It’s good to know that, even though the national military budget is expanding, the number of people entering the armed forces each year is declining. When carrier ships are sent off the Persian Gulf with only two-thirds of their normal crew, it’s tempting to think “that’s not safe!” But then you realize: “hey, the fewer killers out there, the better.”
Here in Seattle and the Puget Sound, we can’t really say that we live in a peaceful place. Certainly there are no militias waving guns, dropping bombs on cities, and herding the local populace into concentration camps. No. We just make the weapons for others to do use in countries around the world. The local papers trumpet Boeing’s big share of the expanding military budget and point out that the Lazy B now makes nearly its entire profit from its military and space programs. In the fiscal 2000 defense budget alone, Boeing stands to rake in $6.4 billion. The bulk of that money will purchase C-17 transport planes to move U.S. troops and supplies to “hot spots” around the globe.
So it’s encouraging to know that the military is hard up for new employees. Too bad. It’s not for want of effort, however: the military spends approximately $1.9 billion every year in recruiting costs to target about 380,000 high school students–most of them from poor, rural, and minority communities. Back when I was a kid growing up in rural Washington State near Fort Lewis Military Reservation, many of my teenage friends ended up in the military for all the wrong reasons: it’s what they knew (their parents were in the military), it was a guaranteed job (there were no other big employers around), and it was a way to pay for college (untrue, as many of them later discovered–the GI Bill is not nearly as generous as advertised).
I’m glad to find out that lots of kids are escaping from the military recruitment trap. The Junior ROTC programs in high schools are the biggest educational ripoffs in history. Recruiters promise money for college, job training that will carry over into civilian life, travel, and escape from poverty. The truth is the exact opposite for most recruits. The military steals the best and brightest kids from poor and minority communities only to train them in highly specific military-related tasks that can never be used in civilian life. Over 50% of JROTC cadets are students of color, yet JROTC can’t promise a military job for all of them, nor advancement once they enter the armed services–one-third of all military recruits are people of color, yet only one-eighth of the officers are.
JROTC teaches and promotes violence. Kids wanting to escape from gangs, for example, can learn how to shoot bigger guns in the JROTC program, often with the help of the local NRA chapter. Or they can learn how to break down and clean weapons, fix weapons, or how to read a radar screen–not exactly skills needed in the average office environment. A survey of military veterans done by Ohio State researchers (who received their funding from the military) found that only 12% of men and 6% of women surveyed said they used their skills learned in the military in their civilian jobs. In fact, 14 separate studies have found that, on average, veterans earn between 11-19% less than non-veterans who come from similar socio-economic backgrounds. In fact, the military is so bad at job training that over 50,000 veterans are on a waiting list for a special federal job training program geared especially for them. How do they get by while they wait to be accepted into the program? Well, the Veterans Administration estimates that one-third of all homeless people are veterans.
The much-vaunted “adventures” offered by military service include: sexual harassment by fellow soldiers (90% of women veterans have reported suffering harassment, by the VA’s own admission), racial discrimination in deployment (in the Gulf War, over 50% of front-line troops were people of color, exposure to toxic substances (Agent Orange, experimental vaccines, oil fires, depleted uranium), loss of Constitutional rights (which don’t apply in military courts), and, of course, death at the whim of a commander who may be sleeping with your spouse.
So I was miffed to find out that military recruiters were coming to Seattle high schools. A community of activists has worked hard in the past to keep military recruiters out of Seattle schools. Members of the local teachers’ union have also helped; they rightly view non-union JROTC instructors as a threat to their jobs, and they see the teaching of military propaganda in schools as a menace to students. Furthermore, each JROTC school unit costs school districts at least $50,000 per year to operate (you didn’t think the military paid for this, did you?). Folks at the Seattle Draft and Military Counseling Center began to get ready to use whatever non-violent means necessary to keep the recruiters out.
Guess what? Rather than risk being humiliated by the facts, the military decided to skip Seattle after all. Instead, the recruiters are visiting schools on the Kitsap Peninsula–once again doing their cowardly rounds of poor communities located near military bases. That won’t, however, mean that every Seattle student is safe; many kids will still join the military, as long as recruiting centers occupy storefronts in their communities. If you know a teenager who’s thinking about enlisting, talk to them about it. Give them the facts, find out why they want to join up, and suggest alternatives. It’s definitely worth your time, and you could literally save that person’s life.
Special thanks to Al Cairns at the Seattle Draft and Military Counseling Center (SDMCC) for many of the statistics in this article. For more information, call SDMCC at 206-789-2751, or the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors at 1-800-665-7682. SDMCC is also setting up a peace scholarship for a Shorecrest High School student and is currently taking applications.