Remarks delivered at the Celebration of the Life of John Patrick Judge
(See film of Pat’s remarks, starting at 32:50)
National Press Club, Washington DC
31 May 2014
I saw the email message about a week ago and it said, We’ve lost John Judge!
We haven’t lost John!
Hell, we’re just finding him.
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
alive as you or me.
Says I “But Joe, you're ten years dead”
“I never died” said he,
“Says Joe, I didn’t die.”
I mean c’mon! Have you ever felt John more alive?
I loved John.
I remember the first time I met John. It was in September of 2001 and a couple hundred of us came together – I think it was All Souls Church up on 16th Street.
It was a Forest Gump moment for me. Remember the part when Forest was being chased by those guys in the pickup truck and he ran through the football field faster than all the players and the Alabama coach said, “Who in the hell was that?” Except John wasn’t dumb.
That evening he talked about Blowback – remember that Chalmers Johnson term? He said we needed to mobilize and get on the street.
But he also said it wouldn’t be enough. He said we needed to focus where wars start – in high school cafeterias where military recruiters convince vulnerable kids to join the military.
It was an epiphany for me.
He spoke of a poverty draft and starving a wicked war machine of its most vital resource. And he never strayed from his most fervent non-violent stance.
John’s life was an epiphany for all of us.
He opened my eyes to the Pentagon’s invasion of our high schools and he taught me how to resist it.
He understood the inherently unfair arrangement between recruiter and recruited, especially the psychological training and the advantage recruiters have.
I initially saw it in terms of military recruiters lying to my sons and my daughters in the high school lunch room. But John helped me to connect the dots.
To John, 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.
Countering recruitment. What a concept. John said it would make me an enemy of the state.
We differed on our methods. He had a bottom up strategy. Mine, top down. He talked to kids and counseled youth. Tens of thousands of them.
We understood each other.
He always emphasized how the DoD relies on four major programs in the schools and I believe that he’d want me to talk about that to insure that his work in this realm continues.
Those four areas are the JROTC program, the ASVAB testing, the Directory Information gained through the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Access recruiters enjoy in the public schools.
JROTC is the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program. It’s a recruiting program that operates in the high schools and teaches a half million kids annually military culture and a dangerous, reactionary version of US History and Government. To give you a sense, the unit on Constitutional law in the JROTC Civics textbook is entitled “You the people.”
John loved that. “You the people – shut up, do what I tell you!” Gwoh-ver-nur Morris actually wrote “We the People.” At least that’s the way John learned it – and lived it.
According to the JROTC history textbook, in use today in three thousand, eight hundred high schools across the country, being used by five-hundred, fifty thousand children, the United States had to use nuclear weapons against the Japanese to save a million lives and we had to defend American honor when those pesky North Vietnamese opened fire on the USS Maddox.
This is what fascism looks like. (I’m channeling John.)
John would say, “You didn’t think they were just teaching the kids how to march did you?”
Ever wonder how Glen Beck can get a couple hundred thousand people on the streets of D.C.?
American schools exercise no control over the JROTC curriculum. It’s up to you – and me – to point out the lying liars.
The way John saw it the revolution we engender is at least a generation away. We’ve got to get into the schools. The DoD funds several programs starting in the elementary schools. The Young Marines Program targets kids from seven up.
John pointed out that JROTC instructors don’t need college degrees or teacher certification while all other teachers are routinely expected to have Masters degrees. JROTC instructors are the only non-professionals allowed to be in the American classroom without professional supervision.
John asked, “Where are the teacher’s unions?”
John cited DC school officials who admitted that half of the district’s high schools have indoor firing ranges to accommodate the JROTC Marksmanship Program. The lead pellets spew deadly particulate matter into the air that circulate throughout the school in air vents and on the clothing of shooters. The kids track the lead particulate matter throughout the school on their shoes. Press reports confirm raised lead levels in the blood of the child shooters.
The ASVAB or the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is an even more insidious program. More than a half million American high school kids attend school, take a military entrance exam proctored by Department of Defense employees, and have all their information sent to military recruiters without parents knowing about it. Maryland and Hawaii prohibit it. 48 states to go.
John shared his frustration that a thousand American high schools are brazen enough to force kids to take the ASVAB without parental consent and hardly anyone complains.
If you want to honor John look into it and start working legislators and school administrators.
So, that’s JROTC and the ASVAB.
In 2001 the Bush administration (I think most of you know) codified into law section 9528 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (we call it the No Child Left Behind Act). It’s a provision that requires high schools to hand over the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all kids if requested by recruiters unless parents opt out of the lists being sent to recruiters.
Most parents are oblivious. They can opt out. All they need to do is fill out a form, hand it in, and their child’s name isn’t sent to the recruiters. We need to tell them. Maryland has a law (it’s the only one like it in the country): the opt out form appears on the emergency contact card. Most everybody in Maryland opts out. 49 states to go.
The same legislation (that’s section 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act) guarantees that military recruiters shall have the same access to high school children as college recruiters. The problem is that in most high schools college recruiters have to make appointments to see kids one-on-one in the guidance office. Military recruiters chill, and enjoy far greater access to kids than their college counterparts. They chill in the parking lot. They chill in the lunch room. It never was a question of equal access. The law was passed based on bogus claims.
John would ask, Whose schools? They’re our schools.
Whose schools? They’re our schools!
Whose schools? They’re our schools!
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: John Judge and countering recruitment
Date: Sun, 1 Jun 2014 07:38:14 -0400
From: Pat Elder
To: Dave Ratcliffe
It was great getting to know you yesterday. I’m attaching the text of my remarks about John. Here’s the website of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy: <www.studentprivacy.org>. You can learn about the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) issue here. On the homepage, if you have the time, scroll down and read the ASVAB Overview and the ASVAB campaign for a primer. Also on the home page, look on the right side and download the single-page excel sheet showing the state by state snapshot of military testing. Finally, a little further down on the right side, click to access the Massachusetts Database.
If you have a couple more hours to learn this stuff and you know a progressive member of the MA legislature you could have a lot of fun without spending much time at all.
Here’s a site where several of us across the country have pooled our resources: the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY) is a national networking body that brings together national, regional and local organizations to oppose the growing intrusion of the military in young people's lives, <www.nnomy.org>.
Here’s a fantastic resource: Project YANO, the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities, <www.projectyano.org>.
And here’s our 600 member strong national list serve –
– National Network Opposing Militarization of Youth (NNOMY) Discussion group for people working to counter military recruiting in local schools in communities nationwide.
Category: Peace and Nonviolence
Founded: Jan 26, 2000
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The National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY)
John Judge was a co-founder of the Committee for High School Options and Information on Careers, Education and Self-Improvement (CHOICES) in Washington DC, an organization engaged since 1985 in countering military recruitment in DC area high schools and educating young people about their options with regard to the military. Beginning with the war in Viet Nam, Judge was a life-long anti-war activist and tireless supporter of active-duty soldiers and veterans.
"It is our view that military enlistment puts youth, especially African American youth, at special risk, not only for combat duty, injury and fatality, but for military discipline and less than honorable discharge, which can ruin their chances for employment once they get out. There are other options available to them."
In the 1970's the Selective Service System and the paper draft became unworkable, requiring four induction orders to get one report. Boards were under siege by anti-war and anti-draft forces, resistance of many kinds was rampant. The lottery system failed to dampen the dissent, since people who knew they were going to be drafted ahead of time became all the more active. Local draft board members quit in such numbers that even I was approached, as a knowledgeable draft counselor to join the board. I refused on the grounds that I could never vote anyone 1-A or eligible to go since I opposed conscription and the war.
At this point the Pentagon decided to replace the paper draft with a poverty draft, based on economic incentive and coercion. It has been working since then to draw in between 200-400,000 enlisted members annually. Soon after, they began to recruit larger numbers of women to "do the jobs men don't want to". Currently recruitment quotas are falling short, especially in Black communities, and reluctant parents are seen as part of the problem. The hidden problem is retention, since the military would have quadrupled by this time at that rate of enlistment, but the percentage who never finish their first time of enlistment drop out at a staggering rate.
I began bringing veterans of the Vietnam War into high schools in Dayton, Ohio in the late 1960s, and have continued since then to expose young people to the realities of military life, the recruiters' false claims and the risks in combat or out. I did it first through Vietnam Veterans Against the War/Winter Soldier Organization, then Dayton Draft & Military Counseling, and since 1985 in DC through C.H.O.I.C.E.S.
The key is to address the broader issues of militarization of the schools and privacy rights for students in community forums and at meetings of the school board and city council. Good counter-recruitment also provides alternatives in the civilian sector to help the poor and people of color, who are the first targets of the poverty draft, to find ways to break into the job market, go to a trade school, join an apprenticeship program, get job skills and placement help, and find money for college without enlisting in the military.
- War Opponents Train For Visits to Area Schools And Recruitment Centers, Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post
- Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools - Scott Harding, Seth Kershner
- C.H.O.I.C.E.S., John Judge
- Interview - John Judge - U.S. Wars & Military Recruitment
- Military and your Schools
- A Celebration of the Life of John Judge May 31, 2014
- In Memory of John Judge - Washington Peace Center
- John Judge- Obituary and request for reflections - Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA)
- The Loss of John Judge Hits Hard - David Swanson
- John Judge, Leading Change: A Transformational, Quiet Servant Leader, David Ratcliffe
From: Peter Trafas
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2002 02:02:28 EST
Subject: Information on volunteering for the Peace Center
Julia or John,
I just stumbled on your site by pure accident and was disgusted in reading a page of your site "Countering the Military Invasion of DC High Schools" by John Judge, June 2001. It is disgusting that you would actually discourage an inner city youth from serving THEIR country, and badmouth college funding programs that you have no knowledge on. I would not even dare assume that you have ever spent one day in the military, yet it is evident that you are part of the typical crowd who can claim to be military experts on topics they have NO clue about. I would never be so arrogant or stupid to talk about something I have never experienced, or do not have a full working knowledge of.
The quotes from the movie "A few Good Men" hit the nail right on the head, when it was stated " You Sleep under the blanket of protection which I provide, and then question the manner in which I provide it" Sleep well all you peace freaks with nothing better to do. Life is safe and comfortable for you because there are people who protect even people like you.
Peter G. Trafas
Subject: Re: Information on volunteering for the Peace Center
Date: Tue, 19 Nov 2002 02:33:16 -0500
To: Peter Trafas
I will answer your points one at a time:
I discourage inner city youth from choosing a military option before they know of others that do not put them at similar risk for eight years of their life. The risk to them, especially African American males, is primarily from the racism in the military which fails to provide the disproportionate majority who join with useable job skills and which targets them for four times the rate of courts-martial and twice the level of bad discharge as white enlistees, resulting in recently discharged Black veterans being twice as unemployed and four times as homeless as Black youth who do not join the military. For every success story, there are over 100 a day dumped back into civilian life with the life-long stigma of a bad discharge which guarantees employer discrimination and loss of benefits, even though the military admits that its own racism is the primary cause of these discharges being given. I also know of many civilian options that allow these same youth to get job training, job placement and money for college without joining the military. As to whether they are serving their country in the current Pax Americana military, or in past wars I have lived through, I think they have died in disproportionate numbers defending investments but not security or liberty here. There are many ways to "serve your country" and I don't apologize for helping young people explore them.
As to "badmouthing" a program I "have no knowledge on", I have in fact studied and presented the statistical reality of that program which provides college level education to only 35% of those eligible, which is only a fraction of those who pay into the program. Of those who use it only 15% actually graduate from college. Enough are kept from using it that the military has made over $2 billion on the program in funds paid in but never used. Again, the unevenly administered bad discharge system is the primary reason that people lose their investment in the program and cannot get matching funds either. It is a far cry from paying for a full university degree, which used to be a real benefit for some who entered the military. Now, like much else, it is a false promise.
I am glad you would not "dare to assume" whether I have been in the military or not. The group I work with to present this information in the DC schools is primarily a group of veterans, as are those who work to provide statistics and a realistic picture of military life to youth and those who counter the deceptions of military recruiting ads and claims. I have counseled tens of thousands of active duty military personnel and veterans over the last 30 years, so I know the military quite well. I did not join the military because of my opposition to war. That does not mean that I can know nothing of it. I know more than any individual enlisted member in one branch, and most veterans I meet know that the realities presented in my article match their experiences inside the military and since. I work from honest concern, not arrogance. The source of my statistics is the Pentagon itself. The Center for Defense Information here in DC and the Veterans for Peace both do the same work and make the same critique, and they were formed by enlisted and officers alike from all branches and with combat experience. Hemingway said, "If you want to have a war, don't ask the veterans and don't ask the dead."
As to your claim of "protection" in my view it is a racket. I do not feel protected by either the domestic or foreign actions of the US military, in fact they have made me more insecure in my lifetime than any foreign power or peoples. Did you find it strange that they could not protect their own building on September 11 with a 40 minute warning? They do have a "mechanism", several in fact, despite their denials. I grew up in a family of civilian employees of the Pentagon, so I know first hand about surface to air missile ports, protected air spaces, radar defenses at the site, etc. They were on stand down that day. I was not protected by the wars in Afghanistan, or the Gulf, nor will I be by the current push to invade Iraq. Bush's Pax Americana bullying is going to destabilize international relations, spread war and death, and put us further at risk from increased terrorism.
It is your arrogance, and I have heard it many times, to suggest that you can or have the right to "protect" me without my permission. My Constitutional rights are in far more danger from the current military domestic spying, the breakdown of military and police function, the militarization of society and outer space, and the undemocratic pressure here and on the UN to go to war with people who have not challenged my rights whatsoever. The cost of this so-called "protection" has been massive cuts in social services and social security, gutting of the civilian industrial base and economic recession in my lifetime, which trouble me far more than the boogey men I am told to fear abroad. The deficit and high taxes? It's the Pentagon budget, which is still out of control, along with so-called "intelligence" agencies whose interventions abroad sparked the hatred and rage that have led to recent terrorism.
And, yes, I question the "manner in which you provide" your alleged "protection" as well because I am still a citizen in what is left of a democracy and the military is no sacred cow beyond questioning. If we are to have a military, then it should be under full and open civilian control without secrecy, it should rely on a budget given it voluntarily by directly allocated taxes, and its abysmal personnel policies from recruitment to treatment in peace and war to discipline and discharge should be changed to take us out of the 18th century and end our isolation from all other industrialized nations who have much more democratic military policies than we do, including no internal military discipline and court systems. We are still a Prussian military geared for empire building, which is of course what Bush wants to use it for.
I don't sleep well knowing that the military is made up of people who are so furious with anyone who questions them that they call us "freaks" and imply that we are not even worthy of the rights we have because we use them. Practicing democracy between wars is like being a vegetarian between meals. You took an oath to defend the Constitution, not the President, so why not read it and think about what it really means?
I will sleep well when I live in an open and informed democracy, not run and threatened by the "undue influence of a vast military-intelligence-industrial complex" which President and former General Eisenhower warned of in 1959. I suppose you think I should be so happy to have freedom of speech that I sit down and shut up about it?
You are of course welcome to be disgusted about whatever you like, but when you imply I do not know about the topic on which I wrote you are wrong. I have studied, read and experienced a great deal of military reality and many others who are veterans agree with my point of view. And as to my sanction to have you use violence and war to "protect me", I will say NOT IN MY NAME!
John Judge (speaking for himself)--
Washington Peace Center
1801 Columbia Road NW, Suite 104
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 234-2000; (202) 234-7064 (fax)
From: Peter Trafas
Date: Tue, 19 Nov 2002 03:58:05 EST
Subject: Re: Information on volunteering for the Peace Center
Thanks for the vast expansion on your ideals, but I have no idea of what military you are referring to. If today's US military is racist, I the single white male heterosexual would be the top most discriminated group in the military today. I have been in the military for 12 years, and have NEVER seen a black guy being discriminated against, or given unfair treatment. I HAVE seen preferential treatment given to females, and minorities. If a minority is getting kicked out on a bad discharge he obviously made his own bed to lie in all by himself, or is trying to use the clintonian way of not taking responsibility, and blame everyone else. You act as though the military is kicking minorities out in droves, when in fact it is extremely difficult to kick anyone out these days. If you read the regs, about the only way these days you can get a dishonorable discharge is if you stab, shoot, or kill someone. I suppose that those things would be good to label someone with a life long stigma. Food for thought...how could it be that there is people getting discriminated against if the large majority of the military leadership is a minority. Just does not make any sense. Maybe they are culling their own herd. I guess these bad apples that go running to you need to pull out the racial card to pass the buck on their own self worth. If these people can not make it in the Military, they will hardly be able to deal with the real world that does not have so many regulations, and laws promoting equal treatment.
To say that minorities are thrown into the meat grinder, and easily sacrificed to die is a pipe dream. The precentage of whites males in combat arms jobs is disproportionate to the make up of the whole military. We are talking about the people who volunteer to actually meet, close, and yes KILL the enemy (infantry, pilots, SpecOps). If you were ever to visit a combat support unit which is made up of more desk jobs, and easy living, you would find an abundance of blacks and other minorities there. A bullet does not see black and white.
I am sorry that you only seem to see things as discrimination issues constantly. There are stupid, uneducated black people, and stupid uneducated white people. There are bad apples of all colors in this world. Let these people all take some personal responsibility for their actions, and inadequacies. Thats right personal responsibility. There are plenty of inner city youth that have grabbed themselves by the balls to make a better life for themselves, and there are plenty of others who just sit around and blame anyone and anything.
It is easy to blame the system, and not the individual. Please continue to help filter out these racist individuals for the military. The military is not a social experiment, or a welfare system. Your ratio of 1 success story to 100 bad ones is TOTALLY out of line. It would be more like 1000 success stories to a handful of bad ones. I call it like I have seen it. Not based off of some book studies or bad apple sob stories. I am sorry that the success of the worlds people does not always conform to a persons skin color. It is people like yourself (hyper-sensitive anti-racists) stirring the racial pot that do the most damage to any race relations.
Lastly, being a dependant of someone who use to be in the military, or worked for the military, HARDLY qualifies as having been there. Hopefully soon they will reinstitute the draft to maybe instill todays young with some values that your social programs seem to be lacking for them and their one parent families. Also I hope that you have traveled the world and have actually seen how other people live, outside your own little world you are protected, and it is totally invisable to you.
PS - $1200 for $20,000 worth of college money is a good deal in anyones book, or better yet...join the national guard and go to school for free. Where is the bad deal in that???
Date: Wed, 20 Nov 2002 00:55:10 -0500
To: Peter Trafas
Subject: Re: Information on volunteering for the Peace Center
I'll pull your letter out next time someone asks me to prove the military is racist. You are blind to your own skin privilege, and I'm not hyper-sensitive. I'm just quoting the facts. I don't have to be in the military to comprehend it or critique it, which is amply demonstrated by your lack of insight from in the ranks. Despite your anecdotes, the statistical reality is one of disproportionate bad discharge, and combat risk for people of color. That is not to say there are no whites on the front lines. I know there are. But people of color are and have historically been over-represented among the US war dead. You can blame the victims all you want, and perhaps for you it is hard to be discharged.
If any corporation was turning over new personnel at the rate and cost of military enlisted it would be broke. But, even if I thought it was a socially progressive institution, its role in the world is dead wrong. The $20,000 only does you any good when you qualify for it or are able to use it, which was my point. For 65% of the people eligible, and 100% of those who discharge early, miss a payment, discharge less than honorably (primarily because of racism according to the Pentagon itself) or score low on an SAT, they just lose the $1200 instead. Civilian college loan and grant programs provide for 75% of all college enrollments, and they can get you all the way through school with no risk, and certainly without selling 8 years of your life. What's so bad about that? Education should be a right, not a privilege for anyone, veterans included.
But, no need to belabor the point I can tell. You live in "your" military and I will listen to the vast majority of veterans who when polled say they have not learned any usable skills, have been discriminated against, raped and harassed, have had recruiter promises and expectations broken and denied, and would not recommend that any member of their family join. I hope it works out better for you, but that should not make you blind to what happens to others around you.
Washington Peace Center
1801 Columbia Road NW, Suite 104
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 234-2000; (202) 234-7064 (fax)
Brian Montopoli | Washington City Paper, January 31, 2003
Career Day, Cardozo High School. First session. Marine recruiter Sgt. Derrick Sanders is making his pitch.
"Good morning, class," he says. The students respond weakly. Sanders stands straight, raises his voice, and repeats himself. This time the students offer him a "Good morning" in return, almost in unison.
The Marine Corps, he tells them, is for the hard cases: the ones who want to be first in the fight, the ones who can handle the hellish, relentless boot-camp experience at Parris Island. Not to mention the ones who need an education—the Marines will pay for college, assuming you're willing to take your classes at night. Sanders harps on the money factor, but he never gets away from the idea that the Marine Corps is about more than just finances.
"You don't join for the money," he says. "You join for the pride of belonging."
Sanders, who is black, has an easy rapport with the Cardozo students, most of whom are minorities. He tells the kids that "a lot of 'em said I wouldn't make it [in the Marines], how it was too hard," and he lets his presence—as well as his spotless uniform, which is bedecked with gold buttons and gleaming medals—tell the rest of the story.
As Sanders is finishing his presentation, the kids, who have grown comfortable with him, get to the really important stuff: his haircut. One girl asks,"Does everybody have those high-top fades?" Sanders laughs and says, yeah, pretty much. He wraps up by telling the students that he has enlistment information with him and that he'll be available after class if any of them want to talk. Then, with a smile, he walks to the side of the room.
Another man is waiting by the door. After Sanders yields the floor, he ambles to the front of the room and stretches his organization's banner across the blackboard. The students aren't quite sure what to expect, but they soon discover that this man has a different agenda. Instead of pushing them toward a particular career, he seems intent on guiding them away from one.
"Do you enjoy being bossed around?" asks one of the man's pamphlets. "Do you want someone consistently telling you what to do and how to do it? If your answer is 'no,' you might have a hard time adapting to military life."
"My name is John Judge," he says, "and I'm here to talk to you about some of the things you'll come up against in the military."
Judge tells the students that the military is fundamentally racist—not to mention sexist, out to exploit the poor, and institutionally committed to robbing people of their freedoms. He says that a disproportionately high percentage of African-Americans end up on the front lines during wartime. He tells them that minorities rarely rise through the military ranks. And he cites numerous reasons why they shouldn't enlist—including the high incidence of rape in the military and the low percentage of military jobs transferable to civilian life. He backs it all up with rhetoric sharpened at dozens of settings just like this one.
"You know what 'GI' stands for? 'Government issue,'" Judge says. "They own you 24/7, and there isn't anything you can do about it. You go where they want you to go, and have to do what they tell you to do. They make you give up your basic rights. If you get a sunburn, they can court-marshal you for damaging military property."
Sgt. Sanders watches from the side of the room. His hands are clasped together in front of his body, right below the belt buckle on his uniform. His face is blank. After a few minutes of listening to Judge talk about how easily people can be kicked out of the military, Sanders raises his hand.
"What would be a reason someone would get discharged from the military?" he asks. He seems to be trying to show the students that Judge—who is white, overweight, wearing a long goatee, and 55 years old—doesn't know what he's talking about.
"All sorts of reasons," says Judge, who looks as if he's handled the question before. "Objection, hardships, administrative, early outs, honorable...The list goes on."
Sanders persists. "If you do something wrong, you get punished, correct?" he says. "You smoke marijuana, you get punished."
"In the military," Judge responds, "just talking back to an officer is a crime."
Sanders nods. Once Judge finishes discussing the shortcomings of the military, he talks to the students about finding alternate careers—one pamphlet mentions jobs in "electrical wiring"—and refers them to other sources of money for college.
Sanders does not talk for the rest of the period. Later, when asked about Judge, he says, "Everyone is entitled to their opinion." (Well, not everyone: Sanders admits that even if he had agreed with certain parts of the presentation, he could not have said so, because the military does not allow such criticism from within its ranks.)
Judge is the voice of military dissent in D.C. public schools, a longtime armed-forces critic who shows up at career days in scruffy brown cords to spread his anti-enlistment gospel. His materials are a bit tattered and his facts are sometimes questionable, but Judge's mission is clear: to provide what he calls "an alternate viewpoint" to that of the military's advocates in the schools. For his efforts, he's attracted the vitriol of angry recruiters, had his materials stolen from under his nose, and been kicked off high-school campuses. America may now be preparing for war, but Judge has been battling recruiters, administrators, and military brass for decades.
Judge has always found a way to keep things interesting. As a freshman at the University of Dayton in 1965, Judge resented having to take the required Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) course. Administrators would not let him drop the class, but he let them know his position by attending peace vigils wearing his ROTC uniform. After newspapers carried a photo of him protesting in uniform, Judge caught the ire of the administration.
"They tried to kick me out of the school," he says. "They gave me psychological evaluations." The school didn't expel Judge, but neither did it release him from ROTC duty. Administrators eventually made a special exception to allow Judge to attend the ROTC class wearing a suit and tie, to keep him from attending protests in uniform.
Judge grew up in Falls Church, Va., an only child with a mother who went from pacifist to war supporter during World War II. She worked at the Pentagon for more than 30 years, crunching numbers to project how many people would be called into the draft during a war. When Judge was 15, his mother suggested that he get a job in the Pentagon library. He turned down her offer, saying he didn't want to work there, and she didn't force the issue; she had taken note of his evolving political views, and she didn't want to pick a fight.
Judge's father was a different story. He also worked at the Pentagon, as a loading-dock supervisor, and he wanted his son to go to business school; when Judge seemed to be headed in a different direction, he did his best to shape his son's thinking.
"I would be watching The Twilight Zone or something, and he'd come downstairs and turn the TV to wrestling or Westerns," says Judge. "He said that was more realistic."
Judge's father tried to teach him to fight when he was 10, but he refused to learn. Their differences would become more pronounced as they got older, until his father died, when Judge was 17. "We weren't very close," Judge says. "It was pretty emotionally cold. If he hadn't passed away, it would have become a very stormy relationship."
At the age of 18, Judge attended training with the American Friends Service Committee, where he learned to be a draft counselor, essentially a paralegal who understood military law and could advise people on how to avoid or delay being drafted. He eventually got out of his ROTC class at Dayton, and he became increasingly politically active on campus, passing out petitions and starting an alternative newspaper that he would slip under students' doors at 3 in the morning so that it wouldn't be confiscated. At age 20, with the Vietnam War in full swing, Judge started counseling GIs who had fled the military about their AWOL status.
Judge gradually got used to the downside of his political activism, which included physical threats from war supporters and the taunts of administrators. During his senior year, Judge says that the dean of students called him into his office to offer him mock sympathy.
"It must be pretty lonely out there," said the dean, telling Judge that his anti-war position had alienated him from the rest of the student body. But this was the late '60s, and Judge wasn't feeling very lonely. He looked at the man and said, "I probably have more friends than you do." Judge and some of those friends eventually occupied administration offices and helped eliminate Dayton's mandatory ROTC program. Once he graduated, he stuck around campus to continue the fight, although many of his peers moved on.
"A lot of people from my generation tried to carry on their values, but it isn't easy," says Judge. "People take their own paths. I just figured, with my mom having worked in the Pentagon for 30 years, I should do my part to balance out the family karma."
As Judge's work as a counselor—he eventually got $45 per week from the student government for his efforts—brought him into contact with more frustrated veterans, he became determined to get his information into public schools. Judge believed that military recruiters were drafting impressionable kids without really explaining to them the consequences of enlistment, and he wanted to bring his point of view to the high-school classroom. But in Dayton, where he lived, the schools wouldn't let "counter-recruiters" in. He needed a place where he could get access to the students, whether administrators liked it or not.
So, in 1981, he came home.
In the early '80s, activists were putting pressure on the D.C. school board to ban Junior ROTC (J-ROTC) programs in public schools, according to media reports. So, Judge says, the school board offered a compromise: It would allow counter-recruiters into the classroom to provide an alternative viewpoint to that of the pro-enlistment ROTC programs. Judge took advantage of the decision to found his organization, CHOICES (Committee for High School Options & Information on Careers, Education and Self-Improvement), and begin talking to D.C. school kids about the racism, sexism, and repression of civil rights that he believes are part of the military lifestyle.
Judge had it tough in the early going. When he went to Anacostia High School for his first-ever campus visit, a guidance counselor, who had come across Judge's materials, intercepted him before he was able to talk to any students.
"I understand you're giving people a radical message," Judge recalls the counselor as saying. He made Judge and a friend wait in the principal's office until a ROTC instructor arrived.
"You gentlemen are going to have to leave campus," the man said. Judge protested but ended up losing the fight. He drove straight to the school-board offices, where he pleaded his case for equal access to the classroom. After a few phone calls, Judge was reinstated, and he was back on campus by the end of the day.
Although military types routinely wax wistful about protecting the American way of life, they often seem to need refresher courses on the First Amendment. At Ballou High School last year, for example, Judge was assigned to speak to a classroom of J-ROTC students. After he talked for a couple of minutes, the colonel watching the proceedings spoke up.
"I've listened to this for a couple minutes," he said, as Judge recalls the incident, "and I don't think my students need to be here for it." He then told the students that they were excused.
At Luke Moore Academy in 2001, Judge returned to a classroom to find that his materials had gone missing. When he started asking where they had gone, an angry ROTC instructor came up and said, "Are you attacking my Army?" Judge later found his handouts in the trash.
At a recent career fair at Eastern High School, Judge laid out information for the students to examine. This time, a recruiter a few tables away didn't even bother to wait until Judge wasn't looking.
"She came over, picked up one of my brochures without even reading it, and said, 'This is propaganda,'" says Judge. "Then she just began to gather up handfuls of my materials—whole piles. I told her I'd rather she didn't take my stuff—I wanted to give it out to the students. She said she would give them to the students herself. Then she walked back to her table and stuffed them in her briefcase."
Judge's pamphlets look like holdovers from an earlier time: One features an ominous gas mask and the phrase "The Military's Not Just a Job...It's Eight Years of Your Life!" Another features a cartoon under the heading "Dead End Jobs" and a graphic explaining the number of blacks in the Army prison population in 1977. Judge offers students a hodgepodge of anti-military rhetoric: fact sheets on escaping the delayed-entry program, quotes alleging slow promotions because of institutional racism, and bar graphs showing data on the low percentage of black Army officers.
"I'm reaching out to kids and trying to help them make an informed decision," he says. "Not hearing anything negative about the military isn't preparing kids to face the real world. They get a lot of messages that they don't have a future, and they turn to the military because it's the path of least resistance. We ought to be giving them some sense of hope and letting them know they have options."
He likens his efforts to those of a consumer-watchdog group.
"What I do is just provide information that people don't otherwise get," says Judge. "I'm sure Ford doesn't like that Consumer Reports puts them in some sort of category. But for the consumer, it's vital."
Cherine Foty, a junior at Wilson High School, says recruiters need a watchdog. "We're constantly bombarded with recruiting stuff—from J-ROTC being [at Wilson], from the recruiters calling our houses," she says. "It's extremely important that we get his perspective so people don't make a one-sided decision."
Actually, a one-sided decision is nearly inconceivable with Judge's perspective in the mix. Judge's idealism assails the very foundations of military life. He resents the fact that new recruits are "stripped of their identity," for example, and he doesn't like the military's use of fear as a motivator. If soldiers have a moral obligation to think before taking an extreme action, though, officers need to have their orders followed swiftly if their units are to function effectively.
In Judge's ideal world, enlistees would have the right to give their superiors guff as well as to unionize—changes that would make the U.S. armed forces no more reliable than the French transit system. Judge, however, believes that foreign fighting forces have provided evidence that the U.S. military command structure need not be so rigid.
"The idea that we couldn't have a less repressive military model is just silly," he says. "There's this logic that takes the state of the military as a given—'If we have to exploit rights, so be it.' But it's during a war that you have to give people a chance to say no."
As a recent Department of Defense paper points out, however, Judge's quest to inform the students relies, in part, on misconceptions. Judge tells kids that blacks are disproportionately represented on the front lines. In fact, blacks are underrepresented in combat: They make up 21 percent of the enlisted force but only 15 percent of combat forces, and are generally concentrated in administrative jobs. Largely because of this distribution, blacks made up 23 percent of military personnel but just 17 percent of casualties during the Gulf War. And while Judge pushes alternatives to military life for the students, he neglects to mention that, according to Department of Defense statistics, African-Americans in the military make more money and are better educated, on average, than their civilian counterparts.
Judge, though, makes valid points on other key data. Though minorities make up 35 percent of the armed forces, they account for just 8 percent of its officers at the ranking of O-7 and above—generals and admirals. And it's even worse for women of color than their male counterparts: There is not one minority female among the armed forces' 159 officers with O-9 or higher rank—three- and four-star generals, and their Navy equivalents—and there are only 32 women and four minority women among its more than 700 O-7 and O-8s. Judge's claim of a glass ceiling is supported by the Defense Department's own data, as is his argument that, despite recruiters' promises, many enlistees never end up graduating from college.
Ellen Barfield, a 46-year-old Army veteran who sometimes accompanies Judge when he goes into schools, says that she was shielded from the realities of military life when she enlisted, in 1977. She says that the military isn't always as collegial as it appears in brochures, and expresses bitterness that the military did nothing when she suffered an attempted rape while serving her country.
"I wish someone had been there when they started, to tell me the way things were," she says.
Sgt. Charles Mooney, however, a former Olympic boxer and 22-year Army veteran, says Judge needs to get up to date on the past few decades of military history.
"I just don't think it's positive for [Judge] to be here," says Mooney, an Army ROTC instructor at Eastern High School. "This isn't the place for it. If it wasn't for [soldiers], we might not have our freedom. We don't need him and his propaganda in here. I don't need him coming in here and telling me about what happened to my black parents. That was then; this is now. We had times when blacks were used, but we are more advanced now. The military instills discipline and structure for kids who might not have a father figure. There's nothing wrong with that."
Army Col. Joseph E. Nickens, the J-ROTC director for the D.C. public schools, says he is not particularly worried about Judge.
"We have daily contact with the students, so the guy doesn't affect us much," he says. "Our instructors hold their ground. We ignore him. The people that would listen to him aren't on our team anyway. People who are with us, who are patriotic, aren't paying attention to what
he has to say."
Up until the late '60s, a program similar to J-ROTC called the National Defense Cadet Corps was required of all males in D.C. public schools. At that time, according to Eastern graduate and labor organizer Roger Newell, Eastern was able to field a corps of more than 1,000 young men, all of whom wore uniforms their families were required to buy. Newell says that students who refused to participate were suspended, and that, in some cases, school administrators would subsequently inform the draft board that the suspended students had forfeited their student draft deferment. Newell claims that some of those students were quickly shipped off to Vietnam. Thanks to a lawsuit, the city eventually stopped requiring participation in the National Defense Cadet Corps, and enrollment plummeted. The J-ROTC program rose in its place years later. But J-ROTC is not mandatory, and, according to Joy White, a media officer for the Navy, it is not meant to socialize students into the military.
"This is more of a citizenship program," she says. "It's not a recruitment tool. Junior ROTC teaches students the importance of giving back to the community. It instills in them a sense of personal responsibility and accomplishment."
Judge scoffs at White's claim.
"It's disingenuous to claim it's not a military recruiting program," he says. "Statistically, people who spend time in J-ROTC programs are much more likely to enlist—20 to 25 percent. It's a military social club. They claim to teach discipline, but it's not self-discipline. It's obedience."
Whatever you call it, it's an option parents often embrace. When Forestville High School, a public school in Prince George's County, announced in 2001 that it would become Forestville Military Academy, the school had a waiting list months before it opened its doors. And though no District schools make ROTC mandatory for all of their students, there are Army J-ROTC programs in 12 D.C. schools, as well as Navy and Air Force J-ROTC programs in four more. At Cardozo, according to Assistant Principal Barbara Childs, all of the ninth-grade students enroll in the program, though it is technically not mandatory.
"[J-ROTC] is a great program—you learn leadership, physical fitness, discipline, and how to drill," says Luis, a 10th-grader at Cardozo who wants to join the Air Force. "It really brings out the best in you. Most of [my classmates] don't like it, though—they don't have time because they work, and they don't like wearing the uniform."
Luis often shows up at 6:30 a.m. to do drills with his ROTC instructor, and he and a small contingent of ROTC students periodically engage in drill-team competitions. The ROTC students' uniforms are lent to them free of charge during the school year, and they are not charged for most of their travel.
ROTC Cadet Col. Wayne Logan, a Dunbar senior, is the student leader of J-ROTC in D.C. He has already entered the Army's delayed-entry program and is hoping to attend West Point, and argues that Judge doesn't appreciate the value of ROTC programs and the military for D.C. students.
"He doesn't understand what he's talking about," says Logan. "He's on the outside looking in. ROTC is really important for a lot of the students—it helps them be leaders. You won't rob a bank in [an ROTC] uniform."
Logan and Judge see eye to eye on one issue, however: the potential conflict with Iraq.
"I don't think we should go," says Logan. "But if I'm serving in the military, it's my responsibility to go because of my commitment to this country. I live in a pretty rough neighborhood in D.C.—there are gunshots almost every day. If I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die. I'd rather die for a cause."
In 1999, the Army got congressional approval to expand its J-ROTC program at a rate of roughly 50 schools per year over five years, up to a total of 1,645 schools nationwide. At the time of the announcement, Army Secretary Louis Caldera said that the program was necessary, in part, because "fewer and fewer Americans ever have served in uniform." Judge worries that the increased presence of J-ROTC programs in the schools will make it increasingly difficult for his relatively rare visits to have an impact.
"The J-ROTC guys are in there every day," says Judge. "Sometimes they don't even tell me when there's a career day coming up."
Lt. Col. John Hawkins, an Army veteran and ROTC instructor at Dunbar, says that Judge's concerns are overblown.
"I get maybe 300 to 400 kids per year [in the J-ROTC program]," he says, "and of those, probably less than 5 percent end up in the military."
He also dismisses Judge's charges of racism in the armed forces.
"The military has been one of the ways that African-Americans have been able to move into the middle class in this country," says Hawkins. "If you compared the state of race issues in the military to the civilian population—well, I think the military comes out on top. It's much more fair and much more colorblind."
Over the years, Judge has fought a number of forces to get his message across—skeptical principals, nasty military brass, and uncooperative school boards. Recently, though, he has acquired a new nemesis: the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act, which includes a provision that forces schools to give the names, addresses, and phone numbers of juniors and seniors to military recruiters. If a school fails to comply with the new requirement, it can lose its federal funding. Parents have the right to opt out of the program, but Judge says that many parents do not know that this is the case.
"The military already has constant access to the students through the J-ROTC program," says Judge, "and this goes even further. They're saying that they want the same access to students that the colleges have, since there are schools that don't currently let recruiters in. But if we hold the military to an equal-access rule, then they should only be able to come in on career days, like everybody else—not have J-ROTC programs and recruiters who park in the counselors' offices year round."
The military's recruitment woes have been well publicized: Just 25 percent of students now say they plan to join the military, down from 32 percent a decade ago. Relatively low unemployment rates and an increase in college enrollment have nearly doubled the amount of money it costs the military to attract one recruit today as compared with 10 years ago. Recruiters say they have little choice but to pursue more invasive tactics to make up for their increased costs and decreased candidate pool.
"[Recruiting] is a business," says Sgt. Blondine Maddox, an Army J-ROTC instructor at Eastern who was a recruiter for more than eight years. "It's like sales. You show them what you have to offer is what they want, and then they'll buy. No Child Left Behind will make that job easier—instead of just talking to them at the high schools, at malls and football games, you'll have a list of their home numbers."
Dante Furioso, a senior at Wilson, says, "On two occasions I've gotten calls from people trying to recruit me. The guy didn't introduce himself as having anything to do with the military—he just started talking about scholarships. Then he started asking my height and weight, stuff like that, and I started getting a little uncomfortable. Finally, at the end, he told me he why he was calling."
Furioso says that Judge's voice is one of the few helping students understand their options beyond military life.
"No one's called me to offer a non-military-related scholarship," he says. "There's a lot of pro-military sentiment out there, and I don't think students think about the long-term effects of joining the military. [Judge's] giving another point of view is really important and really honorable."
According to Marine Corps officials, Marine recruiters make more than 1 million phone calls each year. Maddox says that each recruiter is, on average, responsible for two to three contracts per month, and that recruiters who fail to meet their quotas are sent to remedial training. The military may trumpet the fact that it is an all-volunteer force, but most of those volunteers don't realize they want to lug around 80-pound packs until a recruiter gets in touch with them.
Judge remembers a time when the recruiters' jobs were far easier.
"In the 1980s," Judge says, "the career days were abysmal. I'd show up and there would be five military tables, somebody from the [recreation] center, the beauty salon, maybe the phone company, and that was about it."
The economic expansion of the last 20 years has changed all that: At the Cardozo career fair where Judge and Sanders square off, there are representatives of more than 25 industries present, including the fire department and public defenders' office. For many military recruiters, the easiest students to attract are those whose bad behavior or poor academic performance has kept them from taking advantage of these increased opportunities.
"If we didn't help send some of these kids to college, they'd end up flipping burgers," says Army recruiter Sgt. James Turton. "We get these kids off the street and into something secure."
In conversation, Judge alternates between easygoing and intense; he'll reminisce about his college days before breaking into a 20-minute monologue about the president's justification for war. His earnestness sometimes generates ideas that sound great in theory but awful in practice. On classroom visits, for example, Judge offers to accompany any student who is planning to enlist on his visit with the recruiter. No one has ever taken him up on the offer.
Judge estimates that he probably speaks at about 10 schools each year, every time one has a career day. He spends much of the rest of his time working as a fundraising consultant to nonprofits such as the Washington Peace Center and the Quixote Center, as well as doing other "anti-militarism work" and publishing papers on political assassinations that have made him popular with conspiracy buffs. Judge has a hard time providing concrete numbers as to how many students he has kept out of the military, but he says that his information has an impact on their future decisions.
"It's hard to say how many kids I've actually steered away—a few kids have come and talked to me, and I helped a few get out of the delayed-entry program," says Judge. "All I know is that I make an impact with the kids."
"CHOICES is a shoestring operation," says Barfield. "It's not glossy. It's not shiny. The equation is pretty lopsided—the recruiters have the money and the time. You don't often hear 'Thanks a lot for helping me.' You just have to have faith that the results will show up long-term."
Judge's campaign requires something of a unique combination: an individual with unrelenting idealism and a municipality that makes it possible to disseminate anti-military sentiment in public schools. In many ways, Judge is far more alone now than when the dean provided him with mock sympathy back in college.
"Of course I get frustrated at times," says Judge. "But this has always been a passion for me. You can't just throw your hands up."
When Judge attends political meetings, he is often the oldest person in the room. Many of his friends have moved on to work or families that leave little time for the battles Judge spends his days fighting. But just like the recruiters, he believes wholeheartedly in his mission, and he says he won't ever stop showing up in local schools, even if his interactions with authority figures continue to be contentious.
"For most people, these kids in D.C. are throwaways," he says. "A lot of people don't seem to think they have a future. I just want them to know that they have options." CP
Michelle Boorstein | Washington Post Staff Writer Monday, September 17, 2007
Two days after bringing thousands of protesters to the U.S. Capitol, Iraq war opponents will begin a "week of action" today that starts with sending activists to area high schools and military recruiting centers and marching through a congressional building.
Dozens of war opponents, including some who were among the 192 arrested Saturday, spent yesterday training for this week, which will be "the most intense week" of planned actions since the Iraq conflict began, said Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, which organized Saturday's rally and march and many of the other large antiwar events across the country.
Activists came to four training sessions held at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs yesterday, many trading stories from their arrests or from clashes with several hundred war supporters who lined the march route.
"You have to ask the right questions, find out what's motivating them, share with them the truth and dispel myths," Adam Kokesh, co-chair of Iraq Veterans Against the War, told the crowd, which included local college students as well as older activists, many of whom had traveled from outside the Distrcit. "My reasons [for volunteering] were patriotism; I wanted to put my life on the line for my country." But in hindsight, "I could have been convinced that there were better ways to further democracy in the world."
Other strategies include trying to eat up recruiters' time by calling and visiting centers and pretending to be potential recruits.
John Judge, a longtime "counter-recruiting" activist, told the audience to disseminate information about the limited rights soldiers have to leave the military or pick where they will be stationed and how much money the military provides for general education.
Others trained earlier in the day for a noon march in the Rayburn House Office Building that is planned to pass what organizers call a "hall of shame": offices of representatives who voted to support the war, Becker said.
Later in the week, war opponents will visit congressional offices across the country "and not leave until they get answers to questions about the war that satisfy them," Becker said. They also plan to visit the Pentagon to try to find out how employees feel about the war. The activism week is planned to end Friday.
According to Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman, all 192 people who were arrested Saturday for crossing a police line were released by last night. She said two officers and two protesters were injured but not hospitalized.
John Judge | Originally published in Washington Peace Letter, Volume 38, No. 5 - June 2001
In the early 1980's a citywide movement attempted to rid local high schools of JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps), a militarized curriculum aimed at eventual recruitment. As a compromise, the DC School Board left JROTC intact and passed a rule, which allows counter-recruiters access to any school where recruiters visit. JROTC now costs the school system over half a million dollars each year to enroll 15% of the students. That makes it the most expensive school program per capita; and it has an 85% dropout rate. The School Board and the City Council both voted to de-fund the program in the 1990's, but the Board of Trustees appointed to run the schools, made up entirely of retired military officers, refused to implement their decision. Instead, every DC high school now has a Navy or Army JROTC program, and at least three schools make it mandatory, by putting in on the freshman class curriculum each year.
The Department of Defense and the various military branches spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on electronic and print advertising for new recruits, since their retention rates are only slightly better than JROTC. A full 75% of new enlistees do not finish their first term of enlistment, and one out of every four African American GI's leaves the service with a less than honorable discharge, marking them for lifelong employment discrimination. Military recruiters are a constant presence in the high schools, sometimes sharing office space with guidance counselors, and speaking to assemblies. Recruiters are given full access to students' time, addresses and phones.
For many young people, the military is the first and most visible job and educational option they see. And this is for a reason, because the military wants to recruit them before they find out they have other choices. A full 85% of current enlistment is under the Delayed Entry Program, a recruiting method which signs students up in their junior or senior year of high school to enlist upon graduation. When they discover they can get a better job or training, or a scholarship or loan for college, they are often intimidated by recruiters who discourage them for applying for easy discharges available to them.
A DC-based volunteer group, the Committee for High School Options & Information on Careers, Education and Self-Improvement (C.H.O.I.C.E.S.), brings veterans and other peace activists into the high school Career Days each year to counter the false promises of ever-present military recruiters and to offer civilian options for job skills and training, trade apprenticeships, and money for college. They address student assemblies and classroom groups, or table with information during Career Days. Over the last ten years, every DC high school has arranged for them to make a presentation to students. On the average, half of the schools allow them access each year, usually in the Spring.
The information is generally well received by students, faculty and guidance counselors. Material about discharge from the Delayed Entry Program and other brochures have been donated to each school library and guidance counseling office as well. Certain high schools invite the group to return each year, others have to be contacted multiple times to determine when the Career Day is scheduled. This year, volunteers attended Career days in March, April and May at a range of schools.
Over 90% of recently discharged veterans say they have not learned any skills they can use in civilian life, and only a small percentage of military jobs transfer to any civilian counterpart. African American veterans today find themselves more likely to be unemployed and homeless after military service than others who do not join. C.H.O.I.C.E.S. provides students with a realistic picture of the military that recruiters will not provide.
The Montgomery GI Education Bill, which provides matching funds for college tuition costs after discharge, has actually made money for the Pentagon, a total of nearly $2 billion since they started the program in the 1980's. Most of the scholarships require the new recruits to donate a third of their first-year salary (about $100 a month) toward the fund, which is then matched once they finish their service and are accepted into a college. The military does not pre-screen them for college potential or require they have SAT or other test scores. Statistics show that most young people will not return to college once they have been out of high school for over a year, and this holds true for military veterans coming out from four to six years after graduation.
In addition, if enlistees discharge early for any reason, or with anything less than an honorable discharge, the military keeps the funds they donate as well as the matching funds. Of those that qualify for funds at discharge, only 35% use them, and only 15% actually graduate from college. The amounts offered rarely pay tuition for a full college education at a four-year institution. Dr. Reginald Wilson, head of the office of Minority Concerns at the American Council on Education, and a board member of C.H.O.I.C.E.S., points out that, "Black enlistment keeps climbing, but Black enrollment in colleges keeps going down. Where is the promise to our youth?"
The good news is that young people do not need to join the military to get what it promises but rarely delivers. Over 70% of all college loans, grants and scholarships are from civilian sources. DC has a Tuition Assistance Program that provides up to $5,000 a year for up to 5 years to cover the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at any state college in the country. Hundreds of minority and career-targeted scholarships are available from federal, state or university funds. Inexpensive trade schools in DC train students on up-to-date equipment for good paying careers. Unions encourage young people to learn skills as paid apprentices, allowing them to work at union rates when once they master the trades. Local community programs help young people learn basic skills for the workplace and help them find jobs after school, over the summer and once they graduate. C.H.O.I.C.E.S. lets them know about all these options and more.
During World War II a newly integrated military force allowed returning Black veterans to demand equal rights, an end to discrimination in hiring, and treatment as second-class citizens. The risks of military combat duty earned Black veterans the right to demand participation and respect in the civilian sector. Veterans' benefits allowed these veterans to purchase homes for the first time, and to go to college. Because of this, military enlistment was seen as a step up for many disadvantaged African-Americans and a place to learn discipline and skills that would assist in later life.
During the Vietnam era, the benefits remained for veterans, but the likelihood that Black veterans would be disenfranchised by bad discharge was very high. By the beginning of the Gulf War, the benefits awarded WWII veterans had all but vanished. But public opinion about military service, especially in the African-American communities, was a mixture of holding onto the previous promises and facing the realities of Black veterans' experience with a virulent institutionalized racism.
The number of conscientious objectors who applied for discharge during mobilization for the Gulf War was higher than during the Vietnam era, and it included a high percentage of Black troops who did not want to fight for oil against other people of color abroad. Resistance in the combat ranks by African-Americans continued from Vietnam forward, in Grenada and in Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of thousands of Black veterans have been stigmatized by less than honorable discharge, and face legal employment barriers because of it. For every General Colin Powell, over 150 African Americans leave the military each day marked for life by bad paper.
At a few schools, JROTC Military Instructors, who take a salary from both the high school and the military, oppose the presence of C.H.O.I.C.E.S. Some teachers and counselors feel that the group is somehow limiting the opportunities of students to learn job skills or go onto college, despite the statistics. Others still have the view of the military that was prevalent at the end of WWII, or feel that military "discipline" is the only way some students will ever improve. This confusion of self-discipline and mere obedience is one reason many educators support JROTC uncritically. "This is negative," one JROTC instructor at Eastern High School complained last year, "you should not be bringing negative messages to young people."
Telling young people the truth about military life and risks and offering other ways for students to get what they think the military is promising is a positive message. Without C.H.O.I.C.E.S., the military message and perspective would be the only one they hear. Once students know they can find money for college in the civilian sector, and be trained in useful job skills by community agencies or trade unions, their interest in the military promises fades.
Over the years, the attitude of teachers and counselors toward military enlistment has become more realistic, despite the continued presence of recruiters in the schools. Students and faculty alike now express gratitude about the presence of C.H.O.I.C.E.S. and the alternatives they present. At a recent senior assembly at Cardozo High School, a presentation by a Navy recruiter was immediately followed by accurate information about the misleading promises he made, and the civilian options that exist, and students applauded the speaker from C.H.O.I.C.E.S. Other job presenters at the Career Days also compliment the group for bringing realistic information about enlistment to young people; often expressing that they wish such information had been available to them. At Ballou High School, an African-American woman, representing the National Parks Service, recently said, "I grew up on military bases and I know exactly what you are talking about, I think it's wonderful that you are here for these kids."
C.H.O.I.C.E.S. will continue to go into the schools and to reach youth in the community with their message and with referrals and assistance. This year, volunteers include interns from American Friends Service Committee and the Washington Peace Center, who are learning how to do outreach against the constant militarization of our youth. C.H.O.I.C.E.S. also provides counseling to those seeking discharge from Active Duty or the Delayed Entry Program, and continues to discover civilian opportunities for young people. The group also actively opposes continuation of JROTC in the DC schools.
If you would like to volunteer for this effort, contact them at: C.H.O.I.C.E.S., P.O. Box 7147, Washington, DC 20044.