Opinion / 2/21/2022 / Gary Ghirardi - Under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), public high schools must give the names, addresses and telephone numbers of students to military recruiters, college/university recruiters and prospective employers if the recruiters request the information (ESSA, Title VIII, 8528). However, students or their parents have the right to instruct the school in writing that this information is not to be released.
But the parents are challenged in their ability to protect their children from all the ways that twenty-first century US American culture has to form their children’s political consciousness with its myriad conveyances of propaganda through a compliant militarized media, constant and expanding violent entertainment offerings, and an educational system that allows Pentagon programs inside public schools to instill a military ethos in their development.
In February of 2022, in the midst of a now endemic viral pandemic, the US appears to be on the cusp of a US / Russian conflict in Ukraine extending a long time civil war into a potentially lethal outcome for millions of people, and the world itself, if it morphs into a nuclear conflagration.
Counter-recruitment activists, organizing since 2003 as the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, have struggled to deliver, inside and outside our public schools, an alternative narrative to that of military recruiters that have occupied school lunchrooms, sports fields, career fairs, and now even classrooms under the guise of STEM science learning partnered with their private corporate military proxies like the arms manufacturer Raytheon.
Activists, in the process of maintaining tenuous relations with increasingly reactionary school boards, and nervous school administrators and teachers, have largely avoiding evoking essential political questions about the justifications for our wars plied by our Political Class through both direct US Military Force interventions and the utilization of proxy forces, militarized corporate mercenaries and often repressive foreign paramilitaries.
"CR” outreach in schools has largely followed a protocol respecting cultural norms because of the necessity of maintaining hard-won “equal access” for themselves in contravening the Solomon Amendment's demand upon public schools and, hopefully, for those who follow their path of activism behind them by not broaching controversial subjects like foreign policy. Military recruiters, in contrast, use and abuse school access to youth basically through the coercive government legislation that the Solomon Amendment is.
The House called Perpetual War
The US American citizenry are captives of a normalized Military Complex that manifests in every aspect of their daily lives. Militarism in the US has become so endemic to the culture that it has now achieved the ability to remain public-ally transparent without concerns for mainstream public redress. Those who do organize to speak out against the “business of war” have seen their visibility reduced to a murmur within a corporate and consolidated media. Through a complicated web of mutually distributed corporate shareholdings, the same manufacturers of weapons are investors in major national media outlets and influence the political narratives imparted to the public.
Our Universities are dependent on Defense Department grants for research on weapons and surveillance systems to fund their science departments and professors while students who might have organized in numbers to resist this trend are hard-pressed with financial burdens to completing their education. This reality has severely impacted the US university as a location of antiwar organizing like in decades past.
For the most vulnerable of students in upcoming generations lies a future where Department of Defense programs and indoctrination in their schools from K-12, will achieve an impact normalizing state violence for them as US based multinational corporations endeavor to dominate international commerce at the expense of world stability.
Additionally, millions of youth, in their non-school hours at home or with friends, have become addicted to militarized “first-person shooter” video games, like Frontlines, that have now surpassed the film industry in popularity and revenues. Sports now encompasses violent gaming as a recognized and organized social practice, surpassing physical sport activities and bridging the generations of parents and children in inter-generational recreational violence.
Uninforming the Populace
Millions of American parents now remain oblivious to the fact that the DOD has automated draft registration for young men, and soon young women, into incipient wars with selective service registration tied to driver license applications. Non-participation means forfeiting qualifying for government student loans or grants or being hired for state and federal jobs. Those 18 to 26 year old citizens who refuse to participate in the selective service requirement potentially could face criminal charges as well. Youth without personal or familial wealth, lose the ability to reasonably function in a societal infrastructure largely based on owning a car to travel to work and home.
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test given in our high schools is parlayed as an evaluation test to determine a student’s level of learning but what is often obscured and made unclear is the reality that the ASVAB is a tool of military recruitment for the DOD. The test is used for data-mining for the Joint Advertising Market Research Studies (JAMRS) database used by recruiters to approach youth directly without parental notification having achieved a profile, with that usurped data, on each prospect in which to make their appeal.
War gives us Comfort and our Children a Future
Despite the public relations efforts of the Department of Defense, touting their volunteer military and respected status with the US American public, the military forces have suffered a large drop in public approval following the pull out of Afghanistan.2
For youth without resources the military has always been seen as the “go to” opportunity for generations giving young families the opportunity to achieve school funding for a better job and a veterans administration loan to buy a house.
What US Americans have not really faced up to is how much of their quality of life is built upon militarism. Neither have they taken into account the suffering which has been caused to other nations and their populations in the trade-off. The death toll is in the millions and still growing. It is a moral disgrace that as a nation we have been conditioned to defend a rapacious hegemony that threatens our children and families safety and health generation after generation with perpetual wars and the concurrent societal destabilization and environmental contamination they have and continue to cause.
We are constantly barraged with corporate media propaganda that it is our right to assert domain over the planet for the life we deserve in spite of the consequences. Meanwhile the violence of media offerings in movies, television programs, and video games, has desensitized us to real violence and separated us from the suffering by those most impacted by our style of life. It is perfect coup for the Military Entertainment Complex.
Anti-war activism manifested between the first Iraq War and the post 9/11 wars is largely abated having been sent underground or sublimated to distrust and defeatism. We are a citizenry living as the servants of a war economy with opposition voices largely silenced in the mainstream media.
War is the house we live in
Based on a Rand Corporation report1 about Ukraine from 2019, we clearly see the planning and recommendations for disrupting Russia’s sovereignty and that nation's ability to prosper their economy. NATO, the North Atlantic Trade Organization formed in 1949 by wealthy Industrialists and their London and Wall Street Lawyers, upon close examination is a financial cabal marketed to the “Western Democracies” as a security pact but functions perfectly to foster the interests that formed it, not the safety and security of the population as it is claimed. The existential danger to human survival by a NATO constructed nuclear weapons "flexible response" policy is a statement to that insecurity.
“Brain Trusts” and Policy “think tanks” that permeate our political establishment are those “experts” and public intellectuals that lend authenticity to a system of inbred self interest that has utilized violence as a basis of manufacture as in the procurement of defensive and offensive military weaponry and as an ideological establishment to justify and perpetuate a system of cultural militarism. Our youth are emerging into a culture addicted to war.
With the emergence of a global pandemic with less in-person community engagement as the result, rose the perfect conditions for the expansion of both increased military expenditures and securitization. For counter-recuitment activism with schools closed due to concerns for infection, and increased virtual contact between military recruiters and youth utilizing militarized online gaming as a venue for military recruitment, the path to getting back into schools to make contact with youth is uncertain.
Additionally, counter-recruitment groups that had formed during the post 9/11 wars are finding themselves “aging out” and unable to make connections with a now fully technologically immersed Generation Z.
The counter-recruitment movement of the previous decades has been transfigured by years of attrition and the increasing normalization of war in US Culture into a practice rather than the movement it once was. That practice needs to reconfigure itself for the times and challenges ahead. As the United States negotiates its culture wars, from Black Lives Matter to Critical Race Theory, there needs to be an integrative approach to the counter-recruitment message that ties US Cultural militarism to a curriculum as an intervention in our schools in conjunction with an accompanying teaching culture that supports non-military outcomes for students and the society they emerge into.
A corollary proposal once rejected was the advancement of the Liberated Ethnic Studies Curriculum (LESMC) in California schools. None the less, there exists an opportunity to advance a vanguard approach to teaching history and cultural studies, specially in K-12, to focus on the realities of wars, their functions versus their portrayed meanings, and to challenge the deification of the state. Such a curricular shift could be envisioned as a therapeutic intervention in the classroom that could implant the seeds of compassion for change in young students that their current menu of studies and entertainment offerings belies. Like the stated goals of the LESMC, the additional goal of a “liberated counter-recruitment practice” would be to foster young activists prepared to do the education to transform their communities from violence to peaceful alternatives.
Cracks in the War Culture
As US Americans continue to identify the war coming to their own communities in the form of militarized policing and increasing securitization of the public commons, a loss of trust in the military as an institution is manifesting in public perceptions of the one institution that historically has been held in high regard.
‘From the Defense News report of March 10, 2021:2
Americans are quickly losing trust and confidence in the U.S. military, according to the staggering results of a recent survey conducted by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.
The survey found that the number of Americans who said they have a lot of confidence and trust in the military has dropped from 70% to 45% in just the past three years, and that includes a steep 11 percentage point drop since February, a Reagan Institute news release says.
Among the people who indicated they have a low degree of confidence in the U.S. military, 13% cited “political leadership” as a reason; 9% said “scandals/sexual assault/lies/cover-ups”; and 8% said they felt the military was too expensive and had the wrong priorities, according to the data. Another 15% provided other reasons that were not specified in the data and 8% said they didn’t know why they were not very confident in the military.
Considering the source of the polling and the potentially conservative sampling of opinion gathered, one can only wonder the attitudes expressed by the 15% “that were not specified.”
Many Americans are tired of war but conditioned to accepting it and convinced of its inevitability. Many believe it is as inescapable as gravity.
Confronted with foreign policy faux pas from the political parties that govern us with their resultant conflicts, military actions and occupations, the meaning of war remains hidden to a citizenry unable to extricate themselves from the products it produces. Militarism is a wealth machine. General Electric, Raytheon, and Boeing all promote war by comforting us to feel protected by a death factory directed at someone else. Actual violent outcomes remain examined and articulated in endless entertainments that reduce those who suffer to empty abstractions. We are never asked to considered if peaceful production alone could produce the material abundance to sustains us.
No Poor Child Left Unrecruited
The ultimate racism is to configure your marginalized populations, coincidentally most non-white, for military service. When the question is proposed to most mainstream persons whether youth with limited opportunities should be dissuaded from military service, most genuflect to the logic of military service rather than systemic realignment. They are our expendables and we reward them for their sacrifice with limited opportunities, police profiling, prison or worse. And for their service platitudes of thanks. It is classism in disguise.
In the “homeland” prosperous children of all colors and persuasions remain unrecruited to any large extent by the military. Just check where you find military recruiters in high schools and you can construct a map of geographical poverty and JROTC programs for that matter. We can realize a color blind society for those that possess the accoutrements of prosperity and they stay in their affluent neighborhoods. Outside those neighborhoods they are subject to militarized police violence.
From the Florida International University website:
A study was conducted during the 2011-2012 school year to record the number of times army recruiters visited two high schools in Connecticut; one being higher-income, and one being low-income. Army recruiters visited the higher-income school just four times. Meanwhile, those same recruiters visited the low-income school over 40 times. Both schools were in the same district, the only difference between them being the median wealth of the students’ families.
Miami is no exception. Around 40 to 65 percent of the country’s JROTC programs are currently found in the southeastern United States. This is no mistake, as the southeast has a higher minority population than up north. The military not only offers to fully pay for your education, but to also fast-track your citizenship status. For immigrants, (many of which are concentrated in Miami), this is no doubt an appealing prospect. One would almost say that it is impossible to say no to. 3
In contrast to those predated by a racist and classist military recruitment culture is a counter-recruitment movement emerging from the anti-war movement during the Vietnam war. Groups that protested imperialist US Wars from Vietnam to Afghanistan have been majority white, even among anti-war veterans, while the military has focused on youth of color in urban concentrations of the country for recruitment targeting.
Some counter-recruitment groups have aligned their organizational makeup and staffing to reflect the communities and age groups targeted by military recruitment but have yet to make the brave step to confronting the mainstream narrative that dominates the divisions inherent in the current culture wars reflected in school boards and parents groups nationally.
The main hope for confronting the retrograde orthodoxies and cultural militarism that is robbing a sustainable future for all of us will lie with a generation of youth that confronts the world they are emerging into. Maybe it can be Generatiion Z or the Generation Alpha who will follow them.
That world is not likely to resemble the one we recognize now for better or for worse.
Activist groups that forced the issues for change in our schools to seek a civilian society and oppose a militarized one will serve as a historical point of reference for that future generation along the journey.
Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of those individuals associated to the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth or groups associated to NNOMY.
- Dobbins, James, et al. "Overextending and Unbalancing Russia: Assessing the Impact of Cost-Imposing Options." Rand Corporation (2019). -
- Shane III, Leo, “Trust in the military is dropping significantly, new survey suggests” Defense News (2021)
- Serpa, Hayley, "How Military Recruitment Targets Low-Income Schools, And Why That’s A Problem" PantherNow (2020)