviable draft bill to the floor just so it could be voted down 402-2, and both Bush and Kerry felt compelled to publicly promise there would be no draft if they were elected. Furthermore, the Pentagon knows that all of its political gains over the last 30 years would be jeopardized by the firestorm of hostility that would be triggered if, once again, conscription were used to force people to fight an unpopular, risky war. It would mean that recruiters and ROTC programs would come under fierce attack on college campuses, as would the military recruiters and military-linked programs that have invaded our K-12 schools, including Jr. ROTC, military aptitude (ASVAB) testing, the Young Marines and the many military/school partnerships that have been taking root at all school levels.

If the military believes it can't marshal the resources needed to carry out its mission, and if the draft is an unacceptable solution because of the perceived likelihood of a severe political backlash, it leaves only the choice of changing the mission — which essentially means the U.S. would have to find a way to begin phasing out its occupation of Iraq relatively soon. And even though Bush has talked about staying the course, there is little else he can do if the troops, money and will are not there to continue, and if the career officers at the Pentagon become more publicly vocal in defending their own vital institutional interests — which in this case are served by changing the mission rather than resorting to a draft.

The key to actualizing this result is maintaining the perception that neither a draft nor aggressive recruiting can enable the mission to continue. The antiwar movement has an opportunity to do this by shifting its strategy to make counter-recruitment organizing and the demilitarization of schools a higher priority.

Doing this can accomplish several goals:

1. By supporting and facilitating more organizing against the military's presence in schools, we can communicate clearly that even more dire consequences are around the corner if there ever is a draft.

2. It encourages more youth activism and addresses the dangerous trend toward greater militarization of education, which if not reversed will lay the foundation for future wars and make a draft much more likely.

3. More than just offering protest, it provides a way to materially interfere with the government's ability to sustain the occupation of Iraq and pursue other preemptive wars, and in the process, we can push the Pentagon toward expressing more direct public criticism of the administration's handling of the war and of the Bush Doctrine in general.

One of the barriers to counter-recruitment activism in colleges and universities has been a set of laws, known as the Solomon Amendments, which since 1997 has threatened campuses with the loss of federal funds if they ban recruiters and ROTC. A parallel law was implemented in 2002 to stop high schools from restricting recruiter access to students and student lists. Multiple lawsuits challenging the college-related law were introduced in 2003, and on November 29, 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the Solomon Amendments violated the plaintiffs' free speech. While there is a good chance the federal government will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, there is currently an important window of opportunity to escalate college counter-recruitment organizing to a level of intensity that hasn't existed in recent years. There is also a possibility for some high school districts that formerly had restrictions on recruiter access to reinvoke them, which in the current climate of concern about predatory recruiters and the Iraq war could inspire a larger number of districts to adopt such restrictions.

Even if the court ruling against mandatory recruiter access to colleges is eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, there are still many possibilities for challenging and resisting the military's efforts to recruit and indoctrinate young people, as has been demonstrated by the grassroots groups belonging to the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (www.youthandthemilitary.org). And there is also new inspiration to be drawn from the creative direct action protests that have been recently occurring at recruiting stations, including the takeover of one recruiting center in Madison, Wisconsin, by individuals demanding that it be turned into a college financial aid office.

Organizing such activities is a way for people to actually nonviolently stand in the way of what's being done in Iraq and have a tangible effect. More antiwar activists are gradually realizing how much this is needed and that symbolic protest, though valuable, is not enough. Hopefully, a larger portion of the antiwar movement will also realize it, and 2005 will become the turning point that is badly needed.

Sources: New York Times, September 20, 2003; Baltimore Sun, January 5, 2005.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)


In Need of a Proactive Peace Movement

Rick Jahnkow -


Some important stories have appeared recently about disagreements between military commanders and the Bush administration over whether to begin a significant withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2006. A related development is the recent call for an immediate withdrawal by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA). Murtha is a decorated combat veteran who is also considered a military hawk and one of the closest congressional allies of the high-level officer corps.

Peace organizations have been quick to add Murtha’s name to the growing list of those calling for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but they’ve given scant attention to the true significance of his voice and the very potent implications of stories about military commanders’ dissatisfaction with their mission.

A more in-depth analysis of these developments and related issues can offer some important lessons on how the peace movement can hasten the end of the occupation and move proactively beyond the limited goal of ending one war.

Military Generals and the Peace Movement

For a couple of years now, some of us have been arguing that the turning point for the peace movement will come when it recognizes that counter-recruitment organizing is the most practical way to tangibly affect current U.S. foreign policy.

The argument is based on simple but compelling logic: The Bush administration and conservative-dominated Congress can continue to ignore anti-war demonstrations and other symbolic forms of protest, but they cannot ignore the fact that without enough soldiers, it is impossible to sustain a large, long-term occupation in a country like Iraq.

An additional assumption is that if the recruitment climate becomes sufficiently hostile, the military leadership will foresee serious, long-term damage to both the functionality and influence of their institution and will act to protect its interests. The combined criticism of military leaders and their allies in Congress could then produce a crisis that would force an accelerated withdrawal from Iraq and also diminish the likelihood of other U.S. invasions in the region. In essence, an “Iraq syndrome” would replace the deceased “Vietnam syndrome.”

In recent months, some elements of this equation have begun to come together. After an ominous shortfall in first-time enlistments last fiscal year, re-enlistment rates are now falling below quota, and some parts of the armed forces, especially the Army, continue to fall behind in overall recruiting. The prospects for turning this trend around look extremely poor for 2006, and according to reported comments by military insiders, the Pentagon is beginning to panic. This is apparently forcing the Bush administration to budge on its “stay the course” approach and begin talking about troop reductions in the near future.

Journalists Paul Richter and Tyler Marshall wrote the following in a Los Angeles Times article titled “U.S. Starts Laying Groundwork for Significant Troop Pullout From Iraq”:

Some analysts believe the potential long-term damage to the armed forces, not political pressure, could be the decisive factor for Bush and his advisors.

Andrew Krepinevich, a former Pentagon official who heads the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent defense research group in Washington, argues that these strains have become a key factor informing administration thinking.

Unlike the Vietnam era, when the military had a nearly endless supply of draftees, the Iraq experience has sharply reduced the flow of recruits into the volunteer armed forces and attrition rates are alarmingly high, Krepinevich noted.

Other factors, such as federal restrictions on the frequency of National Guard deployments, also limit available personnel.

This summer, differences between the White House and some military commanders over troop reductions were the result of these problems, analysts believe. Although divisions remain within the administration, there are increasing signs that Bush may be calculating that a faster drawdown carries fewer long-term risks.

“I think the administration will yield to the reality of an Army that is apparently beginning to buckle under the strain of these long-term deployments,” Krepinevich said.

The problem for military leaders wishing to express themselves publicly about this issue is that as long as they are still commissioned officers, they are discouraged by military convention and law from doing anything that could be seen as undermining the authority of their commander-in-chief, George W. Bush. If they wish to avoid legal and professional risks for speaking out, they have to find indirect ways to communicate their criticisms. This, in fact, is what some Pentagon insiders say was being done through Rep. Murtha. As noted by Alexander Cockburn in a piece posted at CounterPunch.org, “The immense significance of Rep. John Murtha's November 17 speech calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq is that it signals mutiny in the U.S. senior officer corps.” (See “The Revolt of the Generals,” Counter Punch, Dec. 3, 2005.)

Included in Murtha’s speech was the following statement, undoubtedly based on briefings he received from his Pentagon confidants:

The future of our military is at risk. Our military and our families are stretched thin. Many say the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on a third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military has lowered its standards. They expect to take 20 percent category 4, which is the lowest [intelligence] category, which they said they'd never take. They have been forced to do that to try to meet a reduced quota.

One thing the Army has done to temporarily try to keep the recruiting crisis from snowballing is lower its recruiting quotas for the early part of fiscal year 2006 (33% less than the same period in 2005). This and the acceptance of larger numbers of less qualified recruits have allowed it, so far, to claim success in meeting its quotas; but it is really only a temporary public relations move, since the reduced numbers will have to be made up later in the year. One can only assume that the Army is hoping that the recruiting climate will change by then, and more young people will be willing to enlist. But short of another major attack on U.S. soil, the only thing that is likely to bring such a change is a significant withdrawal of troops from the war zone.

The Peace Movement’s Perceptions of the Issue

All of this is important for the peace movement to understand because it corrects the simplistic assumption often made on the Left that Bush, Cheney and the neocons are totally in control and will have their way. As this view holds, the occupation of Iraq will last at least a decade, Iran and Syria will be attacked, we'll probably have a draft, and, on the extreme side, some even say fascism will be the inevitable result. However, the reality illustrated by the differences between the generals and politicians is that the U.S. government is not as monolithic as many people think, and the power structure has factions that are often seriously at odds with each other.

As we are seeing right now, there are limits to how far Bush and the neocons can go with their plan for global hegemony when the resources for it are running low. Fortunately, we are in a position to help diminish those resources more IF we apply our own efforts with a sharper focus and stronger commitment to countering military recruiting. It would further limit the government’s capacity to wage other aggressive wars and, at the same time, give the generals more motivation to become, essentially, our short-term allies.

A hopeful sign is that college and community peace activists have been giving military recruiting more attention lately. Over the last two years, for example, membership in a key discussion list for counter-recruitment organizing (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/counter-recruitment) has approximately doubled to 573, and the list's message traffic has tripled to 334 postings per month. All across the country, small grassroots efforts are springing up – sometimes attached to existing anti-war organizations, sometimes independent of any other local group. Their effectiveness can be seen in accounts of schools that have tightened up recruiter access and opened their doors to counter-recruiters, and in reports of more frequent protests at recruiting stations and during recruiter visits to colleges.

Nevertheless, there are two weaknesses in what has developed so far. One is that the peace movement in general, including its financial support base, is still focusing primarily on vigils, rallies and other symbolic forms of protest that are not directly related to military recruiting and are having no material effect. And second, among those who are turning their attention to recruiting, many activists see it only as a tactic for opposing the occupation of Iraq, and they would cease their counter-recruitment work as soon as the troops came home.

It is imperative that this issue be given a higher priority and be seen as strategic rather than tactical. The larger context that surrounds it goes well beyond Iraq and relates to, among other things, economic class, race, ethnicity, immigration status and other socio-economic factors that help determine who winds up being sacrificed in our country’s wars. Responding to this aspect of the problem necessitates, for example, compiling information at the grassroots level on employment and educational alternatives that can lessen the pressure on non-affluent youths to join the military. Taking that step, as some of the more thoughtful counter-recruitment groups have done, is an important way to forge links with communities that have traditionally not been reached effectively by the peace movement.

Another important aspect of the problem that needs to be understood and addressed by the peace movement is the ongoing militarization of the educational system that is being driven by the military’s push to recruit. The ideal of democratic, civilian control is literally under assault as our schools are increasingly invaded by programs that teach military values, instead of critical thinking, to future generations of voters and government leaders. Programs like Jr. ROTC have taken over entire high schools in some cities and now have 500,000 students enrolled as “cadets” nationwide. Units of the Young Marines have spread into hundreds of middle schools, and there is a growing network of other military/school partnerships that propagandize students throughout the K-12 system.

Teaching military values in civilian schools is not just grooming a few children to become future soldiers. It is already affecting the general public’s increased acceptance of war as a valid response to the perception of attack. It is numbing the minds of civilians so that they do not ask even the most obvious questions when the government says we must invade another country. It is turning the country further to the right and making it difficult for people to see the direct link between such choices and the lack of healthcare, safe housing, rewarding jobs, and good educations for everyone here at home.

The challenge for the peace movement, then, is to recognize the critical nature of counter-recruitment and the position of strength it offers us if we devote more attention and resources to it. Furthermore, counter-recruitment should be embraced as an important opportunity for addressing the disproportionate impact of war on those who are politically and economically less privileged than the traditional membership of the peace movement. And finally, the full scope of the problem – including the general militarization of schools and youth culture – should be taken up for the long term, not just until the present military crisis subsides. By working as long as it takes to reverse militarization at this level, we can become a proactive peace movement that is capable of preventing war instead of only reacting when it becomes inevitable.

Information sources: Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2005; www.CounterPunch.org; Christian Science Monitor, December 15, 2005.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)

Counter-Recruiting the "Hispanic Market"

Jorge Mariscal -

The 2000 census teaches us two interesting facts about the way in which Latinos are contributing to the changing face of the United States. First, more legal immigrants arrived in the decade of the 1990s than in any previous decade in our history. The economic boom (or bubble) of the Clinton years attracted large numbers of people from around the world. Second, the majority of these immigrants came from Latin America (approximately 51%; 26% are from Asian countries). For the most part, the new arrivals are workers searching for a better life, without much education, and deeply attracted by the promise of economic opportunity north of the border. The overwhelming majority of them will work hard, their children will become educated, and they will make significant contributions to our society.

Because these new immigrants have yet to experience the disconnection between the promise of democracy and equality in this country and what the country has actually delivered to working people of color over time, many of them will adopt an uncritical view of current events. If local and national authorities proclaim that war against Iraq is necessary and the mass media reinforces that message, many new arrivals will accept it as fact. Some will even join the armed forces or encourage their children to join. What better way, they ask, to show our gratitude to the United States? What better way to prove our patriotism and show that we too are real Americans?

Add to this scenario the fact that Mexican American or Chicano/a youth — that is, the children of families who have been in the U.S. for many decades, if not centuries — continue to have a relatively limited range of life opportunities. More than one-third of all Latinos are under 18 years of age. With a high school dropout rate around 40% and high rates of incarceration (in California, Latinos are 36% of the prison population but only 32% of the state population), many Latino youth see little hope for the future. The cost of a college education in California is rising sharply. Even at community colleges, where most Latino college students are found, there are proposals to double the fees. Among high school graduates attending graduate and professional programs, Latinos make up only 1.9% (compared to 3% Black, 3.8% Whites, and 8.8% Asian).

Across the board, conditions for Latinos have deteriorated since the 2000 election. After four consecutive years of increases, the median household income for Latinos decreased between 2000 and 2001. Although Latinos have a high rate of participation in the labor force, over 11% of Latino workers live in poverty. About 7% of Latinos with full-time jobs were still living below the poverty line in 2001 (compared to 4.4% of African Americans and 1.7% for Whites). What is clear from this data is that Latinos and Latinas are working extremely hard but are trapped in minimum-wage jobs. Many hold multiple jobs at low wages.

Military recruiters are well aware of this situation and have targeted Latino youth as the primary objective for their efforts in coming years. A recent "Strategic Partnership Plan for 2002-2007" written by the U.S. Army Recruiting Command notes: "The Hispanic population is the fastest growing demographic in the United States and is projected to become 25% of the U.S. population by the year 2025." The plan goes on to state: "Priority areas are designated primarily as the cross section of weak labor opportunities and college-age population as determined by both [the] general and Hispanic population."

Given the overall economic context and the military's continued interest in Latino youth — a trend initiated by Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera, who once declared that the Army could "provide the best education in the world" — we can be sure that the enlisted ranks will fill up with increasing numbers of Latinos and Latinas. (Very few Latinos make it into the officers' ranks. Among all Latinos in today's Marine Corps, for example, only 3% are officers.)

Visit any high school with a large Latino population and you will find JROTC units, Army-sponsored computer games, and an overabundance of recruiters, often more numerous than career counselors. Recently, at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles, a group of students was so appalled at the intrusive behavior of recruiters that they formed "Students not Soldiers" and demanded that real job counselors be hired.

Such acts of resistance to the ongoing militarization of U.S. culture, however, are rarely reported, so many Latino students and parents will fall prey to a limited range of opportunity and the Pentagon's propaganda blitz. As progressives involved in counter-recruitment work, we must struggle to understand the pressures on Latino communities. It will not be enough to shake our heads in disapproval at their displays of uncritical patriotism.

With war looming in the Middle East, Latino communities are slowly awakening to the fact that a permanently militarized economy and culture will not benefit them or their children. Our message to them should be that they can serve their country by excelling in work and study, by speaking out for peace and equality, and by joining the struggle to bring economic justice to all people.

Jorge Mariscal is a UC San Diego professor, a Vietnam veteran, and a member of the counter-recruitment organization Project YANO.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org)


National Counter-recruitment Movement Enters New Stage

Rick Jahnkow -

Tools makers of PeaceOver 100 activists were present in Philadelphia the weekend of June 25-27 to officially christen the new National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY). Born from a proposal made at the "Stopping War Where It Begins" counter-recruitment conference held a year earlier in Philadelphia, NNOMY is an effort to bring together the growing number of organizations and activists who are working against the militarization of young people in communities across the country. Participating in this first NNOMY conference were people from California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawai'i, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

Most of the conference participants represented organizations that have officially become network members or are considering doing so. Approximately 30 local, regional and national groups have joined so far, some of which are: Veterans for Peace, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Youth Activists/Youth Allies (NY City), Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, Pax Christi USA, CHOICES (D.C.), Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (San Diego), American Friends Service Committee, Madison Area Peace Coalition, Teen Peace in Port Townsend (WA), Los Angeles Coalition Opposed to Militarism in Our Schools, Not in Our Name, Resource Center for Non-violence in Santa Cruz (CA), and Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft. Additional memberships are pending from various other organizations.

To promote more effective networking and organizing, caucuses were formed at the conference around issue and identity themes, such as women in the military, Latinos, draft-related issues, rural organizing, people of color, youth of color and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Questioning). To broaden representation in decision-making, caucuses were invited to apply for membership status that is equal to regular organizations, and some were included in a NNOMY steering committee. Ten organizations and six caucuses were unanimously approved for the steering committee, which will make between-meeting decisions that are subject to review by the larger body of voting network members. Also adopted was a proposal from the youth caucus to have at least two steering committee members younger than 25, and to pursue the goal of majority representation by both youth and people of color.

NNOMY will continue to grow and develop plans, but an immediate course was set at the conference to pursue two goals: facilitating further development of organizing and educational resources, and promoting regional training of counter-recruitment organizers. For the near future, conference participants volunteered to collaborate on some specific resource development projects, and regional caucuses met to discuss what they could do to carry out networking and training in their geographical areas. Progress in these and other areas will depend on additional post-conference communication, so the contact information for participants will be incorporated into the Stopping War email list that was established after the national conference held in 2003. Caucuses will have their own communications networks and will, hopefully, continue to work on the special issues that brought them together.

One important facet of NNOMY is its commitment to including and supporting the various communities that are especially affected by military recruiting and the violence of militarism, including people who are victims of the military's homophobia. And since the conference dates overlapped with gay pride celebrations nationally, special materials were given to conference attendees on issues relating to militarism and sexual identity. An exciting music/spoken word event was also organized and hosted by the Attic Youth Center in Philadelphia, one of the few Queer youth centers in the country.

The NNOMY conference itself was co-hosted in Philadelphia by the American Friends Service Committee and Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. Conference planning and other tasks were shared by a number of groups that had served as an ad hoc steering committee, but the AFSC Youth and Militarism Program office provided the bulk of the on-site resources and logistical support, including the Friends Center where the conference was held.

It was especially appropriate that the founding meeting of this network occurred in a city where some of the most important revolutionary events occurred in U.S. history and within days of the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. While some of the decisions that went into the formation of the U.S. government over 200 years ago were tragically inconsistent with the ideals of liberty and justice for all, one thing that many of the country's founders got right was their perception that the growth and influence of a large military establishment would undermine civil society and progress toward democracy. Over the last 60 years, this lesson has been largely forgotten, and the traditional controls over the military that were once seen as necessary and even taken for granted have greatly eroded. In addition to the considerable influence that the Pentagon has over government decisions (including economic ones), our most important institutions of socialization, the public schools, are being overrun by people in uniform teaching military values, and popular culture is being saturated with messages that popularize soldiering and war. We are rapidly approaching a point where the long-term effects of militarization will be extremely difficult to reverse. A massive effort is needed to turn the trend around, and NNOMY is a crucial step in that direction.

The conference in Philadelphia was a time of sharing, discussing, strategizing and planning that left us at the end with an important opening to build a movement that speaks to the needs of constituencies that have traditionally not been reached very well by the U.S. peace movement. And because it focuses on interrupting the flow of human resources and challenging the mechanisms of propaganda that are needed to wage war, it is an effort that also offers people an effective way to move from war protest to war resistance, while at the same time working for long-term social transformation.

For more information, contact NNOMY c/o AFSC Youth and Militarism Program, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102; 215-241-7176; http://www.youthandthemilitary.org.

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org)


Illegal Immigrants: Uncle Sam Wants You

Deborah Davis -

Latino teenagers, including illegal immigrants are being recruited into the military with false promises.

In 1996, Jesus Alberto Suarez del Solar was a 13-year-old boy, up from Tijuana on a family shopping trip, when he stopped at a Marine Corps recruiting table at an open-air mall in Chula Vista, Calif.

Jesus had been an easy mark for the recruiter—a boy who fantasized that by joining the powerful, heroic U.S. Marines, he could help his own country fight drug lords. He gave the recruiter his address and phone number in Mexico, and the recruiter called him twice a week for the next two years, until he had talked Jesus into convincing his parents to move to California. Fernando and Rose Suarez sold their home and their laundry business and immigrated with their children to Escondido, where Jesus enrolled at a high school known for academic achievement. But the recruiter wanted him to transfer to a school for problem teenagers, since its requirements for graduation were lower and Jesus would be able to finish sooner. He was 17 and a half when he graduated from that school, still too young to enlist on his own, so his father co-signed the enlistment form, as the military requires for underage recruits.

Three years later, at the age of 20, his body was torn apart in Iraq by an American-made fragmentation grenade during the first week of the invasion. In the Pentagon’s official Iraq casualty database, his death is number 74.

Now Jesus is in a cemetery in Escondido, and his parents, who blame each other for his death, are painfully and bitterly divorced. While his mother bears her loss as a private tragedy, Fernando, who has dual Mexican and American citizenship, is working tirelessly to protect other young immigrants from being manipulated by U.S. military recruiters—the way he wishes he had protected his son.

In the Iraq war, citizenship is being used as a recruiting tool aimed specifically at young immigrants, who are told that by enlisting, they will be able to quickly get citizenship for themselves (sometimes true, depending on what the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch of the Department of Homeland Security finds) and their entire families (not true; each family member has to go through a separate application process). Nevertheless, with the political pressures on Latino families growing daily under this administration, many young Latinos are unable to resist the offer, which immigrants’ rights activists see as blatant exploitation of a vulnerable population.

From African American to Latino

Jesus, like the large majority of new military recruits, was signed up through the Delayed Entry Program (DEP), which operates in high schools, GED programs and home-schooling networks across the nation. The well-crafted messages on the DEP website have been in development ever since the draft ended and the all-volunteer military was initiated after Vietnam. The DEP’s persuasion campaigns originally targeted black teenagers with the message that military service equaled jobs that promised equal treatment regardless of race. DEP recruiters were able to easily meet their quotas until the early ’80s, when enlistment rates of young African Americans began to decline and the rates for Latinos began to rise for reasons the military did not understand. A 1995 article in Marketing Science, “The Navy Enlistment Marketing Experiment,” noted that “a surprising development was the emergence of the Hispanic population as an important variable contributing to the pool of … contracts. Further investigation of the phenomenon is warranted.”

Over the next decade, the military commissioned a number of studies on the relationship between race and ethnicity and the “propensity to enlist.” For example, the Youth Attitude Tracking Survey, conducted between 1975 and 1999 and published by the Defense Technical Information Center, found a correlation between the rising educational achievement of blacks and lower enlistment rates; and between the low educational achievement of Latinos (particularly if their first language was not English) and rising enlistment rates. As Latinos became a more important source of recruits, the Pentagon hired market research firms to design advertising campaigns that addressed the issues they cared most about—pride in family, children in school and citizenship.

Today, the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force recruitment campaigns focus largely on education and benefits to families. The Army’s campaign, created by Cartel Impacto, a cutting-edge firm from San Antonio, uses the firm’s proprietary “barrio anthropology” and grassroots “viral and guerilla marketing” techniques to “go deep into the neighborhoods and barrios” in order to tell Latino families how the military can help them have the kind of life they want in America. “We address the core issues of why they left their country in the first place,” says a Cartel Impacto spokesperson, who did not want her name published. “You have to conduct your outreach carefully,” she says, “using PTAs as an entry point,” as well as “local Hispanic groups that the newly arrived would look to.”

Recruit friends, earn bucks

These marketing campaigns support the work of recruiters who—as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act—must have free access to students in every one of the country’s public schools. Recruiters operating in high schools try to get children as young as 14 to sign up for the military’s DEP, which allows them to finish high school before going on active duty. Under the program, these young “men and women,” as recruiters are trained to call them, are targeted, tested, gifted, video-gamed, recruitment-faired and career-counseled into enlisting before they turn 18. They are also paid $2,000 for every friend they talk into signing up with them, and, until recently, were paid $50 for every name they brought in to a recruiter. The DEP website provides tips on how students can assist recruiters in signing up their friends. The student can:

  • · Provide your recruiter with names and numbers of anyone you know who is considering joining the military.
  • · Obtain the names and numbers of people who work with you or attend places you frequent and the best time to talk to them.
  • · Obtain the names and numbers of friends or acquaintances who sit with you in classes.
  • · Help your recruiter by screening his/her lists.
  • · Accompany your recruiter to places your friends normally hang out and make introductions.

In addition to cash, students who help recruiters to enlist their friends are promoted to a higher military rank, from Private E-1 to Private E-2, even before they are out of high school. The rewards are commensurate with the quality of the friends they recruit, as measured by their friends’ ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) scores. “You will get promoted to Private E-2,” promises the DEP website, if your referrals lead to the enlistment of “one soldier who scores 50 or higher on the ASVAB,” or “two soldiers who score 31-49.” Private E-1s are paid $1,301 a month, while E-2s earn $1,458 per month. Further, getting a second high-scoring friend or two more low-scoring friends to enlist earns the student another promotion, to Private E-3, and kicks the entry pay up to $1,534 per month.

Another way DEPs can earn extra money is to volunteer for hazardous duty. Students who sign up to be in a combat unit, or to dismantle explosives, or to handle toxic chemicals, get an additional $150 per month on top of their basic pay. Volunteering for hazardous duty, however, is a relative concept. Since DEP recruits do not, by definition, have a college education, there are few other military occupations open to them, except if their ASVAB scores are high enough for them to qualify for advanced training. But with the greatest need in this war being combat soldiers—so much so that even highly trained Air Force personnel are being sent to work with Army ground troop units—the chances of any DEP recruit getting out of combat duty and its attendant hazards are slim. The ASVAB is also administered only in English; and any job requiring even a security clearance cannot be held by a non-citizen. The implications of these conditions for young immigrants can be deadly.

The Department of Defense’s casualty database (http://icasualties.org) doesn’t publicly break down the dead and injured by ethnic group, but a tally of Latino surnames found that between January 10 when the surge began and July 1, 20 percent of the 174 young people (aged 18-21) who died were likely to have been Latino (the military does not keep public data on the race or ethnicity of casualties). With the intensification of DEP recruiting efforts in largely Latino high schools since the invasion began, this is no surprise.

Legal illegals vs. illegal illegals

How many of these young Latino recruits are illegal immigrants? “Nobody knows,” says Flavia Jimenez, an immigration policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza. “But what we do know is that recruiters may not be up to speed on everybody’s legal status. … We also know that a significant number of [illegals] have died in Iraq.” The recruitment of illegal immigrants is particularly intense in Los Angeles, where 75 percent of the high school students are Latino. “A lot of our students are undocumented,” says Arlene Inouye, a teacher at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, “and it’s common knowledge that recruiters offer green cards.” Inouye is the coordinator and founder of the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools (CAMS), a counter-recruitment organization that educates teenagers about deceptive recruiting practices. “The practice is pretty widespread all over the nation,” she says, “especially in California and Texas. … The recruiters tell them, ‘you’ll be helping your family.’ “

Inouye referred me to Salvador Garcia, a student whose father had been deported, and who had been approached by a recruiter when he was a freshman at Garfield (He is now a senior). Garcia says the recruiter told him: “If you need papers, come and fight for us and we can get you some, and then you’ll never have to mess with immigration.” When he told the recruiter that he was born in this country, the recruiter responded, “Do you have anybody in your family that needs a green card, needs papers?” Salvador told him that his father, who had entered the country illegally from Mexico, had recently been deported. “If you join the military you can get your father back,” the recruiter said. “It’s not a problem, we can get him his papers and nobody will ever bother him again.” Salvador almost signed the enlistment form right then, but says he was stopped by the realization of “how it’s all connected—the war and Mexico and immigration.” He is now active in the counter-recruitment movement.

Recruiters in other parts of the country are making the same promises. In Chicago, for example, Jorge, whose entire family was illegal, joined the military because a high school recruiter promised that he and every member of his family would get a green card. Jorge actually did get a green card while he was in Iraq, but he became so angry and disillusioned when the military did nothing for his family that he went AWOL.

He is now back in Chicago, where a counter-recruitment activist named Juan Torres, whose only son was killed in Afghanistan, is working on getting him discharged from the military. Torres works with a number of counter-recruitment groups, including Gold Star Families for Peace and Military Families Speak Out, but mostly he works on his own, speaking at churches and schools around the country. He estimates that in the past year, close to 200 students have told him that they have been offered green cards for enlisting, and he says he personally knows of “five or six illegal families who have kids without papers in Iraq.” Torres talked one teenage girl into changing her mind just as she was about the sign the enlistment papers. He says that the recruiter told her, “Now you’re in trouble, you and your family, you will have to leave.” And Torres says he once asked a recruiter, the son of one of his friends, “How can you lie to the kids like that?” The recruiter told him, “Sorry, it’s my job, and I don’t want to go back to Iraq.”

Despite the mounting evidence of these recruitment practices, the Pentagon denies that illegal immigrants are in the military. “If there are any,” says Pentagon spokesman Joseph Burlas, “then they have fraudulently enlisted, and when they’re caught, they are discharged.”

That is what happened to Army Pvt Juan Escalante, whose illegal status was discovered while he was serving in Iraq. He was discharged and shipped home, and ICE began deportation proceedings against him and his parents, who had smuggled him into the United States from Mexico when he was four years old. However, Escalante’s unit commander wrote a letter on his behalf, saying he had served with distinction, so ICE reversed its decision and accepted his citizenship application. The deportation case against his parents, who also have two U.S.-born children, is still pending.

Another illegal immigrant serving in Iraq, Jose Gutierrez, was not so lucky. He was one of the first members of the U.S. armed forces to die during the invasion. Gutierrez had made his way to this country from Guatemala in 1996, at the age of 15, to escape the violence perpetrated by the death squads, only to be killed in Iraq by friendly fire. When the Pentagon announced his death, it came in the form of a carefully managed PR campaign that included a posthumous award of citizenship for Gutierrez, presumably to show that if an illegal immigrant manages to enlist and make it to Iraq, he will be rewarded. However, Gutierrez remains the only illegal alien on the U.S. casualty rolls whose real hometown is listed, while others who die are reported to be from Boston or Los Angeles, or wherever a recruiter finds them. In New York City, according to counter-recruitment activist Melida Arredondo, whose young stepson was killed in Iraq, DEP recruiters instruct illegal immigrants to write “New York City” as their “home of record address” on the enlistment form, and to write “pending” for their Social Security number.

Non-citizen soldiers

Why is all of this happening, when the enlistment and expedited naturalization of illegal immigrants serving in the armed forces is specifically authorized in U.S. law? An Executive Order signed by President Bush on July 3, 2002, provided for the “expedited naturalization for aliens and noncitizen nationals serving in an active-duty status in the Armed Forces of the United States during the period of the war against terrorists of global reach.” Under this order, any noncitizen in the military can apply for expedited citizenship on his first day of active duty. Not only is this order still in effect, but it has been codified in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2006, that authorizes the enlistment of (1) nationals of the United States; (2) aliens who have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence (green card); (3) residents of several former U.S. territories; and (4) any other person “if the Secretary of Defense determines that such enlistment is vital to the national interest.”

With the law so clear on this issue, the treatment of illegal immigrants in the military, both by the Pentagon and by ICE, is difficult to understand. “Apparently,” says Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, a nationally known immigration attorney and professor of military law at West Point, “nobody at the Pentagon reviewed the [regulations] on immigrants when the war started.” She adds, “If the Pentagon has any immigration attorneys, I haven’t met them.”

Stock speculates that if the Pentagon is aware of the law, it might be “afraid there would be a political backlash” if the use of immigrant labor for the war were discussed openly. In a later e-mail, she added, “And by the way, the Pentagon has ALWAYS had the authority to recruit foreigners in wartime. … The only thing that changed in January 2006 [when Bush signed the NDAA] was that Congress made it HARDER for the Pentagon to recruit foreigners who are not Lawful Permanent Residents. It used to be that ANYONE could join the military in wartime—even undocumented immigrants—but now the Service Secretaries have to find that an undocumented person’s enlistment is ‘in the vital interest’ of the United States.”

To illustrate her point, Stock noted that a section of the 2006 Immigration and Nationalization Law locates the naturalization of immigrants serving in Iraq firmly in the tradition of naturalizations “during World War I, World War II, Korean hostilities, Vietnam hostilities, [and] other periods of military hostilities.” During these wars, citizenship was granted solely on the basis of three years of honorable service or honorable separation from service (discharge), whether or not the person ever lived in the United States.”

“Recruiters trying to fill slots have historically pressed vulnerable people into service,” says Dan Kesselbrenner, director of the National Immigration Project, a program of the National Lawyers Guild. “But for some people it’s the only way they are ever going to get citizenship.”

What recruiters do not tell their targets, however, is that the military itself has no authority to grant citizenship. It forwards their citizenship applications to ICE, which will then scrutinize them and their entire families for up to a year. Created under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 as the successor to the law enforcement arms of both the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the U.S. Customs Service, ICE has been tasked “to more effectively enforce our immigration and customs laws and protect the United States against terrorist attacks.” ICE does this, as its website explains, “by targeting illegal immigrants: the people, money and materials that support terrorism and other criminal activities.”

Recruiters also do not tell their targets that citizenship can be denied for the very same past criminal offenses that the military may have overlooked when admitting them—such as being in the country illegally. Nor do they tell recruits that citizenship can be denied for any kind of dishonorable behavior, which includes refusing to participate in combat. The immigrant law that provides for the naturalization of illegal immigrants in the military clearly states, “No person who … was a conscientious objector who performed no military, air, or naval duty … or refused to wear the uniform, shall be regarded as having served honorably or having been separated under honorable conditions.” This means, according to Stock and other military law experts, that while applying for conscientious objector status is not, by itself, grounds for a dishonorable discharge, attempting to act on one’s beliefs by refusing to fight, wear a uniform or carry a weapon, constitutes disobeying an order, which is dishonorable behavior.

As the war in Iraq drags on and recruiters step up their efforts to enlist high school students—even demanding the right to come into classrooms—teachers, parents, and students themselves are doing what they can to slow the rate of enlistment of young immigrants who believe that military service is their path to citizenship. But as long as American citizenship remains a kind of salvation myth for the Latino community, military recruiters will be able to exploit their longing for it.

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill (S 1639), which failed to pass the Senate in June, proposed to give legal permanent residency to any “alien who has served in the uniformed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, has received an honorable discharge.” In other words, illegal immigrants have been in the military all along, and the government was getting ready to admit it. Now, with the bill’s defeat, they will be forced to remain hidden, and the sacrifices they have made for this country will continue to go unacknowledged.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I would like to thank Melida Arredondo for all of her assistance to this article.

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