Military Recruiters and the Iraq War

With the occupation of Iraq spiraling out of control and growing increasingly unpopular among the majority of Americans, military recruiting would seem to be as winning an endeavor as selling tickets to get on board a sinking ship. It therefore comes as no surprise that military recruiters have been falling well short of fulfilling their quotas. For instance, the Army, which had met its recruitment goal every year since 1990, fell behind in 2005.    

This shortfall, combined with increasing military demands in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the possibility of other military adventures in the future, has resulted in an impossible predicament for the architects of U.S. foreign policy. According to their outlook, a much larger military will ultimately be needed to secure imperialism’s goals. Yet the most obvious way of overcoming this problem, by re-introducing the draft, would be political suicide. 

The elimination of the draft was the result of a mass movement against the Vietnam War which eventually contributed to a political crisis that brought down the Nixon presidency. Watergate would have likely been yet another passing scandal if it wasn’t for the crisis of confidence that already existed as a result of the war. The anti-Vietnam War movement also shook the confidence of the capitalist politicians in their ability to maintain stability as long as Nixon remained in power.  

To reintroduce the draft today, when the level of opposition to the Iraq occupation is nearly as great as it was when the U.S. was forced to leave Vietnam would be like playing with matches in a shed of dynamite. It could spark an explosion among the ruled that the rulers could not contain. 

With the reintroduction of the draft off the agenda – at least for the moment – policy makers have been trying to strengthen the ability of military recruiters to go after youth. In 1998 the military recruiting budget was $300 million. Last year that budget approached an astonishing $4 billion, providing an enormous pool of resources for recruiters to prey on the poor and impressionable.    

Additionally, new federal laws have greatly increased military recruiters’ access to youth. Part of “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) mandates that if schools wish to receive federal funding, they must allow recruiters into the high schools, although some school districts, such as Portland Oregon, had previously barred them entrance. Furthermore, under NCLB, these schools must turn over students’ home addresses, phone numbers, and other private information to military recruiters, unless students or parents fill out an “Opt-Out” form. The threat of withholding federal funds when so many school districts are strapped for cash amounts to a form of blackmail on the part of the federal government in favor of the military. 

Military recruiters are not satisfied with these advantages, however. In their efforts to meet their quotas, recruiters have been resorting to tactics that would make a seedy used car salesman blush. For instance, military recruiters have been telling potential recruits that they don’t have to see combat and can leave the military at any time. Yet buried in the contract recruits sign are clauses that negate all such promises in the event of war, such as the indefinite “war on terror”. Untold numbers of youth have found out about this the hard way. 

Recruiters have also been telling potential recruits that the military will give them up to $68,000 to pay for college. What they don’t say is that two-thirds of recruits never receive any college funding and that only 15 per cent graduate with a four year degree. As of late, military recruiters have been making a special pitch to non-citizens, saying that they can apply for citizenship the day they join rather then wait five years after getting a green card. What recruiters don’t tell immigrants is that in proportion to their actual numbers, they will be given the most dangerous jobs. For instance, while Latinos represented 9.4 per cent of enlistees in 2001, they make up 17.7 per cent of the jobs that involve handling weapons   

Young people get sucked into these lies because the reality of America’s volunteer military is that it largely recruits from youth whose families can’t afford college and who do not see career prospects for themselves other then an endless series of low-wage, no-future jobs. To grow the volunteer military depends on the bleak future many working class youth face, especially people of color. That is why the volunteer military is really a poverty draft. A good education and good job rarely comes knocking on the doors of the poor, but military recruiters do.    

In response to the poverty draft and Iraq occupation, numerous counter recruitment groups have formed across the U.S. “Opt-Out” forums have been passed out, protests held at recruiter stations, school community forums organized, counter recruiter networks set up in the high schools, and school board resolutions have been passed that challenge the NCLB provisions regarding the military’s access to high school students.  

Many counter-recruitment organizations have taken on career and college counseling while trying to get out their anti-war message. While no amount of college and career counseling will solve inequality, the predatory relationship of the military to working class youth and the conditions these youth face becomes an immediate issue in the course of these discussions.  This work can serve as a stepping stone not only to build a mass movement to “bring the troops home now”, but also to build a mass working class-led movement that sees good union jobs and quality education as fundamental rights for all.  

It took a mass movement that contributed to bringing down a president to end the war in Vietnam and stop the draft. It will take a mass working class-led movement that takes on the foundations of capitalism to overcome the inequality that the volunteer military feeds off of. By working from this perspective we will also be better prepared to resist any attempts to re-instate the draft.

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