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2005 Could Be a Turning Point for the Antiwar Movement

Rick Jahnkow -

Despite 2005 being the start of a second presidential term for George W. Bush, this year may bring together a number of factors that will offer the antiwar movement an important opportunity to shorten the U.S. occupation of Iraq and begin to reverse the decades-long growth of militarism in this country. However, to take advantage of this opportunity, the antiwar movement will have to think critically about its emphasis on symbolic war protest and look more closely at strategies for interfering with the flow of human resources needed for war, especially through counter-recruitment organizing.

As the year began, it should have been clear to everyone that the neocon plan for the Middle East pursued by the Bush administration had run into a brick wall. The invasion and occupation of Iraq is now the quagmire that many predicted, and U.S. actions in the region have created less political stability instead of more. Meanwhile, total annual spending on war and the military has reached almost half a trillion dollars, which is being financed by running up major deficits and proposing budget cuts in domestic programs that will generate much anger in the coming months toward Bush and his Republican majority. The increasing reports of Republican realists publicly criticizing Bush policies — especially over Iraq — indicate that beneath the surface, opinion against the neocons is growing even within the conservative base of Bush's own party.

Perhaps most importantly, a developing crisis in the military force structure caused by Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will soon push the Pentagon into a position where
it can no longer carry out the mission that has so far been handed to it. Reserve and National Guard forces now make up 40% of the troops in Iraq, but the National Guard missed its recruitment quota by 13% last year and Reserve forces are "rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force," according to a December 2004 memo by the chief of Army Reserves, Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly. Earlier in the year, a report by the Defense Science Board, a Department of Defense advisory group, concluded that the U.S. military could not maintain its current peacekeeping commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan without a significant increase in the size of the armed forces or scaling back the objectives of its missions. The Bush administration has publicly stated it intends to "stay the course," but trying to resolve this problem by increasing the size of the military is appearing to be impossible without a draft, and that route, if chosen, would be an absolute disaster for the Pentagon.

Thirty years ago, the public image and influence of the military establishment had reached a low point because of controversy over the Vietnam War and the draft that was used to fight it. When massive war resistance and the general social upheaval of the time forced an end to the draft, the Pentagon had to begin relying on aggressive marketing to fill the armed forces' ranks and improve its relationship with the public. As a result of this forced shift in strategy, the military has been gradually expanding its presence in K-12 schools and strengthening its ability to propagandize through other institutions of socialization. Those efforts, together with a less risky war fighting doctrine that grew out of the so-called Vietnam Syndrome, have helped the military establishment rehabilitate its image and expand its influence to an unprecedented level.

Right now, however, public opposition to the war in Iraq is increasing and antagonism toward the draft is still running extremely high — so high that the Republicans in Congress felt it necessary to bring Congressman Rangel's nonviable draft bill to the floor just so it could be voted down 402-2, and both Bush and Kerry felt compelled to publicly promise there would be no draft if they were elected. Furthermore, the Pentagon knows that all of its political gains over the last 30 years would be jeopardized by the firestorm of hostility that would be triggered if, once again, conscription were used to force people to fight an unpopular, risky war. It would mean that recruiters and ROTC programs would come under fierce attack on college campuses, as would the military recruiters and military-linked programs that have invaded our K-12 schools, including Jr. ROTC, military aptitude (ASVAB) testing, the Young Marines and the many military/school partnerships that have been taking root at all school levels.

If the military believes it can't marshal the resources needed to carry out its mission, and if the draft is an unacceptable solution because of the perceived likelihood of a severe political backlash, it leaves only the choice of changing the mission — which essentially means the U.S. would have to find a way to begin phasing out its occupation of Iraq relatively soon. And even though Bush has talked about staying the course, there is little else he can do if the troops, money and will are not there to continue, and if the career officers at the Pentagon become more publicly vocal in defending their own vital institutional interests — which in this case are served by changing the mission rather than resorting to a draft.

The key to actualizing this result is maintaining the perception that neither a draft nor aggressive recruiting can enable the mission to continue. The antiwar movement has an opportunity to do this by shifting its strategy to make counter-recruitment organizing and the demilitarization of schools a higher priority.

Doing this can accomplish several goals:

1. By supporting and facilitating more organizing against the military's presence in schools, we can communicate clearly that even more dire consequences are around the corner if there ever is a draft.

2. It encourages more youth activism and addresses the dangerous trend toward greater militarization of education, which if not reversed will lay the foundation for future wars and make a draft much more likely.

3. More than just offering protest, it provides a way to materially interfere with the government's ability to sustain the occupation of Iraq and pursue other preemptive wars, and in the process, we can push the Pentagon toward expressing more direct public criticism of the administration's handling of the war and of the Bush Doctrine in general.

One of the barriers to counter-recruitment activism in colleges and universities has been a set of laws, known as the Solomon Amendments, which since 1997 has threatened campuses with the loss of federal funds if they ban recruiters and ROTC. A parallel law was implemented in 2002 to stop high schools from restricting recruiter access to students and student lists. Multiple lawsuits challenging the college-related law were introduced in 2003, and on November 29, 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the Solomon Amendments violated the plaintiffs' free speech. While there is a good chance the federal government will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, there is currently an important window of opportunity to escalate college counter-recruitment organizing to a level of intensity that hasn't existed in recent years. There is also a possibility for some high school districts that formerly had restrictions on recruiter access to reinvoke them, which in the current climate of concern about predatory recruiters and the Iraq war could inspire a larger number of districts to adopt such restrictions.

Even if the court ruling against mandatory recruiter access to colleges is eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, there are still many possibilities for challenging and resisting the military's efforts to recruit and indoctrinate young people, as has been demonstrated by the grassroots groups belonging to the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (www.youthandthemilitary.org). And there is also new inspiration to be drawn from the creative direct action protests that have been recently occurring at recruiting stations, including the takeover of one recruiting center in Madison, Wisconsin, by individuals demanding that it be turned into a college financial aid office.

Organizing such activities is a way for people to actually nonviolently stand in the way of what's being done in Iraq and have a tangible effect. More antiwar activists are gradually realizing how much this is needed and that symbolic protest, though valuable, is not enough. Hopefully, a larger portion of the antiwar movement will also realize it, and 2005 will become the turning point that is badly needed.

Sources: New York Times, September 20, 2003; Baltimore Sun, January 5, 2005.

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


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