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Covid and Militarism: Challenges and Controversies

 
Fabiola Cardozo / NNOMY /  español  - It’s widely recognized that the Covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly affects the economy and, as a result, also negatively affects healthcare, education, and culture. However, in the face of hard times like the ones we’ve experienced this year, national priorities are oriented through the policies implemented by political leaders.

A recent article by the Washington Post highlights how The Pentagon diverted taxpayer money originally meant for masks and cotton swabs to make jet engine parts and body armor.

"The Cares Act, which Congress passed earlier this year, gave the Pentagon money to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” But a few weeks later, the Defense Department began reshaping how it would award the money in a way that represented a major departure from Congress’s intent.

 The payments were made even though U.S. health officials think major funding gaps in pandemic response still remain. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in Senate testimony last week that states desperately need $6 billion to distribute vaccines to Americans early next year. Many U.S. hospitals still face a severe shortage of N95 masks. These are the types of problems that the money was originally intended to address."

Progressives Applaud AOC Proposal to Ban 'Insidious Practice' of Military Recruiting in Schools

"It's important that our youth understand that joining the military isn't the only way to pay for college or find stability in life."

Eoin Higgins / Commondreams -

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Monday proposed blocking the military from recruiting in schools, describing the practice as a predatory attack on disadvantaged children who already suffer from underfunded resources in their learning environments. 

The proposal follows an amendment to the defense spending bill from Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, last week that would ban military recruiters from using video game streaming platforms to reach impressionable young people. 

The US Military Is Using Online Gaming to Recruit Teens

Gamers with the Army, Navy, and Air Force are spending hours on Twitch with children as young as 13.

 

Jordan Uhl / The Nation - Have a nice time getting banned, my dude,” Army recruiter and gamer Joshua “Strotnium” David told me right before he booted me from the US Army’s Twitch channel. I had just reminded viewers of the United States’ history of atrocities around the globe, and helpfully provided a link to the Wikipedia page for US war crimes.

Was I undiplomatic? Sure. But if the military is going to use one of the world’s most popular platforms to recruit kids, then it shouldn’t be able to do so without some pushback. Right now, with the support of Twitch, gamers with the US military are spending hours with children as young as 13, trying to convince them to enlist.

The Army, Navy, and Air Force all stream on Twitch using dedicated e-sports teams. These teams are comprised of skilled gamers who compete in tournaments for cash prizes. While members of military e-sports teams offer the regular gaming skill set, they’re also on-screen talent and recruiters. Instead of approaching a recruiter behind a table in a school cafeteria, kids can hang out with one who is playing their favorite video games and replying to their chat messages for hours on end.

Twitch, a livestreaming platform owned by Amazon, boasted more than 5 billion hours watched from April through June. (For comparison, Netflix claims that during quarantine people have been viewing around 6 billion hours of its shows and movies a month.) A typical military stream looks something like this: A recruiter, usually a man in his 30s, sits comfortably in his gamer chair inside a dimly lit room illuminated by a monitor and the colorful LED lights of his computer tower. An American flag hangs on the wall behind his right shoulder, an oversized stuffed animal sits to his left. He’s playing Call of Duty or Valorant. He’s friendly, and talks about how much he loves being in the Army. Despite being older than most of his young viewers, he speaks like them. “It do be like that sometimes. We do have some great comms,” said a recruiter in one recent session.

The practices employed on Twitch by military e-sports teams are part of a system by which recruiters target children in unstable and/or disadvantaged situations. Recruiters take advantage of the poor seeking steady income, the vulnerable longing for stability, and the undocumented living in fear because of their citizenship status. Now, at a time when all those factors are magnified by a pandemic that has left half the country out of work and over 30 percent unable to afford their housing payments, conditions are ripe for recruiters to prey on anxious youth.

COVID-19 Has Forced The Army To Rethink And Step Up Its Virtual Recruiting Efforts

Carson Frame / The American Homefront Project - Listen to the Report

Image Department of DefenseThe Army is holding its first nationwide virtual recruiting campaign, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to scale back face-to-face interactions and revealed gaps in its digital outreach strategy.

As the coronavirus pandemic bloomed this spring, the Army reduced staff at many brick-and-mortar recruiting stations across the country. Enlistments slowed, fueling concerns that the service would have to extend the contracts of current soldiers in order to meet total force requirements.

Recruiters took their work remote, but lost out on some of the major recruitment opportunities that normally boost their numbers.

"That last moment before a senior leaves their high school-- typically we're there," said Staff Sgt. Kara Wilson, a station commander in West Texas. "We're helping them with support, finding them different avenues."

"However, we didn't have that moment this year, she said."

So Wilson and her team have had to build an online recruiting environment to reach those same young people. Apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have proven the most effective, and Wilson has designed new campaigns for each.

But not without a little help.

Dismantling the School-to-Soldier Pipeline

AN INTERVIEW WITH
Nancy Cruz, Barbara Harris, Rick Jahnkow, and Seth Kershner | Originally Published in Jacobin Magazine on October 18, 2019

 

SK
The National Defense Act of 1916 created the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (rotc), which operates at the university level, along with Junior rotc, which operates at the high school level. At first, JROTC was kind of like rotc’s unwanted stepchild. There were only a couple hundred JROTC units across the country until the mid-1960s.

The program really started to expand in earnest once the draft ended in 1973. Between 1971 and 1974, enrollment in Army JROTC increased by 21 percent, Air Force JROTC increased by 50 percent, and Navy JROTC increased by more than 100 percent. High schools became the answer to the Pentagon’s manpower problems.

BH
Anyone under the age of eighteen should not be recruited or be part of the military system. I believe this is a United Nations protocol, and in my view the United States doesn’t follow it.

Once Again, the US Military Wants Your Kids

Jonah Walters / Jacobin Magazine -

240 High school students attend a two-day challenge designed to heighten Marine Corps awareness. Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images

Military recruiters understand that widespread joblessness is good for enlistment. They celebrate the arrival of “Sergeant Hard Times,” recognizing that misery is the best motivator.

The corona virus crisis has been a double-edged sword for military recruitment in the United States. On the one hand, the tightening of the labor market contributed to higher rates of retention than the Army brass expected, meaning that many soldiers decided to reenlist this spring rather than pursue civilian employment when their terms of service expired. On the other hand, recruiting stations across the country have had to shut down to comply with social distancing guidelines, limiting recruiters’ access to young people and inhibiting the “kneecap-to-kneecap” conversations recruiters widely acknowledge to be essential to their work.

Less than one percent of the Armed Forces’ target demographic — seventeen- to twenty-four-year-olds — is actively interested in a military career. After a “kneecap-to-kneecap” encounter with a recruiter, whether at a recruiting station or a school event, probability of enlistment climbs to more than 50 percent, according to the Army.

The reasons for this have been well-documented by anti-recruitment activists for decades. Recruiters, who are expected to meet regular enlistment quotas, aggressively pursue young people who express interest, generally attempting to separate them from parents, teachers, counselors, and others who might advocate for civilian careers.

America's Heroes are always those who are expendable

Gary Ghirardi – OpEd – June 2020

Soldiers and Airmen from the Massachusetts National Guard gather together prior to completing COVID-19 testing on residents at the Alliance at West Acres nursing home, Brockton, Mass., April 10, 2020. Twelve medical teams are activated throughout the state and are conducting COVID-19 testing at medical facilities and nursing homes with high-risk populations. Homes and providers are identified by the Department of Public Health and Human Services for testing. This mission is one of several operations across the commonwealth in support of coronavirus response efforts. (Capt. Bonnie Blakely)Back in May of 2020, I caught an interview on Pacifica's KPFK radio on a morning program where a young woman was explaining the loss of her aunt that was a nurse in a hospital engaging the Coronavirus. She recounted her aunt telling her that she was not provided with masks or gloves and that a patient had sneezed in her face a week prior to her falling ill. All this culminated with a Zoom meeting with the family saying goodbye before she died. Later that day I passed a local hospital that had placed a large banner on the street honoring our heroes that were fighting the current epidemic.

In my work for The National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, I am constantly reminded of a similar refrain from those pushing back against our work of getting youth, with limited opportunities for their futures, to consider all the ramifications of serving in the United State's post 9/11 military. That push-back always invokes the heroic diatribes defending those who serve in our military branches and a forceful reminder of how dare we try to diminish the sacrifice of heroes who have served or are considering serving by revealing the harmful realities of military service. Of course we do not diminish their service but try to put it in context to a fuller and more accurate disclosure of what military recruiters manage to leave out of their enlistment appeals. The relationship between these two scenarios, and the contradictions inherent in both, stayed with me all week and encouraged this short OpEd.

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