Articles

Military Recruitment and the Immigration Debate

Jorge Mariscal -

In an obscure memoir of the U.S. war in Southeast Asia, an undocumented Mexican who had enlisted in the U.S. Army with the aid of an unscrupulous recruiter, writes: “I realized that for me to live in the United States, the system was asking me to pay a high price. Now I probably would have to give my life. Was it worth it?”

During the Vietnam War period, citizens from foreign countries in the U.S. military were rare and unknown to the public. Today, although they make up only a small percentage of the overall force, they appear regularly in media stories, Pentagon publicity, and nativist rants about a Mexican invasion.

Non-citizens make up 3-5% of total military personnel. To date, they have received more than 200 medals and awards in the combat zone. More than 100 of them have received posthumous citizenship after making the ultimate sacrifice. The majority of them have roots in Mexico and Latin America.

Is the U.S. military becoming a foreign legion? Not yet, but the strain on active duty, Reserve, and National Guard personnel is becoming unbearable. General David Petraeus’s report to Congress last month — and even recent statements made by Democratic Party presidential candidates — make clear that the occupation of Iraq will last many more years. Fresh bodies will be hard to find, so there is renewed interest in a piece of legislation that could produce a bumper crop of eligible non-citizens for recruiters.

The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act has been floating around the halls of Congress for more than six years, and Draft NOtices was one of the first publications to warn about its military component. If passed, the legislation would provide a pathway to permanent residency for undocumented young people who were raised and completed high school in the United States. Those who qualify would have to complete two years of college or enlist in the military in order to earn a permanent green card.

The Latino community was quick to support the legislation because of its educational component, but for the first five years there was a deafening silence in Latino circles about the military option. This changed only recently when the Pentagon and elected officials began to openly discuss the DREAM Act as a possible fix for the military’s manpower needs.

In 2006, Bill Carr, Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy, told reporters that the DREAM legislation would help boost military recruiting. Last July, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said, "The DREAM Act would address a very serious recruitment crisis that faces our military. Under the DREAM Act, tens of thousands of well-qualified potential recruits would become eligible for military service for the first time."

Lt. Col. Margaret Stock of the U.S. Army Reserve and a faculty member at West Point who helped draft the legislation confirmed that the DREAM Act could help recruiters meet their goals by providing a "highly qualified cohort of young people." She added, “Passage of the bill could well solve the Armed Forces’ enlisted recruiting woes.”

Drawing on cultural stereotypes about “Hispanic culture,” she told the Orange County Register that “Hispanic immigrants who would be affected by this bill would be even more likely to join the military because it is considered the honorable thing to do in the Hispanic culture.” One wonders if Lt. Col. Stock is teaching her cadets such banal and reductive clichés about diverse Latino traditions.

The irony, of course, is that while the Pentagon chases young non-citizens to fill the ranks of the U.S. occupation forces, other non-citizen workers whose economic contributions to the nation are undeniable are being pursued and harassed by other agencies of the U.S. government.

As one worker told me, Latino communities are experiencing a “double deportation.” On the one hand, military recruiters are flooding high schools with Latino majorities and the Pentagon is pushing hard for passage of the DREAM Act. Many of those young people who are successfully recruited will end up in Iraq and Afghanistan. A metaphorical deportation, of course, but from the family’s point of view a painful removal of a loved one nonetheless.

At the same time, the undocumented parents and siblings of those soldiers, sailors, aviators, and Marines watch as armored vehicles carrying teams of armed officers invade their neighborhoods to conduct Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. Just this month, for example, in the working-class neighborhood of Barrio Logan in San Diego, local police surrounded a ten-block area while helicopters circled overhead and ICE agents swept through in full combat regalia. Similar actions are taking place across the country.

Some of these parents have been arrested and scheduled for deportation hearings. Remember that these are parents whose sons and daughters are fighting “for democracy” in Iraq. One such case is that of U.S. Army Private Armando Soriano, 20, who died in Iraq in 2004. This summer ICE raids swept through Houston. Armando’s father was detained and is currently threatened with deportation.

In late September, Senator Durbin agreed to drop the in-state tuition rate clause of the DREAM Act in response to pressure from restrictionist groups and to garner more Republican votes. This change would have blocked many undocumented students from taking the college option and, inadvertently or not, would have placed them on the military pathway to legalization. Despite Durbin’s concessions, the DREAM amendment was not attached to this year’s defense appropriations bill and so disappeared once again into the congressional ether for at least several more months, if not forever.

If the DREAM Act ever does resurface and is eventually approved, thousands of Latino youth who are unable to take the college option will be tempted to enlist to attain legal status. With no end in sight to the occupation of Iraq and with other wars looming in the future, they, like the undocumented Mexican soldier in Vietnam, will have to ask themselves whether or not the price is simply too high.

Information sources: Congressional Record--Senate (July 13, 2007); Ernesto Portillo, Jr., “DREAM Act better than nothing, but flawed,” Arizona Star (September 26, 2007); Vanja Petrovic, “DREAM Act blocked from defense bill,” Orange County Register (September 27, 2007).

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


Youth Activists Demand Military-Free Schools

Jorge Mariscal -

On the weekend of July 17, over 250 activists from across the country converged on Roosevelt University in Chicago for the largest meeting ever of counter-recruitment and anti-militarism organizers.  Retirees from Florida and California, concerned parents from Ohio and Massachusetts, veterans from New Mexico and Oregon, grandmothers from Texas and North Carolina joined with youth organizations such as New York’s Ya-Yas (Youth Activists-Youth Allies) and San Diego’s Education Not Arms to consolidate a movement intent on resisting the increased militarization of U.S. public schools.

The building overlooking Lake Michigan vibrated with the positive energy of the diverse participants—people from different generations, regions, and ethnicities mixing together and exchanging stories about their struggle to demilitarize local schools.  For many senior citizens from the East Coast this was the first time they had met much less learned from Chicana high school students who live in border communities near San Diego.  For those relatively new to the counter-recruitment movement, the experience taught them more about the on-going process in which young people are increasingly subjected to military values and aggressive recruiting techniques.

Organized by the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY), an alliance of over 180 organizations, the conference included workshops and caucuses on a variety of subjects ranging from the role of class and culture in counter-recruiting, women in the military, and legislative approaches to challenging militarization.

The growth of the counter-recruitment movement benefited greatly from the Bush administration’s slide into totalitarianism.  While established organizations like Project YANO of San Diego and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Youth and Militarism program had been working for decades to demilitarize youth, the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 for the first time alerted many to the insidious nature of military recruiting in schools.  Many newcomers to the movement began with “opt-out” campaigns to protect students’ privacy and then moved on to the issue of military aptitude tests (ASVAB) that are often administered covertly in school districts nationwide.

Although some activists during the Bush years saw counter-recruitment solely as an antiwar tactic, the participants at the NNOMY conference understood that militarism is an issue that must be confronted with long-term strategies.  As many of them told me, it is less an issue of stopping current wars (although that is important) than it is of inhibiting the power of the military-corporate-educational complex with the goal of slowly transforming an interventionist and imperial foreign policy.

The symbolism of the conference location was especially important given that the Chicago public school district is the most heavily militarized district in the nation.  The current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was superintendent of the city’s schools and oversaw the expansion of JROTC and military academies.  Today, Chicago has more academies and more JROTC cadets than any other city in the country.  Under Duncan’s leadership, it will more than likely become a model for the rest of the country.

As Sam Diener reported at the NNOMY conference, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 mandates that the military work to increase the number of schools with JROTC from the current total of about 3400 schools to 3700 schools by the year 2020 (a list of schools targeted for new units will be posted shortly on the Peacework Magazine website).

The larger context is alarming.  The decades long defunding of public education, the resultant decline of K-12 systems across the country, and the growth of the charter school movement has produced a situation in which the Pentagon is free to wade into the wreckage with an offer many parents cannot refuse.  In a classic shock doctrine maneuver, the military exerts increasing influence in public schools offering desperate parents programs that will teach their sons and daughters discipline and “leadership skills.”  As Gina Perez explained at the NNOMY meeting, working class youth with limited options, many of whom are active in their community churches, believe they can “make a difference” by joining JROTC.

Despite the Pentagon’s denials, there is no question that militarized school programs operate as covert recruiting programs. Recent studies show that about 40% of all JROTC cadets end up enlisting in the military. Activists working in Georgia recently obtained school district documents that refer to the goal of creating “African American and Hispanic children soldiers.”  What the Pentagon hopes to produce, however, is not cannon fodder as an earlier Vietnam War-era analysis might suggest but rather an educated workforce able to complete the complex tasks of a well-oiled, increasingly high tech, military.

Given the difficulty recruiters have had finding enough high school graduates to fill their quotas, especially in those Latino communities that will provide the largest group of military-age youth for the foreseeable future, it makes sense that the military would attempt to create its own pipeline.  If the public schools cannot turn out enough qualified potential recruits, the Pentagon will do it.  Neoliberalism in the United States may not mean generals in the Oval Office.  But it may mean children in military uniforms marching in formation at a school near you.

The model for this aspect of the militarist agenda is the Chicago public school system where for several years minority neighborhoods have seen the increasing encroachment of the military.  Science teacher Brian Roa, who has written about the Chicago experience, described in a recent truthout article how Mayor Daley and Superintendent Duncan oversaw the expansion of military academies.  “One day the Navy occupied one floor of our school,” Roa said at the NNOMY conference, “and before we knew it they had taken over the second and then the third floor.”

At San Diego’s Mission Bay High School, funding for college preparatory courses was decreased while the principal implemented plans for a Marine Corps JROTC complete with firing range for air rifle practice.  Latino students created the Education Not Arms coalition and successfully convinced a majority on the San Diego Board of Education to ban rifle training at eleven high schools.  Similar success stories were recounted last weekend all of which suggest that not only is militarism a high priority issue for the new century but also that youth activism is alive and well.

The fact that President Obama’s daughters attend Quaker schools while his Secretary of Education oversees the expansion of military programs for working class children is one more glaring contradiction in Obamaland.  The young people who attended the NNOMY conference are aware of the contradiction and left Chicago vowing that they will not passively stand by as their schools become centers for military indoctrination.

More information on the counter-recruitment movement is available at the NNOMY website: http://www.nnomy.org/

JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran and a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at: jorgemariscal.blogspot.com/

Source: http://www.counterpunch.org/mariscal07232009.html

 

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Still Waiting, Still DREAMing

Jorge Mariscal with Mónica Jaúregui -

For the thousands of young people brought to the United States as children of undocumented immigrant families, a pathway to legalization deferred one more day is a pathway deferred far too long. As we have reported in previous issues of DraftNOtices for almost a decade multiple attempts to pass federal legislation that would legalize these youth have failed. The so-called DREAM Act, or Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, still lingers in the halls of Congress. But Democratic Party concerns about the 2010 elections, especially in the wake of the health care reform fiasco, may delay further progress on any immigration reform. In the meantime, supporters of the DREAM Act continue to hope. For many, their desperation increases day by day.

The DREAM Act’s most recent incarnation is found in two bills sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Representative Howard Berman of California. Both Senate bill 729 and H.R. 1751 propose to “permit States to determine State residency for higher education purposes and to authorize the cancellation of removal and adjustment of status of certain alien students who are long-term United States residents and who entered the United States as children, and for other purposes.” Last March, the Senate bill had only 32 co-sponsors and is now stalled at the Committee on the Judiciary; last May, the House bill with 106 co-sponsors was referred to the Subcommittee on Higher Education.

Perhaps a more important development related to the eventual legalization of undocumented youth is the comprehensive legislation recently introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. Although Gutierrez has not been an outspoken supporter of the DREAM Act, his new Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP) includes the following language:

Special Rule for Persons Brought to the United States Before the Age of 16: In order to simplify processing of applicants under CIR ASAP, those persons ordinarily covered under the DREAM Act will apply for status through the same program outlined above, with the following special features:

No fines for persons who were brought to the United States before the age of 16, have resided in the U.S. for at least five years, and were 35 years of age or less.

Such persons will be eligible for accelerated Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status upon graduation from high school, and completion of two years of college, military service, or employment. Persons granted LPR status under this provision would be eligible for naturalization three years after the date LPR status is granted.

Graduation from a U.S. high school or receipt of an equivalency degree will meet the English proficiency requirement.

Individual states permitted to determine residency requirements for in-state tuition purposes.

The problem that has consistently plagued DREAM Act language reappears in Gutierrez’s bill — there is no such thing as a two-year military enlistment contract. The implication that two years of military service can lead to permanent residency is misleading, and DREAM Act supporters have been remiss in ignoring this important detail. When poorly understood by undocumented youth, this fine print could track those youth directly into the armed forces with no understanding of what they have signed up for.

Moreover, some Latino activists have pointed to the fact that the CIR ASAP legislation calls for increased militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. Operation Gatekeeper and earlier attempts to seal the border have led to increased death tolls for undocumented workers. By burying the DREAM provisions in a bill that progressive Latinos might otherwise oppose, the Gutierrez proposal adds yet another layer of militarized solutions to the issue of how undocumented youth, most of whom would enlist seeking an affordable education, might earn the legal status they deserve.

Who are the DREAMers?

Many DREAM advocates have supported the provisions under the new proposed CIR ASAP even though they see that many of its provisions are unlikely to pass. Although they would prefer to have a DREAM Act proposal as stand-alone legislation, they agree that it is important that the Obama administration support comprehensive reform and the passage of CIR ASAP.

Chief among the supporters are young immigrants and U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. "I am doing this to help my mom and my sister and my family and other undocumented students who are suffering," said one 20-year-old Oakland college student who did not want to give his name because he fears deportation. “Two million undocumented immigrants are Asian, and I'm one of them. . . . It's really crucial to me for this bill to be passed. This is the only thing I'm relying on, depending on."

Dr. Roberto Rodríguez of the University of Arizona tells the story of another anonymous student — Leticia X. According to Rodríguez, Leticia X is the very definition of a DREAM high school student. She is at the top of her class, is very involved, has worked hard to get into college, and even studies when sick. Unfortunately, like other undocumented students, she will be unable to attend college. This is not for lack of preparedness and/or readiness, not because her grades and involvement are lacking, and not because of laziness and apathy but rather because of a lack of opportunity — because the government offers no financial assistance to students like her. Due to rising tuition rates and ridiculously high out-of-state tuition rates, students like Leticia X lack the means to pay for a college education. If the law does not change soon, Leticia X, like many other unauthorized students, will not be able to attend college.

Undocumented youth cannot get a driver's license, cannot receive financial aid, and technically cannot hold a job. The level of desperation is extremely (and justifiably) high in the undocumented community. A pathway to legalization no matter what the risks is what they literally are dreaming of.

At the same time, many youth from recently arrived immigrant families operate out of a naive patriotism that grows out of a sense of "gratitude." Their living conditions here are usually so far superior to what they were in their country of origin that they believe they have to "give back" or "make a difference." Military recruiters prey on these very real emotions.

This explains why undocumented youth and the organizations that are fighting for passage of DREAM do not and often cannot see at least two important facts: 1) the DREAM was to a large degree developed and written by the Pentagon. One need only read Senator Durbin's testimony. It was not about education. It was strictly about making a pool of young, bilingual, U.S.-educated, high-achieving students available to the recruiters; and 2) the college option for legalization must be understood in the new climate for higher education. In California, rising costs and capped enrollments will make it virtually impossible for many undocumented youth to complete the two-year requirement, even at a community college. Recent studies show that a large percentage of Latino students who do attend community college drop out after five years with no degree due to financial pressures on the extended family.

For many, the situation is critical. Toward the end of 2009, media outlets reported on a series of undocumented students across the nation who committed minor infractions such as traffic violations and now faced deportation. Rescued by massive public outcry and the intervention of elected officials, these young people were classic “DREAMers” — outstanding students raised and educated in the United States. In Chicago, Rigoberto Padilla, whose family is from Mexico, had his hearing delayed for one year. In Detroit, Albanian-born Herta Llusho also was granted a delay as was Peruvian Alonso Chehade who recently graduated with a degree in business from the University of Washington. Should these young people be deported, they will be adrift in a country and a culture known to their parents but not to them.

Lessons for Counter-Recruiters

Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, one of the key consultants who helped draft DREAM Act legislation, recently wrote: “Because attending college is a very expensive proposition, the third option — joining the armed forces — is a likely choice for many of the young people who would be affected by the bill, hundreds of whom have already demonstrated an interest in joining the military.” Senator Durbin has emphasized repeatedly his hope that DREAMers will be a windfall for military recruiters.

The current crisis in higher education will lead not only to higher fees and tuition, but also to capped enrollments and reduced academic support services, thereby making it more difficult for working-class students to persist and graduate (see “The Education Crisis and Militarization” in this Draft NOtices). Military staffing needs will remain high as the Afghanistan campaign drags on, and even though rising unemployment is making the recruiter’s job easier, DREAMers still make up a highly desirable pool of not just warm bodies but bilingual, well educated, and highly motivated bodies.

Clearly, the seduction of young people into military service with the “promise” of legalization is a disturbing development. But counter-recruitment organizations should tread softly on the issue of whether or not they reject all of the DREAM Act provisions within CIR ASAP or just some of them. On the one hand, undocumented young people deserve a pathway to legalization, especially on the educational track. On the other hand, immigrant communities must be made aware of the reality of the relationship between militarization, military enlistment and immigration status. Here are some of the most important facts:

  • All military enlistment contracts are for eight years, not two.
  • Those who choose the military option but receive a less than honorable discharge may be subject to immediate deportation.
  • Students who receive conditional permanent residency under the proposed law would not be eligible for federal college financial aid such as Pell grants.
  • Conditional permanent residency does not equal Lawful Permanent Residency (LPR). Conditional residency lasts only six years.
  • Citizenship can only be gained through the normal naturalization process; LPR status does not guarantee citizenship.
  • Those who do not fulfill education or military requirements by the end of the six-year probation period may be subject to immediate deportation.

Counter-recruitment organizers should continue to question the harsh choice between college and the military. In 2006, Jeanne Batalova and Michael Fix of the Migration Policy Institute urged the authors of the DREAM Act to expand the options for earning LPR to include “vocationally oriented programs such as Job Corps, Department of Labor-certified apprenticeships, and selected non-degree programs,” pointing out the low college-attending rate for Latinos and the economy’s future need for skilled workers who are not college educated.

Similarly, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has called for the “inclusion of a community and volunteerism service component to the DREAM Act,” stating “AFSC supports the provisions in the DREAM Act that provide a path to permanent residency to undocumented immigrant students and lifts penalties on states that provide undocumented immigrant students with in-state tuition. But we cannot support policy or legislation inviting immigrant students — or any student — to join the armed forces.  AFSC vehemently rejects a military service component which serves as a de facto military draft for undocumented youth.”

The expansion of possible pathways toward legalization would capture hundreds of talented undocumented students who cannot afford college and do not choose to enlist.

Organizers also should familiarize themselves with the numerous cases of U.S. military veterans who face deportation proceedings upon leaving the military. The “Banished Veterans” website (http://www.banishedveterans.info/) contains numerous stories of veterans who fought overseas only to be detained in immigration centers and returned to their family’s country of origin. It cannot be emphasized enough that military service does not guarantee citizenship.

Many college students who support DREAM provisions say they will "make sure" their cousins and siblings do not enlist. But they ignore the harsh realities of the economy and the collapse of public higher education. When these supporters minimize the militarized aspects of DREAM legislation, they betray a kind of class blindness wrapped in a bootstraps mythology of "We did it, so can they." Let's hope they're right. But in case they’re wrong, counter-recruiters must continue to explain the realities behind the DREAM.

On a related issue: On November 9, 2009, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Military Families Act, S. 2757. This legislation would grant lawful permanent residency (not citizenship) to an undocumented spouse, parent, or child of a living or deceased member of the armed forces assuming the family member currently is in the United States, meets all other requirements, and the service member receives an honorable discharge. The bill currently has only seven co-sponsors and was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Until this legislation passes, undocumented family members of U.S. military personnel still run the risk of being deported.

Information sources: Emily Bazar, “Groups try to delay deportations of illegal immigrant students,” USA Today (12/15/09); AFSC, “Education is a Human Right” (June 2009); Lt. Col. Margaret D. Stock, “Essential to the Fight: Immigrants in the Military Eight Years after 9/11” (Immigration Policy Center, 2009); Batalova and Fix, “New Estimates of Unauthorized Youth Eligible for Legal Status under the DREAM Act,” (Migration Policy Institute, 2006); Roberto Rodríguez, “Leticia X: ‘I consider myself a U.S. citizen. It’s the only country I’ve ever known,’” politicalarticles.net (10/26/09).

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


Fighting the Poverty Draft

Jorge Mariscal -

When Boston College student Joe Previtera decided to protest the war in Iraq, he headed to the one place that keeps the war machine well stocked with fuel-his local recruiting office. In a clever display of street theater, Previtera put on a black hood and cape, stood on a cardboard box, and attached stereo wires to his hands. The message was clear enough. The recruiters say money for college but the reality of war says Abu Ghraib.

No one signed up that day but Previtera was arrested by Boston police and subsequently charged with two felonies having to do with "making false bomb threats" (charges were later dropped). In his act of grass roots pedagogy, Previtera joined a growing number of activists across the country that are focusing their attention on military recruiting as one of the most important fronts in the struggle against militarism and war. While many people continue to generate fearful predictions about an impending draft, others have realized that the so-called volunteer army is already a form of conscription for those young people with limited economic and educational opportunities.

At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, a group of over fifty people staged an act of civil disobedience outside a recruiting office near campus. Four students and a university employee entered the office and delivered their press release, refusing to leave until the recruiting station was turned into a financial aid office. The four protestors were arrested and charged with trespassing.

In their press release, the Madison group called recruitment "a predatory practice" and argued: "The war in Iraq has seen hundreds of thousands of soldiers sent to fight in a needless conflict. A large proportion of these soldiers were recruited from the most disempowered segments of American society-the poor, people of color, high school students. Recruitment often takes the place of financial aid or a decent job, and it is grossly unfair."

For a two week period following the protest in late November, 2004, a local Madison television station conducted a survey on its website. To the question "Are Military Recruiting Methods Unfair or ‘Predatory,’" over nine hundred respondents voted 58% NO, 32% YES, and 10% DON’T KNOW. Evidently counter-recruitment activists still have much work to do. Organizers of the original protest promised they would revisit the recruiting station in the near future.

In Vermont, activists converged on a local National Guard recruitment office. Among the fifty states, Vermont has one of the highest percentages of its population in the Guard and many have been deployed to Iraq and Kuwait. Organizer Leo Schiff called military recruiting "deceitful and deadly." In a local newspaper in Montpelier, one letter writer made the interesting observation that the U.S. Constitution may actually prohibit the use of Guard troops in foreign conflicts since Article I, Section 8 grants Congress the power "to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions" but not the power to deploy the Guard overseas.

One of the more dramatic protests targeting a recruitment station took place in late November of 2004 in Philadelphia. Increasingly frustrated by the lack of response from the Office of Housing and Urban Development to the needs of local homeless families, members of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU) moved out of the Bushville Tent City they had established and staged a sit-in at the city’s main Army recruiting station. Carrying signs that read, "Bring the Money Home" and "Billions for War, Still Nothing for the Poor," they briefly took over the office and issued a list of demands including affordable housing and domestic violence shelters. Several homeless families stated that they had relatives fighting in Iraq. The sit-in ended peacefully when fire and police officials arrived, and the homeless families returned to their encampment. "Operation Bring the Money Home" will continue into the new year (more information available at http://www.kwru.org/updates/2004/11-30-04.htm).

On January 20, 2005, the day of the presidential inauguration, hundreds of students walked out of local Seattle schools to protest the war in Iraq. At Seattle Central Community College, an ethnically diverse group of working class students surrounded an Army recruiters’ table and began to tear up enlistment literature, eventually forcing the recruiters to leave campus (see photo at http://www.antiwar.com/blog/index.php?id=P1677). Counter-recruitment actions at community colleges may be the wave of the future given the Pentagon’s increased interest in recruiting there. According to a study done by the Rand Corporation: "The greatest enlistment potential exists among two-year [college] students and two-year dropouts" ("The Enlistment Potential of College Students" in Asch and Kilburn, Recruiting Youth in the College Market, 2003).

In related actions, students and faculty at the University of Puerto Rico (Mayagüez and Río Piedras campuses) have sustained a three yearlong struggle to demilitarize their institutions of higher learning. Born out of the successful struggle by the community of Vieques to remove the U.S. Navy bombing range, the Frente Universitario por la Desmilitarización y la Educación (FUDE) or the University Front for Demilitarization and Education has led the fight to oust ROTC programs. They have used sit-ins and hunger strikes to block the construction of an Air Force ROTC building and temporarily took over an Army ROTC office where they painted murals with counter-recruitment themes on several walls.

One of the faculty leaders is mathematics professor Hector Rosario who, as an untenured faculty member, risked his career by participating in a fast at the end of last summer. Because of his activism he was suspended from teaching and will not receive any salary until university officials consider his case this March.

With at least 23 Puerto Ricans from the island killed in Iraq so far and thousands more in the armed forces, the issues of recruitment and war are controversial. But Rosario and his students will not be deterred. As he wrote in a press release last February: "Students claim these buildings that were meant for education of a country not for the military training of its citizens that will eventually participate in the massacre of childrenNot in our name. Not with our resources. Not anymore."

JORGE MARISCAL teaches Chicano Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Visit his blog at: http://jorgemariscal.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Poverty Draft

Jorge Mariscal -

Do military recruiters disproportionately target communities of color and the poor?

Recently I stumbled upon an online exchange about why young people join the military. One participant who claimed to be "on the Left" made the following assertion: "Disenfranchisement is the reason why kids join the military and they know going in that it gives them the opportunity to legally and with the blessing of our government kill, torture, and hate other people in order to give an outlet to their hostilities toward society."

Among the many youth I have met over the years as an educator and counter-recruitment activist, I have never met anyone who enlisted so that he or she could "kill, torture, and hate." While "disenfranchisement" may be an accurate word for why some youth enlist, the claim that working-class youth sign up so that they can "legally kill and torture other people" at the very least betrays a profound misunderstanding of why young people join the "all-volunteer military" and at worst reveals biases that separate Americans due to differences of class and race.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, the conservative claim that most youth enlist due to patriotism and the desire to "serve one's country" is equally misleading. The Pentagon's own surveys show that something vague and abstract called "duty to country" motivates only a portion of enlistees. But the vast majority of young people wind up in the military for different reasons, ranging from economic pressure to the desire to escape a dead-end situation at home to the promise of citizenship.

WHEN MANDATORY MILITARY service ended in 1973, the volunteer military was born. By the early 1980s, the term "poverty draft" had gained currency to connote the belief that the enlisted ranks of the military were made up of young people with limited economic opportunities.

Today, military recruiters react angrily to the term "poverty draft." They parse terms in order to argue that "the poor" are not good recruiting material because they lack the necessary education. Any inference that those currently serving do so because they have few other options is met with a sharp rebuke, as Sen. John Kerry learned last November when he seemed to tell a group of college students they could either work hard in school or "get stuck in Iraq."

President Bush led the bipartisan charge against Kerry: "The men and women who serve in our all-volunteer armed forces are plenty smart and are serving because they are patriots—and Sen. Kerry owes them an apology."

In reality, Kerry's "botched joke"—Kerry said he was talking about President Bush and not the troops—contained a kernel of truth. It is not so much that one either studies hard or winds up in Iraq but rather that many U.S. troops enlist because access to higher education is closed off to them. Although they may be "plenty smart," financial hardship drives many to view the military's promise of money for college as their only hope to study beyond high school.

Recruiters may not explicitly target "the poor," but there is mounting evidence that they target those whose career options are severely limited. According to a 2007 Associated Press analysis, "nearly three-fourths of [U.S. troops] killed in Iraq came from towns where the per capita income was below the national average. More than half came from towns where the percentage of people living in poverty topped the national average."

It perhaps should come as no surprise that the Army GED Plus Enlistment Program, in which applicants without high school diplomas are allowed to enlist while they complete a high school equivalency certificate, is focused on inner-city areas.

When working-class youth make it to their local community college, they often encounter military recruiters working hard to discourage them. "You're not going anywhere here," recruiters say. "This place is a dead end. I can offer you more." Pentagon-sponsored studies—such as the RAND Corporation's "Recruiting Youth in the College Market: Current Practices and Future Policy Options"—speak openly about college as the recruiter's number one competitor for the youth market.

Add in race as a supplemental factor for how class determines the propensity to enlist and you begin to understand why communities of color believe military recruiters disproportionately target their children. Recruiters swear they don't target by race. But the millions of Pentagon dollars spent on special recruiting campaigns for Latino and African-American youth contradicts their claim.

According to an Army Web site, the goal of the "Hispanic H2 Tour" was to "Build confidence, trust, and preference of the Army within the Hispanic community." The "Takin' it to the Streets Tour" was designed to accelerate recruitment in the African-American community where recruiters are particularly hard-pressed and faced with declining interest in the military as a career. In short, the nexus between class, race, and the "volunteer armed forces" is an unavoidable fact.

NOT ALL RECRUITS, of course, are driven by financial need. In working- class communities of every color, there are often long-standing traditions of military service and links between service and privileged forms of masculinity. For communities often marked as "foreign," such as Latinos and Asians, there is pressure to serve in order to prove that one is "American." For recent immigrants, there is the lure of gaining legal resident status or citizenship.

Economic pressure, however, is an undeniable motivation—yet to assert that fact in public often leads to confrontations with conservatives who ask, "How dare you question our troops' patriotism?" But any simplistic understanding of "patriotism" does not begin to capture the myriad of subjective motivations that often coexist alongside economic motives. Altruism—or as youth often put it, "I want to make a difference"—is also a major reason a significant number of people enlist.

It is a terrible irony that contemporary American society provides working-class youth with few other outlets besides the military for their desire for agency, personal empowerment, and social commitment. It is especially tragic whenever U.S. foreign policy turns away from national defense and back toward the imperial tradition of military adventurism, as it did in Vietnam and Iraq. Within a worldview of pre-emptive war and wars of choice, the altruism and good intentions of young people become one more sentiment to be manipulated and exploited in order to further the aims of a small group of policymakers.

In this scenario, the desire to "make a difference," once inserted into the military apparatus, means young Americans may have to kill innocent people or become brutalized by the realities of combat. Take the tragic example of Sgt. Paul Cortez, who graduated in 2000 from Central High School in the working-class town of Barstow, Calif., joined the Army, and was sent to Iraq. On March 12, 2006, he participated in the gang rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her entire family.

When asked about Cortez, a classmate said: "He would never do something like that. He would never hurt a female. He would never hit one or even raise his hand to one. Fighting for his country is one thing, but not when it comes to raping and murdering. That's not him." Let us accept the claim that "that's not him." Nevertheless, because of a series of unspeakable and unpardonable events within the context of an illegal and immoral war, "that" is what he became. On February 21, 2007, Cortez pled guilty to the rape and four counts of felony murder. He was convicted a few days later, sentenced to life in prison and a lifetime in his own personal hell.

As ex-Marine Martin Smith wrote recently in Counterpunch: "It speaks volumes that in order for young working-class men and women to gain self-confidence or self-worth, they seek to join an institution that trains them how to destroy, maim, and kill. The desire to become a Marine—as a journey to one's manhood or as a path to self-improvement—is a stinging indictment of the pathology of our class-ridden world." Like a large mammal insensitive to its offspring's needs and whereabouts, America is rolling over on the aspirations of its children and crushing them in the process.

Let us return now to our "friend" who thinks young people enlist so that they can legally kill and torture other human beings. According to this theory, Sgt. Cortez was a rapist before he enlisted. And so are others who enlist.

If young people enlist because of a predisposition to "kill and torture," why do so many U.S. troops crack under the pressure of combat and its aftershocks? Why are at least one in eight of all Iraq veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, according to a 2004 Pentagon study published in the New England Journal of Medicine? Dr. Matthew J. Friedman, executive director of the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, stated that the study's results were far too conservative. As the war in Iraq drags on, many more young veterans will experience some debilitating form of PTSD.

And if the majority of soldiers and Marines enjoy killing, why have so many filed for conscientious objector (CO) status? Hundreds of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have either begun or completed the CO process. According to Bill Galvin of the Center on Conscience and War: "For some people, the training gets to them. From stabbing dummies, to shouting 'Kill!' or 'Blood makes the grass grow!' But in the last year or two, we've been hearing people talking about their experiences in the war, or talking about the children they've witnessed being killed, or the civilians that were murdered. Some of them are wrestling with the guilt about people they may have killed or families they may have ruined."

Most people are not predisposed to kill, and so it should concern us that our children are being increasingly militarized in their schools and the culture as a whole. To take only one example: What does it mean for a society to put young people from ages 8 to 18 in military uniforms and call it "leadership training"? This is precisely what each of the more than 300 units of the Young Marines program is doing at a neighborhood school near you.

From rural America to the urban cores of deindustrialized cities, a military caste system is slowly taking shape. If recent history is any indication, our politicians will use our military less for national defense than for adventures premised on control of resources, strategic advantage, and ideological fantasies. As in the final decades of every declining empire, it's likely that many wars loom in our future.

Exactly who will have to fight and die in those wars will be determined by economic class. In order to accomplish their goals, the recruiters and politicians will exploit the hopes and dreams of mostly well-intentioned youth from humble origins who are looking for a way to contribute to a society that has lost its moral compass. As they did in Vietnam and again in Iraq, young women and men will serve their country. But how well will their country have served them?

Jorge Mariscal is the grandson of Mexican immigrants and the son of a U.S. Marine who fought in World War II. He served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and currently teaches at the University of California, San Diego.


A Call To All Activists to Shut Down the "Army Experience Center"

Pat Elder -

The children of Sparta were drilled in battle using knives and swords. At the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia the same kind of training for warfare is taking place, except children use simulated M-16 automatic rifles and M-240B light machine guns. The training in each scenario is appropriate for different kinds of battle -- facing the dreaded Athenians in hand to hand combat during the Peloponnesian War or launching hellfire missiles to "suspected terrorist targets" in Afghanistan by robotic drones controlled from digital war rooms in suburban Maryland and California.

The Spartans realized the importance of developing the ethos of a warrior caste and we're seeing that same phenomena today in America. This isn't a far-fetched notion. The Pentagon is intent on militarizing American youth at the earliest ages to cultivate this new breed of soldier, based on an ancient model.

Consider the changes made to the U.S. Army's Soldier's Creed. The old creed, discarded in 2003, had soldiers recite, "No matter what the situation I am in, I will never do anything, for pleasure, profit, or personal safety, which will disgrace my uniform, my unit, or my country. I will use every means I have, even beyond the line of duty, to restrain my Army comrades from actions disgraceful to themselves and to the uniform."

These words were scrapped for:

"I am an American Soldier. I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat."

In 2005, when Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker ordered Army recruiters in the nation's public schools to wear combat uniforms, it signaled a philosophical sea change in the tenor of military recruiting throughout the nation. It was disturbing to many recruiters, used to wearing Class A or Class B uniforms. It squarely placed the subject of polarizing, unpopular wars on the table of national discourse, reflective of President Bush's "us vs. them" mindset. Career recruiters recognized the change. Recruiter manuals were purged of references of "contracts" or references to selling. Instead, a new creature, a new animal was to be cultivated -- the warrior. Articles in the U.S. Army's Recruiting Command's "Recruiter Journal" became bellicose overnight. There was no overall strategy in the shift, according to two recruiting insiders, except that a strident, jingoistic tone was adopted in communications from the command to recruiters. The August-September 2009 edition of the Recruiter Journal calls on recruiters to "Take Back the Schools" and is filled with combat-related analogies to recruiting in high school hallways.

Another phenomenon has shaped the drift toward the goal of recruiting lifelong warriors rather than "citizen soldiers." As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged, recruiting company commands faced a diminished pool of talented, educated officers with some semblance of an educated, world view. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed a tremendous strain on the Army officer corps and systemic shortages exist in many key ranks and specialties. Consequently, this shortage of Captains and Majors has necessitated the assignment of many lower quality officers to recruiting command.

For many, war is preferable to the hassle of recruiting. "Rolling a donut," i.e., coming up with no recruits for a month, can be tortuous. Consider the five Houston battalion recruiters who've killed themselves in a relatively short period of time. Recruiters work 12- to 14-hour days, six or seven days a week. If they don't fill monthly quotas, they're criticized as failures, punished with even longer hours and threatened with losing rank or receiving poor evaluations, according to media sources. It's all about producing "bodies on the floor," that is, recruits at MEPS, the local Military Entrance Processing Command. These changes are evidence of a fundamental paradigm shift.

This shift is also characterized by a drift toward a more cloistered existence for recruiters, as evidenced by the successful unveiling of the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia. Increasingly, recruiters are persona-non-grata in thousands of communities across the nation. Their calls are anathema to parents and teens in millions of households. To counter this trend, the military is micro-targeting potential recruits. At Franklin Mills Mall, the Pentagon is going after teens "who don't have X-boxes at home," according to an active recruiter in the battalion. The Army has been disconnected from the entire southeast Pennsylvania region since the Philadelphia Battalion was moved to exurban Lakehurst Naval Air Station in NJ and renamed the Mid-Atlantic Battalion. Also, the Philadelphia MEPS wasmoved from the cityproper to Fort Dix, NJ. These actions further cloistered recruiting leadership and MEPS personnel from the citizenry they serve.

These trends will continue nationally. Since the AEC opened, five area recruiting stations have closed. Recruiters will no longer be coming into contact with the mainstream and that's just fine with the Pentagon. Developing a Warrior Caste isn't dependent on popular support. With the AEC, the Army is exposing/indoctrinating teens to a very narrow slice of what the Army does - "killing bad guys." There are nearly 200 occupational specialties in the Army. Even those serving in the infantry are called on to do a whole lot more than shoot people. The Pentagon's agenda is very clear - present a narrow view of the Army experience and hope that those indoctrinated will a) enlist; and b) volunteer for a combat MOS on their own accord.

Throughout world history, warrior castes have been built from particular regions and/or ethnicities within the territorial confines of an empire -- and we're no exception today. Our warrior caste is being built disproportionately from recruits who reign from the old south. We are witnessing the development of a military radically unmoored from the intellectual and popular center of American socio-political thought, further contributing to the refinement and further development of a new caste in American society - the warrior caste.

That brings us back to the two 13 year-olds giving each other high fives in a suburban shopping mall in Philadelphia for "wiping out ragheads" with automatic machine gun fire. The Army has plans to extend these "Experience Centers" across the country. We'd better wake up before it's too late. Join us on September 12, 2009. See: www.shutdowntheaec.net

Articles on the web about the Army Experience Center:

Counter-Recruitment Deserves Higher Priority on the Peace Agenda

Pat Elder -

The mainstream peace and justice movement is beginning to see that countering military recruitment deserves a higher priority and should be viewed in strategic, rather than tactical terms. Resisting the unprecedented and relentless militarization of American youth transcends the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countering military recruitment confronts an ugly mix of a distinctively American brand of institutionalized violence, racism, militarism, nationalism, classism, and sexism.  It gets to the root of the problem.

Confronting the work of military recruiters, particularly in the nation’s public schools will provide a catalyst for activists to shift gears from the traditional antiwar tactics of vigils, protests, sit-ins, and CD actions to the long-term strategy of opposing the militarization of youth.  The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One however, treats symptoms; the other addresses causes.

Simply put, the strategy of the counter-recruiting movement is to put the imperial armed forces of the United States into a kind of vice that squeezes new recruits from the ranks.  One end of the vice is the near universal rejection of the return of the military draft.  Remember how the House voted 402-2 against reinstating the daft back in October of 2004?  Bringing back the draft is unthinkable.  Conscription would result in demonstrations of millions that would ultimately end the war and result in a political revolution.  The crushing steel on the opposite side of the vice is the counter-recruitment movement, aided by an American public that increasingly recognizes illegal and immoral wars.

Counter recruitment activists are putting on the squeeze.  They’re doing it by learning about high school policies that favor military recruiters and they’re organizing their communities to change it.  They’re providing youth with training, employment and educational alternatives to military service.  They’re engaged with community leaders and the press in promoting a greater awareness of encroaching militarism.  And they’re being successful across the country.

The military is feeling the pressure.  The Pentagon has seriously dumbed down its enlistment qualifications and lowered its monthly quotas.  The Army is dredging the bottom of the barrel by dramatically lowering the bar for enlisting.  The percent of all Army recruits without a high school diploma has risen to 18.8%, the highest level since 1981.  The Army has also relaxed the minimum scores necessary on the standardized Armed Forces Qualification Test, (AFQT).  The percent of soldiers who have been granted waivers for alcohol or drug abuse, criminal misdemeanors, and various medical conditions has been raised from 10% to 15%.  The Army has also increased its maximum age for enlistment from 35 to 42.  The vice is turning.

Do you know the policies of your local school system regarding military recruitment?  This is how we turn the vice.  The pentagon must approach vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds and convince them it’s in their best interest to join.  It is an insidious practice and chances are you’re allowing it happen.

The military may request a list of the names, addresses and phone numbers of all the high school children in your town.  What’s your school district’s policy regarding the military recruitment “opt out” form?  Federal law says your schools are supposed to tell parents they have the right to remove their children’s names from lists being sent to the Pentagon.  What’s your high school doing?  Can students opt themselves out?  The law says they can.  Once a parent or student removes his or her name from such a list, do they have to repeat the process every year?  The law says once is sufficient.

Does your school have a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) Program?  Your local high school has probably been forced by the Federal No Child Left Behind Act to hire highly qualified teachers.  Many school districts are requiring classroom teachers to have master’s degrees after a few years of service.  Meanwhile, JROTC instructors need only a GED to teach credited courses. The stringent “No Child Left Behind” regulations exempt JROTC instructors.  There’s usually little or no curricular oversight to the program. What are they teaching?  Certainly more Clausewitz and Machiavelli than Jefferson and Thoreau!  What kind of curricular oversight does your high school exercise over this program?  If you want to stop wars, you might start asking.

Over 600,000 school children in public schools take the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test every year.  Does your school offer the test?  Why is the Pentagon testing children in the public schools?  Military recruiting manuals admit it is primarily to produce leads for recruiters.  The ASVAB is supposed to be voluntary, but many schools require all juniors and seniors to take it.  Students are forced to sign a “Student Privacy Statement,” to take the test.  This may violate your state’s laws.  One Maryland school district thought so and requires its students to have a signed permission form from their parents to take the test.   Does your school automatically forward the results from the four hour test to military recruiters?  Most do.  Some school districts have stepped in to protect student privacy and have stopped this practice.

Are military recruiters allowed to greet children as they enter the cafeteria during lunch while college recruiters are required to meet with students by appointment in the Guidance Office?  Federal law calls for military and college recruiters to have equal access to children.  Schools across the country have ordered the military to meet with students in guidance and career centers, rather than allowing recruiters to have access to the entire student body.  This is the toughest nut to crack in some districts.

Do you know if your local high school lets children out of class to shoot M-16 rifle and M-9 pistol simulators in the increasingly popular Army recruiting vans?  You should!  Are military recruiters frequenting some schools more than others due to racial and economic factors?  You ought to know.  Call your local high school principal and start asking questions.  They’re your schools and you’re paying for them, even if your children don’t attend.  The war starts in your community and it can end there too.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is a co-founder of the DC Antiwar Network (DAWN) and is a member of the Steering Committee of the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, (NNOMY).  Pat is currently involved in counter-recruitment projects in a dozen jurisdictions in the DC metropolitan area.  Pat’s work has prominently appeared in NSA documents tracking domestic peace groups.

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