You are hereCounter Recruitment
Popularity of enlistment test grows. Numbers of participating students and schools on the rise. Many required to take the exam while results are shared with recruiters without parental consent.
By Pat Elder
Data released by the Department of Defense on August 1st shows the military administered its 3-hour enlistment exam to nearly 700,000 students in 12,000 high schools during the 2013-14 school year, a 2% increase over the prior year.
The Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPCOM) administers the exam, known as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, (ASVAB). The database was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
An examination of the data raises serious issues regarding student privacy and the integrity of the student testing program in America's schools. The three-hour test is the linchpin of the Pentagon's school-based recruiting program and provides MEPCOM an invaluable tool in prescreening candidates for military enlistment. Students are required to furnish detailed demographic information and their social security numbers before sitting for the exam.
By John Grant
If our wars were to make killers of all combat soldiers, rather than men who have killed, civilian life would be endangered for generations or, in fact, made impossible.
By Pat Elder
Over the last two years, more than half of the states have enacted legislation aimed at protecting the privacy of high school students. A Student Privacy Pledge has attracted the support of 200 companies in the business of providing online services to students in America’s classrooms. The White House, too, has proposed a Student Digital Privacy Act, modeled after California’s stringent Student Online Personal Information Protection Act, (SOPIPA), that was passed in 2014 and went into effect in 2016.
Meanwhile, the military, the nation’s most egregious violator of student privacy rights, gets a pass.
Several elements are common to most of these laws, according to Jules Polonetsky and Brenda Leong of the Future of Privacy Forum. They summarize the new laws regulating school-based digital data collectors:
[Data collectors] are barred from selling student information, delivering targeted advertising to students, or changing privacy policies without notice and choice. They must use data for authorized educational uses only, support requirements for parental access to data, and delete data when required.
If a school promotes an online product and requires or encourages students to use it, then it has responsibility for making sure the tool complies with many of these new privacy laws.
Like yearbook and ring companies that sell student information to the highest bidder, DOD recruiters and civilian employees routinely pass sensitive information about underage students to the Joint Advertising and Marketing Research Systems (JAMRS), a DOD program. JAMRS subcontracts the massive, Orwellian database of approximately 30 million youth, ages 16-25, to the data goliath Equifax.
On a scale that dwarfs corporate competitors, the DOD delivers targeted advertising to students. It changes privacy policies without notice or choice to consumers. (The recent changes to USMEPCOM Regulation 601-4 concerning the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, ASVAB, provide an example.) The military does not use the data it collects for educational purposes, and it works against providing for parental consent or access to data. Furthermore, the military retains data collected on students long after laws demand their destruction.
While proposing the Student Digital Privacy Act last year, President Obama forcefully declared, “data collected on students in the classroom should only be used for educational purposes — to teach our children, not to market to our children.” However, the president’s proposal leaves the DOD alone.
The framework of the President’s proposal is taken from the California law:
Operators may not collect information that is descriptive of a student or otherwise identifies a student, including, but not limited to, information in the student’s educational record or email, first and last name, home address, telephone number, email address, or other information that allows physical or online contact. discipline records, test results, special education data, juvenile dependency records, grades, evaluations, criminal records, medical records, health records, social security number, biometric information, disabilities, socioeconomic information, food purchases, political affiliations, religious information, text messages, documents, student identifiers, search activity, photos, voice recordings, or geolocation information.
The DOD collects most of this through the ASVAB enlistment test alone. More than a thousand schools require students to take the test. Overall, 650,000 high school kids take the test in 12,000 schools.
Minnesota, New Jersey, Colorado, New Mexico,and Mississippi, allow students to take the ASVAB as an alternative end-of-year assessment. Kentucky and Missouri encourage students to take the ASVAB to be considered “Career Ready.” These policies provide a treasure trove of unregulated data for the Pentagon, all without parental consent. On the other end of the spectrum, Hawaii, Maryland, and New Hampshire do not allow results from the ASVAB to be used for recruiting purposes.
Federal law says military recruiters may request the names, addresses, and numbers of students for direct marketing purposes, an act prohibited in all the new privacy laws. The law, however, allows parents to request that their child’s name not be forwarded to the Pentagon. Maryland is the only state that has a law requiring an “opt-out” form to be placed on the mandatory emergency contact card, leading most parents to remove their child’s information from lists being sent to recruiters. The new data privacy laws fail to address this obvious invasion of privacy in the 49 states that are reluctant to check this military overreach.
The military has multiple avenues of data flowing into its databases. High school guidance offices and career centers encourage students to visit the websites of each of the military branches, reserves, and Guard units. They all collect volumes of personally identifiable data. Schools also promote the following websites, and they often provide instruction in navigating a host of military or military-supported sites like: www.todaysmilitary.com, www.ecybermission.com,www.march2success.com, www.armystrongstories.com,www.military.com,www.asvabprogram.com,www.march2success.com, and www.myfuture.com.
Unwary students are prompted to click on military links to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter where newly formed units of recruiters in recruiting companies across the country spend countless hours trolling these sources to assemble a virtual portrait of children before first contact.
The DOD also works in state houses to loosen privacy protections. Kentucky is the worst. Their law says, “All student academic records are made available upon request to any agency of the federal or state government for the purpose of determining a student's eligibility for military service.”
When President Obama endorsed the Student Privacy Pledge, he called for companies to make a firm commitment to using student data only for educational purposes. The Student Privacy Pledge asks data collectors to abide voluntarily by the same standards taken from many the new state laws
“We pioneered the Internet,” Obama said at the Federal Trade Commission. “But we also pioneered the Bill of Rights and a sense each of us as individuals have a sphere of privacy around us that should not be breached by our government but also by commercial interests.” The DoD has not signed the pledge and is not likely to do so on anytime soon because so much of the Pentagon’s strategy for recruiting the nation’s youth depends on deception.
The Pledge applies to all personal student information whether or not it is part of an “educational record” as defined by federal law. It is an important distinction because the DOD has claimed for years that the administration of the ASVAB in the schools is not subject to the Buckley Amendment, so results do not need parental consent to be released to recruiters. The Buckley Amendment says schools may not release educational records to third parties without seeking parental consent. The DOD claims ASVAB results are not educational records. Instead, they say test results are military records. The DOD has a long and despicable history of dodging privacy mandates.
Meanwhile, other giants in the student testing industry, like the College Board and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, have signed on.
When the ACLU settled their lawsuit with the DOD over the illegal JAMRS database in 2007, the DOD agreed to the following:
· limit to three years the length of time that DoD retains student information;
· stop collecting student Social Security Numbers; and,
· establish and clarify procedures by which students can block the military from entering information about them in the database and have their information removed.
The DOD has fallen short on all three accounts. Student information is retained indefinitely, although JAMRS data is placed in a “suppression file” after three years. The Recruiting Command routinely collects social security numbers through the ASVAB program and the DOD has failed to make anything clear to students or their parents regarding the JAMRS database or ways to have information removed.
This is not what democracy looks like. The DOD defends its actions arguing that this heavy-handed arrangement is preferable to the return of the draft, although the problem is much deeper.
Relatively few want to enlist and those that do increasingly come from a shrinking number of deep red states in the south. The realities of a vicious and unresponsive command structure after 15 years of unnecessary warfare have filtered down to potential recruits and their families. The Pentagon feels it must violate our 1st Amendment rights while operating a highly deceptive recruiting apparatus to achieve its yearly quotas. What’s needed is a sincere national discussion on the size, cost, and mission of the Department of Defense, particularly as it relates to the inability of this nation to address the overwhelming needs of its citizenry. We may discover we don’t need all of these troops and that reduced recruiting quotas will engender a more democratic and transparent defense establishment.
Pat Elder email@example.com is the Director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy. The organization works to expose the military’s unconstitutional and deceptive recruiting practices in the nation’s high schools. www.studentprivacy.org
Seth Kershner is a writer and researcher whose work has appeared in such outlets as In These Times, Sojourners, and Rethinking Schools. He is the co-author (with Scott Harding) of Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). This is the first book to analyze the grassroots counter-recruitment movement which has been around for more than four decades. He has recently been using the Freedom of Information Act to gain a better understanding of the extent of militarism in U.S. schools, obtaining hundreds of pages of documents in the process. Last fall he and Scott Harding shared some of these findings in an op-ed for Education Week.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
Bring spray bottles of pink liquid to military recruitment offices and displays.
Tell potential recruits: Be all that you can be. And this could be you.
“Pink mist. That’s what they call it.
“When one of your mates hasn’t just bought it,
“but goes in a flash, from being there to not.
“A direct hit. An I.E.D. An R.P.G. stuck in the gut.”
Those are lines from a play called Pink Mist written in verse by Owen Sheers about three young lads from Bristol who sign up for war in Afghanistan.
Read it. Perform it. It begins like this:
“Three boys went to Catterick.
“It was January,
“snow pitchen on the Severn,
“turning the brown mud white,
“fishermen blowing on their fingerless gloves,
“the current pulling their fishing lines tight.
“That’s how it was the morning when
“the three of us did what boys always have
“And left our homes for war.”
It’s a lie, of course. Boys haven’t always. Most boys don’t now in the most war mad nations on earth. And boys in many nations don’t at all. And that has always been so, especially before there were nations.
The boys are recruited by more lies:
“I wanted something else — him.
“The man looking back at me,
“the one with the uniform, the gun.
“The one going somewhere, getting something done.”
What about staying somewhere and getting something done? What about going somewhere and getting something other than killing people done?
They joined also for pay and a better future, the chance to support a family. A society in which you cannot support a family without signing up to go and kill people in a distant land is clearly the least civilized sort of society imaginable, and yet it motivates itself to kill those people in large part from its sense of superiority.
They joined for the same reason some people join the groups Westerners go off to fight against: nobody respected them until a recruiter did.
Off at war in Afghanistan, the first time one of their buddies is killed, they become motivated by revenge:
“It wasn’t just doing a job any more.
“It was about killing them.”
Think about a culture in which killing large numbers of people you know nothing about, people who barely even show up in your antiwar plays based on the remembrances of your troops, is “just a job.” It’s society-wide sociopathy. The boys in this book speak of the pride of doing the “job you trained for.” They also speak of it as a game, as the realization of their childhood playing at war.
These three end up, respectively, dead, legless, and traumatized. Their horrors are the story. Their victims, the people of Afghanistan, barely register, and never achieve the level of names or speaking roles. That they are being killed is clear, but they are only specified at all in one incident that involves killing a man, his wife, and a two-year-old girl.
Of course the pain that war brings to the aggressors and their loved ones back home is more than enough to end this monstrosity called war. The stupidity of friendly-fire deaths is prominent in the play. The notion of any higher purpose or of any purpose at all for the war is missing.
One of the soldiers hopes for an end to war:
“and well, I guess I hope it’ll change, somehow.
“Till then, if people knew what it is,
“that would be enough.
“How the loss becomes the reason,
“and how the reason’s an abuse of love.”
By Bill Galvin and Maria Santelli, Center on Conscience & War
With the combat restriction for women in the US Armed Forces now lifted, discussion of draft registration is back in the news, the courts, and the halls of congress. But the problems with Selective Service System (SSS) Registration go much deeper than gender equality. There is little political interest in bringing back the draft. Yet draft registration remains a burden upon our nation’s young men – and now, potentially our young women, as well.
The extrajudicial penalties imposed upon those who choose not to or fail to register make life more difficult for many who already are marginalized, and they particularly target conscientious objectors who believe that registering with Selective Service is a form of participating in war. There is no opportunity to register as a conscientious objector. Legal protection for conscientious objectors was provided in the constitutions of several of the original colonies, and was written into early drafts of what became the First and Second Amendments to the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution. Instead of honoring and upholding these freedoms and protections, modern lawmakers have subjected non-registrants to laws that deny education, employment and other fundamental opportunities. These laws amount to an unacceptable burden on those individuals who cannot, in good conscience, register, and in fact serve to punish and marginalize those who are living their lives true to the very essence of our democracy.
After the war in Vietnam ended in 1975, draft registration ended as well. In 1980 President Carter reinstated registration to send a message to the Soviet Union, which had just invaded Afghanistan, that the US could be ready for war at any time. This is still the law of the land today: virtually all males residing in the US and all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 26 are required to be registered with Selective Service.
The penalties for failure to register are potentially quite severe: it is a federal felony carrying a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Since 1980 millions of young men have violated the law by failing to register. And of those who did register, millions more violated the law by failing to register during the time period prescribed in the law. Since 1980 a grand total of just 20 people have been prosecuted for failure to register. (The last indictment was on January 23rd, 1986.) Almost all of those prosecuted were conscientious objectors who publicly asserted their non-registration as a religious, conscientious or political statement.
Initially, the government planned to prosecute a handful of public resisters and scare everyone else into complying with the registration requirement. (In criminology, this enforcement strategy is called “general deterrence.”) The plan backfired: conscientious objectors facing prosecution were on the evening news talking about their values, asserting that they were answering to a higher moral law, and non-compliance with registration actually increased.
In response, beginning in 1982, the federal government enacted punitive legislation and policies designed to coerce people to register with Selective Service. These laws, commonly called “Solomon” laws after the member of Congress who first introduced them (not because of their supposed wisdom!), mandated non-registrants be denied the following:
- Federal financial aid to college students;
- Federal job training;
- Employment with federal executive agencies;
- S. Citizenship to immigrants.
Selective Service has stated consistently that their goal is to increase registration rates, not prosecute non-registrants. They happily accept late registrations until one turns 26, after which time it is no longer legally or administratively possible to register. Because there is a five-year statute of limitations for violations of the Selective Service law, once a non-registrant turns 31 he can no longer be prosecuted, yet the denial of federal financial aid, job training, and employment extends throughout his life.
Selective Service has testified before Congress that there is nothing to gain by denying these benefits to those who are too old to be registered. Yet, in a convoluted circular argument, government officials have asserted that getting someone to register is doing that person a favor, because failure to register makes them ineligible for these government “benefits.” In fact, it was that attitude that caused the former director of Selective Service Gil Coronado to observe,
“If we are not successful in reminding men in the inner cities about their registration obligation, especially minority and immigrant men, they will miss out on opportunities to achieve the American dream. They will lose eligibility for college loans and grants, government jobs, job training and for registration-age immigrants, citizenship. Unless we are successful in achieving high registration compliance, America may be on the verge of creating a permanent underclass.”
Rather than work to eliminate these extrajudicial penalties for non-registrants, and really level the playing field for all, Selective Service has encouraged states to adopt additional penalties for those who do not register for the draft. According to the 2015 SSS Annual Report to Congress, more than two-thirds of the men registered in FY 2015 were coerced by measures such as driver’s license restrictions or access to financial aid.
In the years since the federal government implemented Solomon-style penalties, 44 states, the District of Columbia, and several territories have enacted legislation that encourages or coerces registration with Selective Service. These laws take myriad forms: some states refuse government financial aid to unregistered students; some refuse enrollment in state institutions; some of those who do not register pay out-of-state tuition; and some states levy a combination of these penalties. Bills that restrict employment with state governments have passed in 20 states and one territory.
Laws linking registration to a driver’s license, learner’s permit, or photo ID vary by state, from requiring registration in order to be eligible to receive an ID or license, which is the position taken by most states, to simply providing the opportunity for one to register. The only states that have not currently passed any state legislation regarding registration with Selective Service are Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wyoming.
Any violation of the law carries a potential penalty if one is convicted. Yet – and it is worth repeating — the government has prosecuted no one for violating Selective Service law since 1986, while hundreds of thousands of US citizens have been penalized since that time. This practice of penalization without prosecution or conviction subverts the system of law established by our Constitution. Furthermore, penalizing people in ways that are unrelated to their alleged offense – an offense for which they have not been charged – runs counter to our fundamental system of law and our notion of justice. If there is a political will to enforce a law, violators should be prosecuted and have the right to be judged by a jury of their peers. If there is no political will to enforce a law, the law should be rescinded.
However, rather than rescind this unpopular and burdensome law, recent political and media attention has been focused on extending it to women. On February 2, 2016 the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Commandant of the Marine Corps both testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in support of extending the registration requirement to women. Two days later, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) introduced the Draft America’s Daughters Act, which, if passed, would extend the registration requirement to women. It also would subject women, and disproportionately women of conscience, to potential criminal prosecution, as well as life-long extrajudicial punishment for their act of conscience.
Back in 1981, when the single-gender Selective Service registration was challenged as sex discrimination, the Supreme Court ruled that a male-only Selective Service registration was legal. They said, “[S]ince women are excluded from combat service,” they are “simply not similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft,” and Congress, having constitutional authority to “raise and maintain” the military, had the authority to consider “military need” over “equity.”
But times have changed, and women are now at last recognized as “similarly situated.” Now that women are no longer barred from combat, the reason the Court allowed a male-only registration system no longer exists. Several court cases in recent years have challenged the male-only draft on constitutional “equal protection” grounds, and one of those cases was argued before the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals on December 8, 2015. On February 19, 2016, the court of appeals rejected the lower court’s technical reasons for dismissing the case and sent it back for further consideration.
But adding women to the population punished by the legal and constitutional oversteps of the Selective Service System solves nothing.
With current federal and state Selective Service laws in place, if a man wants to go back to school later in life or seeks employment with federal or state government agencies, he may well find those opportunities blocked because he did not register. Without a photo ID or driver’s license, the rights of individuals of conscience to travel are restricted. A photo ID is usually required to purchase an airline or train ticket, or tickets for travel on other modes of transportation even inside the US. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 13.1 states, “everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.” The effect of these laws is to undermine this basic human right. Furthermore, if so-called Voter ID requirements continue to spread and are upheld by the courts, these laws may restrict the right of conscientious objectors to a fundamental democratic means of expression: the vote.
Few would argue that the legislators behind these punitive laws are knowingly and purposefully looking to harm or disenfranchise certain groups, but that is no less the effect of their actions. The time is ripe to challenge these laws – not add women of conscience (or any other women) to the group being punished. The time is also ripe to challenge the Selective Service System itself, and on February 10, Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO), along with Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced a bill that would achieve both. H.R. 4523 would repeal the Military Selective Service Act, abolishing the registration requirement for everyone, while requiring that “a person may not be denied a right, privilege, benefit, or employment position under Federal law” for having refused or failed to register before the repeal. A petition is now circulating to support this sensible and timely effort.
Despite the spin that trivializes registration (“It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s the law;” It’s just registration, it’s not a draft), these discussions serve as a renewed reminder that, as the Supreme Court said back in 1981, “the purpose of registration is to develop a pool of potential combat troops.” The purpose of registration is to prepare for war. Our daughters and our sons deserve better.
 The Center on Conscience & War (CCW) was founded in 1940 to protect the rights of Conscientious Objectors. Our work continues today, providing technical and community support to all those who oppose their participation in war or the preparation for war.
 Lillian Schlissel, Conscience in America (New York: Dutton, 1968) p. 28
 Ibid, p. 47. Here Schlissel is citing James Madison, Proposals to the Congress for a Bill of Rights, Annals of Congress: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, Vol. I, First Congress, First Session, June 1789 (Washington DC: Gales and Seaton, 1834). See also Harrop A. Freeman, “A Remonstrance for Conscience,” Univ. Penn. Law Rev., vol. 106, no. 6, pp. 806-830, at 811-812 (April 1958) (reciting the drafting history in detail).
 50 U.S.C. App. 462(a) and 18 U.S.C. 3571(b)(3)
 Selective Service System Annual Reports to Congress, 1981-2011
 We use the pronoun “he” because the law only affects males at this time.
 Richard Flahavan, Selective Service System Associate Director, Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, in a meeting between Selective Service and the staff of the Center on Conscience & War, Nov 27, 2012
 FY 1999 Annual Report to the Congress of the United States, from the Director of Selective Service, p.8.
 Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57 (1981).
Military re-writes regulations to control damage and create new recruiting opportunities
The recent changes made by the US Military Entrance Processing Command to Regulation 601-4, Personnel Procurement Student Testing Program, are very significant to the work many of us have been carrying on for years. Although the DOD’s Student Testing Program is complicated and understood by small numbers of activists, it represents a massive and egregious violation of civil liberties.
At first glance it seemed our activism had resulted in a victory, but upon closer examination, it’s apparent the military is adjusting its strategy to a changing landscape for greater advantage.
The Pentagon runs the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Career Exploration Program (ASVAB-CEP) in 14,000 high schools across the country. The recruiting command is able to give its 3-hour enlistment test to 650,000 kids every year by deceptively shrouding it within a “Career Exploration Program”, which they say helps kids figure out what they want to do when they grow up. Actually, recruiters capture data on the cognitive abilities of the kids, along with their social security numbers and detailed demographic information. The primary purpose of the ASVAB-CEP, according the military regulations, is to create leads for recruiters.
Until now, school officials were expected to be proactive in communicating to the Recruiting Command whether they wanted to make the test results available to be used for recruiting purposes. Guidance counselors were to select one of eight release options for their kids taking the test. See Table 3-1:
Recruiter Release Options - Instructions for providing access to student test information to recruiting services
1 Provide student test information to recruiting services no sooner than 7 days after mailed to School
2 Provide student test information to recruiting services no sooner than 60 days after mailed to School
3 Provide student test information to recruiting services no sooner than 90 days after mailed to School
4 Provide student test information to recruiting services no sooner than 120 days after mailed to School
5 Provide student test information to recruiting services no sooner than the end of the SY for that specific school
6 Provide student test information to recruiting services no sooner than 7 days after mailed to school with instruction that no telephone solicitation by recruiters will be conducted as a result of test information provided
7 Invalid test results. Student test information is not provided to recruiting services
8 Access to student test information is not provided to recruiting services
Options 1-6 basically say the same thing. Recruiters get the data. Option 7 is rarely used; it’s for when there’s some sort of goof up. Option 8 says the military cannot use test results for recruiting purposes.
Eight years ago approximately 1-2% of the kids taking the test had Option 8 selected. Since then, the percent has risen to 15% with three entire states and 2,000 schools moving to select Option 8. Most schools, school boards, and state legislatures across the country were unaware that release options existed until we told them. Option 1 was made the default selection if a guidance counselor failed to contact the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) to express the school’s desire to select a particular option. We don’t have any data for the last 2 years but we think there may be significant movement in our favor across the country. We filed a FOIA request that is taking forever to receive. Rep Hoyer (D-MD) has recently contacted the DOD on our behalf.
Here’s the recent change to Section 3-2 on Release Options,
Only a school official will select the recruiter release option for their students. If an option isn’t selected, the MEPS must contact the school to determine the release option. If no option is received from the school, the test will be scored using Option 8 (no release). Release options are provided in Table 3-1 (Recruiter release options). The release option chosen by the school will be honored without discrimination and without adverse effect of quality or priority of service to the school. All MEPS scheduling communications with schools will include a listing of all release options.
At first blush this seems like a victory for us, however, after deeper analysis and dialogue, it’s apparent the recruiting command has launched into a damage control mode by creating new opportunities for itself. “If no option is provided by the school the test will be scored using Option 8” actually sounds like the military took a progressive step forward, but the second part about scheduling communications with schools, including a listing of all release options, suggests the command is going after all those Option 8 schools to get them to switch to Options 1-6. If MEPS representatives can’t talk a school into moving from Option 8, they may suggest the school allow for a split option. That means some of the kids will be allowed to take the ASVAB under Option 8 and some under Options 1-6.
An example of this strategy may be found in the recent change to Chancellor’s Regulation A-825 in New York City. For years, the city’s schools had selected Option 8 for its students who took the ASVAB. If a student wanted to use her scores for enlistment purposes, she was required to visit with a recruiter to sign a form. (or her parents if she’s under 18)
Now, schools in the city where the military gives the ASVAB are required to send home written notification in advance of the test to the parents of each student scheduled to take the ASVAB. The form asks parents if it’s OK to release results to recruiters.
Counselors across the country are already overwhelmed with their workload and this new military regulation will add to it. Counseling staff will be required to keep track of the notifications and sort students accordingly. Counselors will be subject to blame and litigation we hope to engender if results are forwarded to recruiting services from a child whose parents did not authorize consent.
The recruiting command has launched into damage control by creating new opportunities for itself. We must do the same. We have our work cut out for us. We need to communicate with 14,000 schools to let them know they'll be contacted by recruiters who will sell them on selecting Option 1-6. We must convince them to protect the privacy of their students by selecting Release Option 8.
Pat Elder is the Director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy www.studentprivacy.org
By Edward Hasbrouck
On Friday the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles that had dismissed the complaint in National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System.
The Court of Appeals reinstated the complaint, and remanded the case to the U.S. District Court for consideration of the other issues in the case.
The next procedural step could be more written briefing on these issues, or a written scheduling order form the District Court, or an in-person or telephone “status conference” in Los Angeles, any of which could occur in a couple of weeks to a couple of months.
The most likely outcome of this and some other similar (although less far advanced) pending lawsuits is a court ruling that male-only draft registration in unconstitutional. Such a ruling would end draft registration, unless Congress changes the law.
The decision reinstating this case is likely to produce more pressure on Congress to take up the issue of draft registration sooner. Both major parties are internally divided on draft registration: it’s a “wedge issue” already within each party as well as potentially between the parties.
Bills to extend draft registration to women have been introduced by both Democrats (H.R. 1509) and Republicans (H.R. 4478), and questions about whether women should be required to register have been asked in both Democratic and Republican Presidential primary debates.
Some Republican candidates have said that draft registration should be extended to women, others that it should be retained for men only. As a member of the House in 1994, Bernie Sanders voted to end draft registration. But so far as I have been able to determine, neither Bernie Sanders nor Hillary Clinton has said what they would do about draft registration, or propose that Congress do, if they are elected.
H.R. 4523, a bill to end draft registration entirely, abolish the Selective Service System, and repeal the Federal “Solomon Amendments” linking draft registration to Federal student aid, job training, and other programs has also been introduced in the House by a bipartisan group of sponsors. So far as I know, no Presidential candidate from either major party has endorsed H.R. 4523 or said that they would support ending draft registration. But this bill represents the best chance in more than 20 years to end draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System.
Please support H.R. 4523 to end draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System. Please also support continued resistance to draft registration, by men and women, as long as it remains the law.
Opinion by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:
Press release from the National Coalition for Men:
Details of H.R. 4523: Petition in support of H.R. 4523:
Details of H.R. 4523:
Petition in support of H.R. 4523:
The military draft has not been used in the United States since 1973, but the machinery has remained in place (costing the federal government about $25 million a year). Males over 18 have been required to register for the draft since 1940 (except between 1975 and 1980) and still are today, with no option to register as conscientious objectors or to choose peaceful productive public service. Some in Congress have been making “enlightened” feminist noises about forcing young women to register as well. In most states young men who get driver’s licenses are automatically registered for the draft without their permission (and virtually all of those states’ governments claim that automatically registering people to vote would just not be realistic). When you apply for financial aid for college, if you’re male, you probably won’t get it until after a mandatory check to see if you’re registered for the draft.
A new bill in Congress would abolish the draft, and a petition in support of it has gained a good deal of traction. But a significant contingent among those who sincerely want peace vehemently opposes ending the draft, and in fact favors drafting young people into war starting tomorrow. Since coming out as a supporter of the new legislation, I’ve encountered far more support than opposition. But the opposition has been intense and sizable. I’ve been called naive, ignorant, ahistorical, and desirous of slaughtering poor boys to protect the elite children I supposedly care exclusively about.
Mr. Moderator, may I have a thirty-second rebuttal, as the distinguished demagogue addressed me directly?
We’re all familiar with the argument behind peace activists’ demand for the draft, the argument that Congressman Charles Rangel made when proposing to start up a draft some years back. U.S. wars, while killing almost exclusively innocent foreigners, also kill and injure and traumatize thousands of U.S. troops drawn disproportionately from among those lacking viable educational and career alternatives. A fair draft, rather than a poverty draft, would send — if not modern-day Donald Trumps, Dick Cheneys, George W. Bushes, or Bill Clintons — at least some offspring of relatively powerful people to war. And that would create opposition, and that opposition would end the war. That’s the argument in a nutshell. Let me offer 10 reasons why I think this is sincere but misguided.
- History doesn’t bear it out. The drafts in the U.S. civil war (both sides), the two world wars, and the war on Korea did not end those wars, despite being much larger and in some cases fairer than the draft during the American war on Vietnam. Those drafts were despised and protested, but they took lives; they did not save lives. The very idea of a draft was widely considered an outrageous assault on basic rights and liberties even before any of these drafts. In fact, a draft proposal was successfully argued down in Congress by denouncing it as unconstitutional, despite the fact that the guy who had actually written most of the Constitution was also the president who was proposing to create the draft. Said Congressman Daniel Webster on the House floor at the time (1814): “The administration asserts the right to fill the ranks of the regular army by compulsion…Is this, sir, consistent with the character of a free government? Is this civil liberty? Is this the real character of our Constitution? No, sir, indeed it is not…Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war, in which the folly or the wickedness of government may engage it? Under what concealment has this power lain hidden, which now for the first time comes forth, with a tremendous and baleful aspect, to trample down and destroy the dearest rights of personal liberty?” When the draft came to be accepted as an emergency wartime measure during the civil and first world wars, it never would have been tolerated during peacetime. (And it’s still not anywhere to be found in the Constitution.) Only since 1940 (and under a new law in ’48), when FDR was still working on manipulating the United States into World War II, and during the subsequent 75 years of permanent wartime has “selective service” registration gone on uninterrupted for decades. The draft machine is part of a culture of war that makes kindergarteners pledge allegiance to a flag and 18-year-old males sign up to express their willingness to go off and kill people as part of some unspecified future government project. The government already knows your Social Security number, sex, and age. The purpose of draft registration is in great part war normalization.
- People bled for this. When voting rights are threatened, when elections are corrupted, and even when we are admonished to hold our noses and vote for one or another of the god-awful candidates regularly placed before us, what are we reminded of? People bled for this. People risked their lives and lost their lives. People faced fire hoses and dogs. People went to jail. That’s right. And that’s why we should continue the struggle for fair and open and verifiable elections. But what do you think people did for the right not to be drafted into war? They risked their lives and lost their lives. They were hung up by their wrists. They were starved and beaten and poisoned. Eugene Debs, hero of Senator Bernie Sanders, went to prison for speaking against the draft. What would Debs make of the idea of peace activists supporting a draft in order to stir up more peace activism? I doubt he’d be able to speak through his tears.
- Millions dead is a cure worse than the disease. I am very well convinced that the peace movement shortened and ended the war on Vietnam, not to mention removing a president from office, helping to pass other progressive legislation, educating the public, communicating to the world that there was decency hiding in the United States, and — oh, by the way — ending the draft. And I have zero doubt that the draft had helped to build the peace movement. But the draft did not contribute to ending the war before that war had done far more damage than has any war since. We can cheer for the draft ending the war, but four million Vietnamese lay dead, along with Laotians, Cambodians, and over 50,000 U.S. troops. And as the war ended, the dying continued. Many more U.S. troops came home and killed themselves than had died in the war. Children are still born deformed by Agent Orange and other poisons used. Children are still ripped apart by explosives left behind. If you add up numerous wars in numerous nations, the United States has inflicted death and suffering on the Middle East to equal or surpass that in Vietnam, but none of the wars has used anything like as many U.S. troops as were used in Vietnam. If the U.S. government had wanted a draft and believed it could get away with starting one, it would have. If anything, the lack of a draft has restrained the killing. The U.S. military would add a draft to its existing billion-dollar recruitment efforts, not replace one with the other. And the far greater concentration of wealth and power now than in 1973 pretty well assures that the children of the super-elite would not be conscripted.
- Don’t underestimate support for a draft. The United States has a much greater population than do most countries of people who say they are ready to support wars and even of people who say they would be willing to fight a war. Forty-four percent of U.S. Americans now tell Gallup polling that they “would” fight in a war. Why aren’t they now fighting in one? That’s an excellent question, but one answer could be: Because there’s no draft. What if millions of young men in this country, having grown up in a culture absolutely saturated in militarism, are told it’s their duty to join a war? You saw how many joined without a draft between September 12, 2001, and 2003. Is combining those misguided motivations with a direct order from the “commander in chief” (whom many civilians already refer to in those terms) really what we want to experiment with? To protect the world from war?!
- The supposedly non-existent peace movement is quite real. Yes, of course, all movements were bigger in the 1960s and they did a great deal of good, and I’d willingly die to bring back that level of positive engagement. But the notion that there has been no peace movement without the draft is false. The strongest peace movement the United States has seen was probably that of the 1920s and 1930s. The peace movements since 1973 have restrained the nukes, resisted the wars, and moved many in the United States further along the path toward supporting war abolition. Public pressure blocked the United Nations from supporting recent wars, including the 2003 attack on Iraq, and made supporting that war such a badge of shame that it has kept Hillary Clinton out of the White House at least once so far. It also resulted in concern in 2013 among members of Congress that if they backed the bombing of Syria they’d been seen as having backed “another Iraq.” Public pressure was critical in upholding a nuclear agreement with Iran last year. There are many ways to build the movement. You can elect a Republican president and easily multiply the ranks of the peace movement 100-fold the next day. But should you? You can play on people’s bigotry and depict opposition to a particular war or weapons system as nationalistic and macho, part of preparation for other better wars. But should you? You can draft millions of young men off to war and probably see some new resisters materialize. But should you? Have we really given making the honest case for ending war on moral, economic, humanitarian, environmental, and civil liberties grounds a fair try?
- Doesn’t Joe Biden’s son count? I too would love to see a bill passed requiring that congress members and presidents deploy to the front lines of any war they support. But in a society gone mad enough for war, even steps in that direction wouldn’t end the war making. It appears the U.S. military killed the Vice President’s son through reckless disregard for its own cannon fodder. Will the Vice President even mention it, much less make a move to end the endless warmaking? Don’t hold your breath. U.S. Presidents and Senators used to be proud to send their offspring off to die. If Wall Street can out-do the gilded age, so can the servants of the military industrial complex.
- We build a movement to end war by building a movement to end war. The surest way we have of reducing and then ending militarism, and the racism and materialism with which it is interwoven, is to work for the end of war. By seeking to make wars bloody enough for the aggressor that he stops aggressing, we would essentially be moving in the same direction as we already have by turning public opinion against wars in which U.S. troops die. I understand that there might be more concern over wealthier troops and greater numbers of troops. But if you can open people’s eyes to the lives of gays and lesbians and transgendered people, if you can open people’s hearts to the injustices facing African Americans murdered by police, if you can bring people to care about the other species dying off from human pollution, surely you can also bring them even further along than they’ve already come in caring about the lives of U.S. troops not in their families — and perhaps even about the lives of the non-Americans who make up the vast majority of those killed by U.S. warmaking. One result of the progress already made toward caring about U.S. deaths has been greater use of robotic drones. We need to be building opposition to war because it is the mass murder of beautiful human beings who are not in the United States and could never be drafted by the United States. A war in which no Americans die is just as much a horror as one in which they do. That understanding will end war.
- The right movement advances us in the right direction. Pushing to end the draft will expose those who favor it and increase opposition to their war mongering. It will involve young people, including young men who do not want to register for the draft and young women who do not want to be required to start doing so. A movement is headed in the right direction if even a compromise is progress. A compromise with a movement demanding a draft would be a small draft. That would almost certainly not work any of the magic intended, but would increase the killing. A compromise with a movement to end the draft might be the ability to register for non-military service or as a conscientious objector. That would be a step forward. We might develop out of that new models of heroism and sacrifice, new nonviolent sources of solidarity and meaning, new members of a movement in favor of substituting civilized alternatives for the whole institution of war.
- The war mongers want the draft too. It’s not only a certain section of peace activists who want the draft. So do the true war mongers. The selective service tested its systems at the height of the occupation of Iraq, preparing for a draft if needed. Various powerful figures in D.C. have proposed that a draft would be more fair, not because they think the fairness would end the warmaking but because they think the draft would be tolerated. Now, what happens if they decide they really want it? Should it be left available to them? Shouldn’t they at least have to recreate the selective service first, and to do so up against the concerted opposition of a public facing an imminent draft? Imagine if the United States joins the civilized world in making college free. Recruitment will be devastated. The poverty draft will suffer a major blow. The actual draft will look very desirable to the Pentagon. They may try more robots, more hiring of mercenaries, and more promises of citizenship to immigrants. We need to be focused on cutting off those angles, as well as on in fact making college free.
- Take away the poverty draft too. The unfairness of the poverty draft is not grounds for a larger unfairness. It needs to be ended too. It needs to be ended by opening up opportunities to everyone, including free quality education, job prospects, life prospects. Isn’t the proper solution to troops being stop-lossed not adding more troops but waging less war? When we end the poverty draft and the actual draft, when we actually deny the military the troops it needs to wage war, and when we create a culture that views murder as wrong even when engaged in on a large scale and even when all the deaths are foreign, then we’ll actually get rid of war, not just acquire the ability to stop each war 4 million deaths into it.
Thank you to Jim Naureckas for pointing out the gap from 1975-1980 now mentioned in the first paragraph.
By Debra Sweet, Stephanie Rugoff and Jay Becker
Early on in the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, a lot of veterans were speaking out. Iraq Veterans Against the War was founded in 2004 and lots of anti-war veterans were accessible. World Can’t Wait started to make visits to high schools and colleges with recent veterans in 2006 – the time when the military was desperate to recruit more youth, taking even those who hadn’t completed high school, had misdemeanors, etc. We also sent Vietnam veterans to schools to talk about their experiences and make the connections between what happened in the 60’s and early 70’s with what’s happening now.
In the fall of 2008, immediately after the presidential election, several young veterans attended a World Can’t Wait national meeting. One of them insistently pointed out that he got really upset when people say they are honoring veterans for their service when in actuality many of them had committed war crimes. That was when we came up with the idea of starting the organized project which became We Are Not Your Soldiers.
We raised money and did a tour that went on for weeks in 2008 and then did another in 2009. One of our youth organizers and a veteran went off on a tour of schools in Southern California and Seattle. Another team of a World Can’t Wait activist and an Iraq vet went around the Midwest. We made up bandanas, palm cards and posters – one of our best shows a terrified Iraqi woman at the door of her home which is about to be forcibly entered by the US Army with words that say “Wrong. Army Wrong.” For several years we tabled at the Warped Tour and Coachella.
Over the years, war fighting has changed. We Are Not Your Soldiers is still needed but the emphasis has changed too. Now, at the beginning of 2016, the government has announced it’s going to double the amount of recruiting. The military is intensely looking for gamers. Brandon Bryant is a case in point – a young man with gaming skills who became a drone operator until his conscience made it impossible for him to continue with his assignment.
It has been challenging to maintain work over a long period. Obama has changed the approach to waging the war of terror, partially withdrawing soldiers but expanding the scope of those wars with drones, bombing and the use of proxy forces. Anti-war veterans deal with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and employment/unemployment issues – everything that affects veterans in general affects them as well. There has been a turnover in the veterans who participate in the We Are Not Your Soldiers project.
The need to stop the United States’ aggressive militarism and wars against peoples around the world remains urgent. We feel the necessity of keeping this generation of youth from getting caught up in fighting these seemingly endless wars of domination – and to build a conscious movement to stop this trajectory. We understand from our years of experience that many young people sign up out of a misguided sense that they will be “helping people in other countries,” that the military will give them a “higher purpose.” The US military creates these dangerous illusions through sophisticated print and film ads that turn reality on its head. As one Iraq-era vet put it to a high school class in Chicago, “The military is NOT the Peace Corps!"
World Can’t Wait’s We Are Not Your Soldiers project brings Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans to classes to tell the truth about the wars and what the military is really recruiting for. Usually, we begin the presentation by showing a short video. Sometimes we use a version of “Collateral Murder” narrated by veteran Ethan McCord which contains footage, released by Chelsea Manning, of the Bagdad killing of Reuters journalists and others. Or we may show a clip from a feature film on a drone pilot stationed at a base here in the United States or some other video. The veterans then talk about their on-the-ground experiences in occupying countries, where civilians pay the price. In-service and post-service issues such PTSD, medical/psychological care or lack thereof and homelessness are also addressed. Students are provided with information and a perspective to which they may not otherwise be exposed. There is an additional possibility, in some areas of the country, to do a historical presentation with a Vietnam military resister and/or veteran. This can be done in conjunction with the recent veteran’s class visit or separately.
We also do screenings of relevant films – on drones, torture and/or participation in the US military – and then engage students in a guided follow-up discussion. This can be either a one-time event or a series of visits to a classroom.
In any of these options we work with educators to develop a customized presentation. Presenters engage in discussion with the students and answer their questions. The students feel free to raise issues, ideas and questions in an environment where each person speaking is treated with respect. We provide resources to both prepare for and follow up on our visit/s.
This year, many students have returned to school with an increased consciousness of the systemic injustices towards people of color in this country. That awareness, while important in its own right, should be built on to include recognizing the injustices of empire and the US military in particular – and why it is neither in their interests nor those of the people of the world for them to enlist. The wars for empire continue and are at the heart of the flood of refugees risking their lives to escape the war zones of the Middle East and Africa.
As stated in the Common Core State Standards on critical thinking, students have an opportunity to integrate information from diverse sources. Students can delineate and evaluate the arguments and claims to which they are exposed. They can “analyze how two or more (sources) address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the (sources) take.”
The We Are Not Your Soldiers program has the potential to convince a lot of youth not to join up as well as exposing them to the anti-war movement. Not only do we do the presentations described above, we also provide access to tools to discuss these issues with other students, such as flyers and links to information on-line to empower them to help friends avoid the trap of fighting, killing and possibly dying for a cause that is not in their interests or those of the people whose countries the US is attacking. While we certainly recognize the difficult economic situations the students face, we present the moral issue of what these students are going to be doing with their lives – providing the context in which they can deliberate and make their own decisions.
Want to get involved with We Are Not Your Soldiers?
Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Call us: 646-807-3259
Debra Sweet is the Director of World Can’t Wait.
Stephanie Rugoff coordinates the We Are Not Your Soldiers project.
Jay Becker works actively in the Chicago chapter of World Can’t Wait.
By Pat Elder, WarIsACrime.org
Enlistment exam provides alternate pathway to graduation
Thousands of New Jersey high school seniors may be taking the military’s enlistment exam to fulfill a graduation requirement because they opted out of the controversial PARCC tests when they were juniors.
Nearly 50,000 New Jersey high school seniors are required to take an alternative end-of-year assessment because they opted out of taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, (PARCC) test last year. School officials say “a significant number” of these students will now likely have to take either the College Board’s ACCUPLACER test or the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, (ASVAB) as approved pathways to graduation. The costly ACCUPLACER is a product of the College Board, while the free-of-charge ASVAB is the military’s enlistment test that is given to 650,000 students in 14,000 schools across the country. Its primary purpose, according to military documents, is to procure leads for recruiters.
The staggering numbers of New Jersey 11th graders who opted out of taking the PARCC test last year may have done so as a result of a coordinated campaign. South Brunswick New Jersey’s Board of Education Vice President Dan Boyle explained during a board meeting last month, “Throughout the state, there are an inordinate amount of students that are not qualified to graduate,” Boyle said at the time. “That is almost directly a result of the (PARCC) opt-out movement.”
The robust testing opt-out movement in New Jersey and throughout the country has targeted the corporatization and standardization of American education. United Opt Out National serves as a focal point of resistance to corporatized education reform. The group demands “an equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system for all Americans that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision making with civic virtue.”
The group plans an Opt Out Conference in Philadelphia, February 26-28, 2016 with noted speakers Chris Hedges, Jill Stein, and Bill Ayers.
Even as students opt out of these outrageously expensive testing regimes, Pearson’s PARCC test will cost New Jersey about $108 million over 4 years. Pearson, the goliath textbook/testing company, has $8 billion in global sales. The company got in trouble in New York three years ago when it made a practice of treating school officials to European trips.
The Army, with a keen eye on educational currents, saw the opening and was eager to exploit the PARCC opt-out movement by offering it’s free ASVAB Career Exploration Program in place of the PARCC. After all, the Army reasoned, the kids must have a pathway toward graduation and the Army was honored to provide the “public service”.
In 2014 New Jersey began allowing students to take the ASVAB as a substitute for the PARCC test. To graduate, students are expected to score a 31 on the Armed Forces Qualifications Test, (AFQT). A 31 is the minimum score for enlistment in the Army. The AFQT uses sections of the ASVAB to calculate the score.
Recruiting commanders have widely distributed a Concordance Table that compares AFQT test results to those on the College Board’s SAT tests. According to the table a 31 on the AFQT equates to a 690 SAT composite score. The SAT composite score is the total of SAT critical reading and math subsections.
In 2006, 313 students of 1.37 million test takers scored 690 or below on the SAT composite score for a .02% score nationally. A 690 won’t gain admittance to a New Jersey state college. A score of a 31 on the ASVAB is roughly equivalent to a 7th to 8th grade level, good enough to use for a ticket to a high school diploma in New Jersey.
The April, 2015 Army Recruiter Journal described the Army’s lobbying campaign in New Jersey and gloated that the ASVAB “would be accepted as a substitute competency test for students who fail to pass the PARCC.”
While the military routinely claims the ASVAB is being shut out of schools, the brass has managed to convince school officials in a half dozen states to make the ASVAB an alternative option for end-of-year senior year assessments to provide a path for students who cannot pass the front line tests. A thousand schools across the country require students to take the test.
Minnesota allows high school seniors who fail mandated exit exams to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) as an alternative assessment.
New Mexico allows a score of a 31 on the ASVAB to provide a path to graduation.
Mississippi wants a senior to score a 36 on the AFQT before he can graduate.
Kentucky calls for a 55 on the AFQT for a student to earn a diploma. A 55 on the AFQT is the same as a composite SAT score of 840, according to the ASVAB Concordance Table. An 840 won't open many college doors. It represents the bottom 5th of national SAT scores.
Colorado is considering using the ASVAB as a potential graduation requirement.
Missouri has taken a different track to normalize military testing. The Missouri School Improvement Program calls on high schools to administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Career Exploration Program (ASVAB-CEP) to determine whether students are "Career Ready."
Military regulations allow the ASVAB-CEP to be administered without results being used for recruitment purposes, although school officials are convinced by representatives from the recruiting command to allow the release of student data to recruiters.
Historically, about 85% of students nationally who take the ASVAB at school have had their results sent to recruiters. Test results also include social security numbers and detailed demographic information. Published reports from New Jersey and the states mentioned herein fail to address the raison d'etre of the ASVAB testing regime, which is to provide leads for recruiters. Furthermore, state departments of education and local school boards continuously suggest that school officials will be giving the ASVAB, when in fact, military officials give the test.
It is an important distinction. The military is adamant about proctoring their enlistment exam, rather than relying on school administrators and teachers. If schools administered the 3-hour ASVAB, results would be regarded as educational records and therefore subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA. This law precludes the release of sensitive student information to third parties without parental consent. ASVAB records are considered to be military documents when the DOD gives the test in the high schools. ASVAB results are the only information leaving American classrooms about children without providing for parental consent.
Pat Elder is the director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that works to prohibit the release of student information to military recruiting services from the nation's high schools. www.studentprivacy.org
U.S. military recruiters are teaching in public school classrooms, making presentations at school career days, coordinating with JROTC units in high schools and middle schools, volunteering as sports coaches and tutors and lunch buddies in high, middle, and elementary schools, showing up in humvees with $9,000 stereos, bringing fifth-graders to military bases for hands-on science instruction, and generally pursuing what they call "total market penetration" and "school ownership."
But counter-recruiters all over the United States are making their own presentations in schools, distributing their own information, picketing recruiting stations, and working through courts and legislatures to reduce military access to students and to prevent military testing or the sharing of test results with the military without students' permission. This struggle for hearts and minds has had major successes and could spread if more follow the counter-recruiters' example.
A new book by Scott Harding and Seth Kershner called Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools surveys the current counter-recruitment movement, its history, and its possible future. Included is a fairly wide range of tactics. Many involve one-on-one communication with potential recruits.
"Do you like fireworks?" a veteran of the latest war on Iraq may ask a student in a high school cafeteria. "Yes!" Well, replies Hart Viges, "you won't when you get back from war."
"I talked to this one kid," recalls veteran of the war on Vietnam John Henry, "and I said, 'Has anybody in your family been in the military?' And he said, 'My grandfather.'
"And we talked about him, about how he was short and he was a tunnel rat in Vietnam, and I said, 'Oh, what does he tell you about war?'
"'That he still has nightmares.'
"And I said, 'And you are going in what branch of the service?'
"'And you're going to pick what skill?'
"'Oh, I'm just going to go infantry.'
"You know ... your grandfather is telling you he's still got nightmares and that was 40 years ago. He's had nightmares for 40 years. Do you want to have nightmares for 40 years?"
Minds are changed. Young lives are saved -- those of the kids who do not sign up, or who back out before it's too late, and perhaps also the lives they would have contributed to ending had they entered the "service."
This sort of counter-recruitment work can have a quick payoff. Says Barbara Harris, who also organized the protests at NBC that supported this petition and got a pro-war program off the air, "The feedback I receive from [parents] is just incredibly heartwarming because [when] I speak to a parent and I see how I've helped them in some way, I feel so rewarded."
Other counter-recruitment work can take a bit longer and be a bit less personal but impact a larger number of lives. Some 10% to 15% of recruits get to the military via the ASVAB tests, which are administered in certain school districts, sometimes required, sometimes without informing students or parents that they are for the military, sometimes with the full results going to the military without any permission from students or parents. The number of states and school districts using and abusing the ASVAB is on the decline because of the work of counter-recruiters in passing legislation and changing policy.
U.S. culture is so heavily militarized, though, that in the absence of recruiters or counter-recruiters well-meaning teachers and guidance counselors will thoughtlessly promote the military to students. Some schools automatically enroll all students in JROTC. Some guidance counselors encourage students to substitute JROTC for gym class. Even Kindergarten teachers will invite in uniformed members of the military or promote the military unprompted in their school assignments. History teachers will show footage of Pearl Harbor on Pearl Harbor Day and talk in glorifying terms of the military without any need for direct contact from recruitment offices. I'm reminded of what Starbucks said when asked why it had a coffee shop at the torture / death camp in Guantanamo. Starbucks said that choosing not to would amount to making a political statement. Choosing to do so was just standard behavior.
Part of what keeps the military presence in the schools is the billion dollar budget of the military recruiters and other unfair powers of incumbency. For example, if a JROTC program is threatened, the instructors can order the students (or the children formerly known as students) to show up and testify at a school board meeting in favor of maintaining the program.
Much of what keeps recruitment working in our schools, however, is a different sort of power -- the power to lie and get away with it unchallenged. As Harding and Kershner document, recruiters routinely deceive students about the amount of time they're committing to be in the military, the possibility of changing their minds, the potential for free college as a reward, the availability of vocational training in the military, and the risks involved in joining the military.
Our society has become very serious about warning young people about safety in sex, driving, drinking, drugs, sports, and other activities. When it comes to joining the military, however, a survey of students found that none of them were told anything about the risks to themselves -- first and foremost suicide. They are also, as Harding and Kershner point out, told much about heroism, nothing about drudgery. I would add that they are not told about alternative forms of heroism outside of the military. I would further add that they are told nothing about the primarily non-U.S. victims of wars that are largely one-sided slaughters of civilians, nor about the moral injury and PTSD that can follow. And of course, they are told nothing about alternative career paths.
That is, they are told none of these things by recruiters. They are told some of them by counter-recruiters. Harding and Kershner mention AmeriCorps and City Year as alternatives to the military that counter-recruiters sometimes let students know about. An early start on an alternative career path is found by some students who sign on as counter-recruiters working to help guide their peers away from the military. Studies find that youth who engage in school activism suffer less alienation, set more ambitious goals, and improve academically.
Military recruitment climbs when the economy declines, and drops off when news of current wars increases. Those recruited tend to have lower family income, less-educated parents, and larger family size. It seems entirely possible to me that a legislative victory for counter-recruitment greater than any reform of ASVAB testing or access to school cafeterias would be for the United States to join those nations that make college free. Ironically, the most prominent politician promoting that idea, Senator Bernie Sanders, refuses to say he would pay for any of his plans by cutting the military, meaning that he must struggle uphill against passionate shouts of "Don't raise my taxes!" (even when 99% of people would not see their wallets shrink at all under his plans).
Free college would absolutely crush military recruitment. To what extent does this fact explain political opposition to free college? I don't know. But I can picture among the possible responses of the military a greater push to make citizenship a reward for immigrants who join the military, higher and higher signing bonuses, greater use of mercenaries both foreign and domestic, greater reliance on drones and other robots, and ever more arming of foreign proxy forces, but also quite likely a greater reluctance to launch and escalate and continue wars.
And that's the prize we're after, right? A family blown up in the Middle East is just as dead, injured, traumatized, and homeless whether the perpetrators are near or far, in the air or at a computer terminal, born in the United States or on a Pacific island, right? Most counter-recruiters I know would agree with that 100%. But they believe, and with good reason, that the work of counter-recruitment scales back the war-making.
However, other concerns enter in as well, including the desire to protect particular students, and the desire to halt the racial or class disparity of recruitment that sometimes focuses disproportionately on poor or predominately racial minority schools. Legislatures that have been reluctant to restrict recruitment have done so when it was addressed as an issue of racial or class fairness.
Many counter-recruiters, Harding and Kershner report, "were careful to suggest the military serves a legitimate purpose in society and is an honorable vocation." In part, I think such talk is a strategy -- whether or not it's a wise one -- that believes direct opposition to war will close doors and empower adversaries, whereas talking about "student privacy" will allow people who oppose war to reach students with their information. But, of course, claiming that the military is a good thing while discouraging local kids from joining it rather stinks of NIMBYism: Get your cannon fodder, just Not In My Back Yard.
Some, though by no means all, and I suspect it's a small minority of counter-recruiters actually make a case against other types of peace activism. They describe what they do as "actually doing something," in contrast to marching at rallies or sitting in at Congressional offices, etc. I will grant them that my experience is atypical. I do media interviews. I mostly go to rallies that have invited me to speak. I get paid to do online antiwar organizing. I plan conferences. I write articles and op-eds and books. I have a sense of "doing something" that perhaps most people who attend an event or ask questions from an audience or sign an online petition just don't. I suspect a great many people find talking students away from the edge much more satisfying than getting arrested in front of a drone base, although plenty of wonderful people do both.
But there is, in my opinion, a pretty misguided analysis in the view of certain counter-recruiters who hold that getting tests out of schools is real, concrete, and meaningful, while filling the National Mall with antiwar banners is useless. In 2013 a proposal to bomb Syria looked very likely, but Congress members started worrying about being the guy who voted for another Iraq. (How's that working out for Hillary Clinton?) It was not primarily counter-recruiters who made the Iraq vote a badge of shame and political doom. Nor was it outreach to students that upheld the Iran nuclear agreement last year.
The division between types of peace activism is somewhat silly. People have been brought into counter-recruitment work at massive rallies, and students reached by counter-recruiters have later organized big protests. Recruitment includes hard to measure things like Super Bowl fly-overs and video games. So can counter-recruitment. Both counter-recruitment and other types of peace activism ebb and flow with wars, news reports, and partisanship. I'd like to see the two merged into massive rallies at recruiting stations. Harding and Kershner cite one example of a counter-recruiter suggesting that one such rally created new opposition to his work, but I would be surprised if it didn't also hurt recruitment. The authors cite other examples of well-publicized protests at recruitment offices having had a lasting effect of reducing recruitment there.
The fact is that no form of opposition to militarism is what it used to be. Harding and Kershner cite stunning examples of the mainstream nature of counter-recruitment in the 1970s, when it had the support of the National Organization for Women and the Congressional Black Caucus, and when prominent academics publicly urged guidance counselors to counter-recruit.
The strongest antiwar movement, I believe, would combine the strengths of counter-recruitment with those of lobbying, protesting, resisting, educating, divesting, publicizing, etc. It would be careful to build resistance to recruitment while educating the public about the one-sided nature of U.S. wars, countering the notion that a large percentage of the damage is done to the aggressor. When Harding and Kershner use the phrase in their book "In the absence of a hot war" to describe the current day, what should the people being killed by U.S. weaponry in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Palestine, etc., make of it?
We need a strategy that employs the skills of every kind of activist and targets the military machine at every possible weak point, but the strategy has to be to stop the killing, no matter who does it, and no matter if every person doing it survives.
Are you looking for a way to help? I recommend the examples in Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools. Go forth and do likewise.
No more veterans!: November 11 or Armistice Day Began as a Time to Contemplate Peace, Not to Celebrate War and Warriors
By Dave Lindorff
In 1915, a mother’s protest against funneling children into war became the theme of a new American song, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” Although the ballad attained great popularity, not everyone liked it. Theodore Roosevelt, a leading militarist of the era, retorted that the proper place for such women was “in a harem―and not in the United States.”
Roosevelt would be happy to learn that, a century later, preparing children for war continues unabated.
By CJ Hinke, WorldBeyondWar.org
Excerpted from Free Radicals: War Resisters in Prison by CJ Hinke, forthcoming from Trine-Day in 2016.
The lines of resistance to war take many forms as these stories of resisters in prison in World Wars I (“the Great War”, “the war to end all wars”) and II (‘the good war”), the Cold War, the undeclared Korean “conflict”, the ‘Red Scare’ of the McCarthy period, the 1960s and, finally, the US war against Vietnam, demonstrate. There are as many reasons and methods to refuse war as there are refusers. The Department of Justice classified WWII resisters as religious, moral, economic, political, neurotic, naturalistic, professional pacifist, philosophical, sociological, internationalist, personal and Jehovah’s Witness.
Why are some awake and aware, why do some feel their conscience so strongly they cannot ignore it? As A.J. Muste proclaimed, “If I can’t love Hitler, I can’t love at all.” Why isn’t that spirit inside all of us? Most of us have unconsciously shut up the voice of our troublesome conscience to make our lives easier. I assure you, however, the world would be immeasurably better if we all learned to listen to even its faintest of stirrings.
The reason The Resistance was so effective against the draft is that meetings listened to everybody. This stratagem was learned in vivo from Quakers, SNCC, and CNVA. The Resistance functioned because of its underlying commitment to principled consensus. Many of us—(does not play well with others)—went ahead to devise our own actions out of frustration with this long and often tedious performance. Sometimes others joined us seeing its value and sometimes they did not. If there were “leaders” of The Resistance, I never met any!
It’s not a job, it’s an adventure, or
wearing your own clothes is the new camo
By CJ Hinke
Excerpted from Free Radicals: War Resisters in Prison by CJ Hinke, forthcoming from Trine-Day in 2016.
There are as many reasons to desert military service as there are deserters. All countries’ militaries like to snatch young men when they are uneducated, inexperienced, and unemployed. It takes a soldier far greater courage to throw down his weapon than to kill a stranger.
There are deserters in every country that has an armed forces. Armies demand blind obedience and human beings crave liberty.
Why do men desert? Certainly not from cowardice. It takes far more courage to break from the pack and its reliance upon rabid nationalism. 36% of men facing battle for the first time were more afraid of being labeled a coward than of being wounded or killed.
By John Grant
Anthropologists have found that in traditional societies, memory becomes attached to places.
The United States sends people to kill and die in war that it doesn't trust with a beer.
Here's an idea: Drink At 18, Don't Kill Till 21.
Alcohol prohibition is not working, and creates unsafe drinking by people old enough to vote, drive, and work. A case can be made, and is being made, for returning the drinking age to 18.
But allowing 18-year-olds to join the military has created illegal and immoral recruitment of minors, not to mention deep moral regret, post-traumatic stress, and suicide in young veterans.
Raising the age for war participation (for joining either the military or one of its contractors) to 21 would do more for education and informed career choices -- not to mention reducing drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide -- than banning alcohol does.
Make-Daiquiris-Not-War is a policy based on actual dangers. The problem with alcohol is not responsible drinking of it. Alcohol is not a satanic liquid to be counterproductively made into a forbidden fruit. The problems with alcohol are: drinking and driving, which should be addressed by avoiding the driving, not through an unenforceable ban on drinking; drinking to dangerous excess, which should be addressed through open discussion, not the secretive plotting of contemporary speakeasies; and addiction, which is driven not so much by the chemicals involved as by the life of the person who becomes addicted.
And what could we most easily do to assist young people in leading more fulfilling, less horrific, lives? We could put off the decision to join in a program of mass murder until age 21, thereby giving a young person a chance to consider all the options.
In many nations there is no drinking age. In others the drinking age is after you're dead (alcohol is prohibited). Among those with a drinking age between zero and forever, far and away the most common is 18. Exceptions are Egypt, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, United Arab Emirates, Cameroon, Indonesia, the United States, and various Pacific island colonies of the United States, all of which make the legal age to drink 21.
But how's that working out for them? In Egypt if you happen to witness the police murder someone, you'll face prison or worse, while the U.S. President chats with the Egyptian President promising him more weapons and money, but if you want to drink underage, apparently nobody really minds. The inevitable result of making it legal to sell alcohol to some but not all adults (taking adults to be 18 and up) seems to be either stiffer and stiffer penalties or routine violation. This of course creates both a disrespect for laws and drinking in secret without appropriate discussion of dangers and measures to prevent recklessness.
In Argentina enlistment in the military is allowed at 21, or at 18 with parental consent. In Bahrain and Kazakhstan military enlistment starts at 15. Who's right? Who's respecting the enlistees? Well, according to some brain scientists at MIT -- not that they should know anything:
"As a number of researchers have put it, 'the rental car companies have it right.' The brain isn't fully mature at 16, when we are allowed to drive, or at 18, when we are allowed to vote, or at 21, when we are allowed to drink, but closer to 25, when we are allowed to rent a car."
So upping the killing age to 21 would be moving in the direction of the wisdom of the scientists and the rental car companies. Why lower the drinking age at the same time? Because alcohol needs to be treated principally not as a means of drunken escape, but as an enjoyable beverage with dinner. Nations with no drinking age at all tend to have less alcoholism than do puritanical nations. The point is not that 18 year olds are qualified to head off to parties at which they'll drink gallons of hard liquor (as some currently do, law or no law) but that alcohol, like other enjoyable and risky parts of life -- from dangerous sports to sex to other drugs to those televisions in airports blasting Fox News -- should be dealt with openly and calmly by parents and teachers and friends, with the actual dangers made crystal clear and imaginary dangers debunked.
The fact is that prohibiting alcohol leads to more reckless drinking, while prohibiting war participation leads to less reckless killing. We've got our priorities wrong. Let's rework them.
Whether someone becomes addicted to drugs has much more to do with their childhood and their quality of life than with the drug they use or with anything in their genes. This is one of the more startling of the many revelations in the best book I've read yet this year: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari.
We've all been handed a myth. The myth goes like this: Certain drugs are so powerful that if you use them enough they will take over. They will drive you to continue using them. It turns out this is mostly false. Only 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers can stop smoking using a nicotine patch that provides the same drug. Of people who have tried crack in their lives, only 3 percent have used it in the past month and only 20 percent were ever addicted. U.S. hospitals prescribe extremely powerful opiates for pain every day, and often for long periods of time, without producing addiction. When Vancouver blocked all heroin from entering the city so successfully that the "heroin" being sold had zero actual heroin in it, the addicts' behavior didn't change. Some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were addicted to heroin, leading to terror among those anticipating their return home; but when they got home 95 percent of them within a year simply stopped. (So did the Vietnamese water buffalo population, which had started eating opium during the war.) The others soldiers had been addicts before they went and/or shared the trait most common to all addicts, including gambling addicts: an unstable or traumatic childhood.
Most people (90 percent according to the U.N.) who use drugs never get addicted, no matter what the drug, and most who do get addicted can lead normal lives if the drug is available to them; and if the drug is available to them, they will gradually stop using it.
But, wait just a minute. Scientists have proven that drugs are addictive, haven't they?
Well, a rat in a cage with absolutely nothing else in its life will choose to consume huge quantities of drugs. So if you can make your life resemble that of a rat in a cage, the scientists will be vindicated. But if you give a rat a natural place to live with other rats to do happy things with, the rat will ignore a tempting pile of "addictive" drugs.
And so will you. And so will most people. Or you'll use it in moderation. Before the War on Drugs began in 1914 (a U.S. substitute for World War I?), people bought bottles of morphine syrup, and wine and soft drinks laced with cocaine. Most never got addicted, and three-quarters of addicts held steady respectable jobs.
Is there a lesson here about not trusting scientists? Should we throw out all evidence of climate chaos? Should we dump all our vaccines into Boston Harbor? Actually, no. There's a lesson here as old as history: follow the money. Drug research is funded by a federal government that censors its own reports when they come to the same conclusions as Chasing the Scream, a government that funds only research that leaves its myths in place. Climate deniers and vaccine deniers should be listened to. We should always have open minds. But thus far they don't seem to be pushing better science that can't find funding. Rather, they're trying to replace current beliefs with beliefs that have less basis behind them. Reforming our thinking on addiction actually requires looking at the evidence being produced by dissident scientists and reformist governments, and it's pretty overwhelming.
So where does this leave our attitudes toward addicts? First we were supposed to condemn them. Then we were supposed to excuse them for having a bad gene. Now we're supposed to feel sorry for them because they have horrors they cannot face, and in most cases have had them since childhood? There's a tendency to view the "gene" explanation as the solider excuse. If 100 people drink alcohol and one of them has a gene that makes him unable to ever stop, it's hard to blame him for that. How could he have known? But what about this situation: Of 100 people, one of them has been suffering in agony for years, in part as a result of never having experienced love as a baby. That one person later becomes addicted to a drug, but that addiction is only a symptom of the real problem. Now, of course, it is utterly perverse to be inquiring into someone's brain chemistry or background before we determine whether or not to show them compassion. But I have a bit of compassion even for people who cannot resist such nonsense, and so I appeal to them now: Shouldn't we be kind to people who suffer from childhood trauma? Especially when prison makes their problem worse?
But what if we were to carry this beyond addiction to other undesirable behaviors? There are other books presenting similarly strong cases that violence, including sexual violence, and including suicide, have in very large part similar origins to those Hari finds for addiction. Of course violence must be prevented, not indulged. But it can best be reduced by improving people's lives, especially their young lives but importantly also their current lives. Bit by bit, as we have stopped discarding people of various races, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities as worthless, as we begin to accept that addiction is a temporary and non-threatening behavior rather than the permanent state of a lesser creature known as "the addict," we may move on to discarding other theories of permanence and genetic determination, including those related to violent criminals. Someday we may even outgrow the idea that war or greed or the automobile is the inevitable outcome of our genes.
Somehow blaming everything on drugs, just like taking drugs, seems much easier.
Watch Johann Hari on Democracy Now.
He'll soon be on Talk Nation Radio, so send me questions I should ask him, but read the book first.
It is rare for someone of this writer’s acquaintance to enlist in the military, although it has happened. When someone does so, his or her family usually speaks of how proud they are of them, as if the enlistee has done something to which great honor is attached. This attitude is also reflected in public opinion polls, in which much of the populace generally seems to agree that military service is good preparation for elected office.
Let us look at these two myths in a little more detail.
By John LaForge
Military recruiters must feel like Hansel and Gretel’s “wicked witch,” fattening up the children to eat them. With sexual violence, endless wars of occupation, fatalities, brain trauma, permanent disabilities and an epidemic of suicides, what they’re selling these days looks like a lot like a bad horror show.
With the chance of being sent into quagmires in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, etc. on one hand, the likelihood of being sexually assaulted on the other¾and the specter of suicide among vets of all stripes¾you have to wonder how recruiters get anyone in the door. Newbies must not be reading the papers; all four active-duty services and five out of six reserve components met their recruiting goals in 2014, according to the Pentagon.
Yet a Dept. of Veterans Affairs study released Feb. 1, 2013 found veterans killing themselves at a rate of 22 a day. After interviewing Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations, Stars and Stripes made this rosy conflation Dec. 15: “Suicides have not dropped off the radar, despite increased focus on combating sexual assault.” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told the Washington Post last Nov. 7, “I don’t think we’ve hit the top yet on suicides.”
Among members of the Reserves and National Guard, suicides climbed eight percent between 2012 and 2013. Since 2001, more active-duty US troops have killed themselves than have been killed in Afghanistan, the Washington Post said. Last April, the AP reported that suicides in the Army National Guard and Reserve in 2013 “exceeded the number of active-duty soldiers who took their own lives, according to the Army.”
Stars and Stripes said the suicide rate among Marines and soldiers was particularly high, with those on active-duty suffering about 23 deaths per 100,000 service members in 2013, compared with 12.5 suicides per 100,000 overall in the US public in 2012¾as calculated by the Centers for Disease Control. The suicide rate among sailors also has increased this year, the CDC found.
Even if you never saw combat
An Army study of almost a million soldiers published last March reported not only that suicides among soldiers who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan more than doubled between 2004 and 2009, but that the rate for those who never spent time in war zones almost tripled over the same five years. While many expected military suicide to decline after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan were cut back, it has not happened, the Washington Post found.
Sexual assault still growing
Meanwhile, the “increased focus on combating sexual assault” has been declared a short-term failure. A 1,100-page Pentagon report released Dec. 4 found that reports of sexual assault in the military increased some eight percent in 2014, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), responded to the news saying, “I think this report shows a failure by the chain of command.” Sen. Gillibrand has fought to remove jurisdiction in sexual assault cases from commanding officers.
Spinning the findings as if increased reports of assault were positive, Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel had trouble finding the words. He said, “After last year’s unprecedented 50 percent increase in reports of sexual assault, the rate has continued to go up. That’s actually good news.” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, said the results showed “great progress,” but admitted, “We still have work to do on curbing retaliation against victims.”
The study found 62 percent of female survivors said they’d suffered retaliation, mostly from military colleagues or peers. Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps Captain and director of the Service Women’s Action Network, told the New York Times, “[T]he climate within the military is still a dangerous one for victims of sex crimes.” SWAN.org notes, “A culture of victim-blaming, lack of accountability, and toxic command climates is pervasive throughout the U.S. Armed Forces, preventing survivors from reporting incidents and perpetrators from being properly disciplined.”
One example is the light treatment given Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair last June after he pleaded guilty to maltreatment and adultery. As with most sexual assault cases, Sinclair’s lawyers spent months retaliating, re-victimizing and attacking the credibility of the accuser, an Army captain. Sinclair was sentenced to a rank reduction, full retirement benefits and a $20,000 fine, although he faced a possible life sentence and registration as a sex offender. The captain alleged that Sinclair had threatened to kill her if she disclosed their relationship.
For help regarding sexual harassment or sexual violence in the military, contact Protect Our Defenders at <email@example.com>; the S.W.A.N., at 646-569-5200; or the Veteran’s Crisis Line, at 1-800-273-8255. For help regarding though of self-harm or suicide call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255.
-- John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin, edits its Quarterly newsletter, and is syndicated through PeaceVoice.
Kill Team is not just a video game anymore, not just the inevitable pairing of two of the most popular words in American English. "Kill Team" is now a movie, and against the odds it's not a celebration of killing, but a particular take on an actual series of events made widely known by Rolling Stone.
U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan developed the practice of killing civilians for sport, placing weapons beside the bodies or otherwise pretending to have been attacked, keeping body parts as trophies, and celebrating their "kills" in photographs with the corpses.
For months, according to Rolling Stone, the whole platoon knew what was going on. Officers dismissed complaints from the relatives of victims, accepted completely implausible accounts, and failed to help victims who might still be alive (instead ordering a soldier to "Make sure he's dead.")
A key instigator, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, arrived in Afghanistan recounting a successful murder of a family in Iraq and bearing tattoos recording his kills. "Get me a kill" soldiers asked who wanted to participate in the kill team. Killers were treated as heroes, and the widespread understanding that they were killing civilians who'd never threatened them didn't seem to damage that treatment.
"Drop-weapon" has been a common term among vets returning to the United States from Afghanistan and Iraq for over a decade, referring to a weapon used to frame a victim. "We're just the ones who got caught," says Pfc. Justin Stoner in the film. He also raises an important question that the film does not seriously pursue, remarking: "We're training you from the day you join to the day you're out to kill. Your job is to kill. You're infantry. Your job is to kill everything that gets in your way. Well, then why the hell are you pissed off when we do it?"
Eleven soldiers have been convicted of crimes as part of the kill team, including Gibbs who has been sentenced to life in prison. Why were these kills crimes and others not, wonders Stoner. It's a question worthy of consideration. The cover stories for the kills, including claims that people made some threatening movement, don't seem enough to justify these murders even if they had been true. What were the soldiers doing in these people's villages to begin with?
That's the question the movie opens with the soldiers asking themselves. They'd been trained for exciting combat and then sent to Afghanistan to be bored, hungry for action, eager to test out their training. This is a point often missed by those who advocate turning the U.S. military into a force for good, an emergency rescue squad for natural disasters, or a humanitarian aid operation. You would have to train and equip people for those jobs first. These young men were trained to kill, armed to kill, prepped to kill, and left to kick sand around.
They began premeditating the worst sort of premeditated murder. They openly recount their conversations in the film. They had weapons to drop, grenades that weren't "tracked," they'd pretend someone had a grenade and kill him. Who? Anyone. They saw everyone as fair game.
And they did as planned. And they were welcomed back to the "FOB" as heroes. And they did it again. And again.
The film does not tell the whole story. It focuses on Spc. Adam Winfield, his parents, and his court proceedings back in the United States. Winfield told his father on a Facebook chat, early on, what was happening. Winfield was afraid to talk to anyone in his chain of command, and in fact the mere possibility that he might resulted in death threats to him. His father, however, tried every way he could to get anyone in the U.S. Army to listen. No one would.
And then Winfield was present for another set-up and murder. He says he fired his gun away from the victim. He says that if he had shot the two U.S. soldiers, Gibbs and Cpl. Jeremy Morlock, the Army would have shown him "no mercy."
Then Stoner (was it his name that tipped the balance?) turned in Gibbs and others for smoking hash in his room. So they beat him and threatened to kill him. Then he told about the body parts being passed around. The Army locked up Gibbs and Morlock. Stoner was labeled a whistleblower, which he says is worse than a murderer. If he had the chance again, he says, he would say nothing.
Winfield found he could breathe, after months of fearing murder from his own "side."
And then Winfield was, himself, charged with first-degree murder. We see his horror. We see his parents' heartbreak. We go back to see his childhood. He read history books about American war heroes, his dad says. The possibility of changing those books is not explicitly raised. He ends up with a plea bargain and a sentence of three years in prison, for supposedly having done nothing to stop a murder. At one point he's offered the option of pleading guilty to "cowardice," despite every other member of his unit and chain of command right up to the President having outdone him in that regard.
"War is dirty," says Winfield. "It's not how they portray it in movies." It is, however, more or less, from a certain angle, how they've portrayed it in this movie, which ought to be shown in U.S. schools as a warning.
But not by itself. This movie does not give us the stories of the murder victims and their families. Imagine the power of a movie that included what this one does plus that! The opportunity is repeatedly and intentionally lost by Western film makers over and over again. Nor does the film give us the stories of the victims and families of supposedly legitimate murders. Imagine the drama of trying to distinguish the suffering of those killed fighting a foreign occupation from the suffering of those killed not fighting a foreign occupation, and the power of the inevitable failure of that effort! Imagine a movie that accurately conveyed the immense scale of the killing in these one-sided slaughters of the poor by the most technologically advanced killing machine ever devised!
From the angle that this film takes, however, critical questions are thrust upon us, including: Why imprison the killers? Will it deter others? Will atrocity-free-war finally be created before we've destroyed the earth as a habitable place? Would it not be easier to shut down the military and end the wars? The deterrence I'm most interested in is that of people like Winfield's parents who allowed him to join the military before he was 18, to demonstrate their confidence in him. I think this movie might deter some parents from making that same choice.
By John Grant
When lo! An angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, . . .
A lead article on CNN today reads as follows: ‘Fellow soldiers call Bowe Bergdahl a deserter, not a hero.’
It seems that one is defining the term ‘hero’ in a rather odd way, if one can’t consider a deserter a hero. Let’s look first at what desertion from the U.S. military means, in terms of actions and possible consequences, and then more specifically at Mr. Bergdahl’s particular situation, or at least what is currently known of it.
By Dave Lindorff
Remarkably, the U.S. Army War College has published a report (PDF) that makes an overwhelming case against enlisting in the U.S. Army. The report, called "Civilian Organizational Inhibitors to U.S. Army Recruiting and the Road Ahead," identifies counter-recruitment organizations that effectively discourage young people from joining the military.
This is the highest honor the Army could give these groups, including Quaker House, the Mennonite Central Committee, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans For Peace, and Courage to Resist. Activists often disbelieve in the effectiveness of their own work until the government admits it explicitly. Well, here is that admission. And counter-recruitment activists really do seem to appreciate it.
No doubt someone quickly sent the report along to the NSA and the FBI. The report is, in fact, a few years old, and we have seen the government infiltrating at least some of the organizations named in it during the past few years.
But who really should be reading this excellent report is potential recruits. In laying out the arguments of the counter-recruitment groups and then trying to refute them, the report's author, Lieutenant Colonel Todd M. Jacobus, makes their case persuasively and his own weakly in the extreme. I'm not sure if this is intentional subterfuge, drug-induced self-parody, or just intellectual debility. Regardless, the government will have new appreciation for its standard disclaimer that says the views expressed are the author's alone.
"Hundreds of organizations throughout our Country [sic] have a negative influence on our recruiting efforts, using techniques and strategies that frequently depict professional military recruiters in an ill light, disillusion influencers and dissuade potential applicants from looking into military service as a viable option."
The typical Army reaction to any such challenge is, Jacobus says, to cut and run:
"Too often, the tactic of our recruiting force when engaged by a hostile force, is to break contact, and re-focus efforts and resources where those hostile to military recruitment are less likely to be confronted, and therefore where success is more likely."
Jacobus calls the Army "all-volunteer" before noting the absurdity of that claim:
"The manner in which the Quaker House illustrates their support for their Quaker ideals is by endeavoring to hurt our Army's recruiting and retention efforts by: 1. providing reference material to potential Soldiers and centers of influence that negatively portrays the military recruiter and the enlistment process; 2. counseling enlistees in the delayed entry program on how they can terminate their enlistment; 3. counseling Soldiers on active duty on how to adjudicate their situation when they are in an unexcused absence or absent without leave status; 4. counseling to Soldiers on how they can quickly adjudicate a conscientious objector status with the Army; 5. providing expertise to Soldiers on discharge procedures and regulations."
Surely a volunteer service would not require such elaborate assistance for someone attempting to stop volunteering.
Jacobus presents the arguments of counter-recruiters at some length and never counters most of them in any way at all:
"Quaker House publishes and widely distributes a document entitled, 'Meet Sgt. Abe, the Honest Recruiter'. This pamphlet emphasizes that the applicant needs to thoroughly read and understand the enlistment contract before signing the document. The pamphlet draws attention to the fact that the Army can at will extend an enlistment indefinitely, that 'Recruiters make "sweet promises" that the Army is not required to deliver'. The pamphlet draws attention to the fact that serving in the Army is 'not a normal job', and that 'you can be sent to war'. The final few pages give our impressionable applicant some 'things to think about', included in this list is that 'much military training is NOT useful in civilian jobs'; that 'many Vets suffer LONG-TERM physical and psychological damage: PTSD, "Gulf War Syndrome"', that 'Women in the military face a HIGH RISK of sexual harassment and rape'; that 'military life is hard on families with higher rates of domestic abuse and divorce', that 'there are long delays in getting veterans benefits'; that 'dozens of Soldiers are killed and hundreds are wounded every month'. Finally, Sgt Abe warns the potential Soldier to, 'think HARD before you sign – your life could be at stake.'"
In addition, a Mennonite Central Committee flyer
"highlights the fact that most students enlist in order for education benefits, and suggests that a student will NOT get the amount of money promised by their recruiter. The flier emphasizes that these students will be trained and expected to kill on the field of battle, and that the guidance counselor should ensure that there is an understanding of this expectation. The Mennonite Central Committee highlights on their 'ask a veteran' web site link the very negative opinions of those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. All of the individuals highlighted regret having served in the U.S. Armed Forces, and provide a variety of reasons. These reasons include the following: serving in the military is incompatible with following Jesus; basic training is de-humanizing; the military trains soldiers to hate entire groups of people; soldiers do not show sadness in removing evil, but instead rejoice in the opportunity to kill; the military makes every effort to rob what is inside a person; people for whom we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan do not want us there; I came to the determination that love is stronger than fear, hate, suffering, and death. The veteran testimonials ranged from their description of the sincere sorrow that followed the death of a comrade to the frustrations of not being able to do more for a soldier in need. In all cases they describe how they eventually came to see our presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places as illegal, and against their convictions."
A Veterans For Peace video, the report helpfully tells us, (in reality the video is the work of a number of organizations):
"begins with video from the United States Army Recruiting Command, where a recruiter comments that, 'just because you get deployed doesn't mean you will end up in the Middle East or Iraq' – followed quickly by an applicant saying, 'if I were to get mobilized, it wouldn't be a whole big ordeal'. These comments are quickly retorted by a Soldier who had been severely injured in an improvised explosive device in Iraq, his mother providing an overview of her son's injuries. Next, a Marine veteran of Vietnam addresses the invincibility of being a Marine ending as soon as one engages in combat, and that 'all of the myths and lies' that a recruit has been told are 'over'. This is followed by a stepmother talking about her stepson being killed in Fallujah, and the fact that he was only 19 years old when he enlisted, and therefore he could not know what he would face in Iraq. Next, there is an excerpt from a U.S. Army Recruiting Command video of a recruit talking about joining for the educational benefits. Several veterans then discuss the smoking mirrors [sic] associated with educational benefits. There is a claim that 'on average the Montgomery GI Bill will only cover 1⁄2 the cost of a public college and 1/5 the cost of a private college'. Further, they communicate a message that Soldiers in the Reserve Components of the U.S. Army are prevented from using education benefits due to repeated deployments. And, by the time a Soldier completes two and three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are in no shape to go to college. A former Reservist says that because he cannot use GI Bill benefits after being discharged that the government is not fulfilling their obligation to him. The video transitions to a recruit saying that he is joining the U.S. Army because, 'service will help me in civilian life'. This transitions immediately to a young man who served in Iraq who says, 'I'm a great killer; I know how to blow up bridges and buildings, and people, and how to dismantle mines'; this same young man says that the Army prepared him to be a custodian. Another veteran commenting that she was absolutely lost after leaving the service, and worked menial jobs for many years, and still does not have a direction. The video then transitions to a Vietnam veteran talking about his transition from Southeast Asia to his life here in the United States, and his homeless lifestyle of panhandling for three years. The video shows a statistic that 'the VA estimates on any given night 200,000 veterans are homeless'. The video includes an interview of a former Recruiter, who indicates that he was trained to cover up one-time drug offenses, and to do what it takes to enlist applicants into the service. The video shows a statistic that 'the Government Accounting Office reports 6,600 complaints of recruiting wrongdoing during a one year period.' Cindy Sheehan, whose son, SPC Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq, said that her son's recruiter told her that 'even if there was a war, he would not see combat'. She clearly communicates on the video that Recruiters will tell a recruit anything in order to get their signature on a contract. Further, this contract binds the recruit, but not the United States government. There is a comment that 'since the start of the Iraq War the Army has extended the enlistment of more than 50,000 troops through "stop loss"'."
Of course you could just watch the above video, rather than reading the play-by-play produced on your dime, but I want to make clear that Jacobus recounts all of these claims without ever refuting them. "Counter-recruiting organizations," he writes, "present as evidence Youtube videos, web page links, and newspaper articles highlighting sexual misconduct and criminal activity by Army Recruiters. Their messages highlight our Recruiters lying to applicants, encouraging applicants to lie on their medical and criminal history, promises of bonus money that never come, promises of education benefits that are grossly exaggerated, and promises of state-side duty with no likelihood for service overseas." Jacobus follows this summary of well-documented charges, just as he does several others, with vague platitudes and generalized assertions about the mental states of all Army recruiters: "Our Army's Recruiters are interested in people, have had positive experiences in our Army, and want to share these experiences, and present the same opportunities to our next generation of Soldiers." Golly gee, no kidding? All of them? You wouldn't insult our intelligence, would you, Sir?
To counter extensive evidence that the military does not prepare a lot of people for jobs, Jacobus just asserts that the military makes people leaders (with no evidence that this finds them jobs).
In other cases, Jacobus summarizes the charges against recruiters and the military, and then immediately admits that they are true:
"Counter-recruiter groups' messages implore potential Soldiers to consider that they will be trained to kill, they will be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, they will live and serve in austere conditions, and they will see destruction and death of both friends and innocent people. They challenge potential Soldiers to visit a hospital and see those who suffer the effects of physical and psychological damage as a result of service in America‘s Army. Counter-recruiting organizations highlight the increasing domestic abuse and divorce rate present in Army families. Many of the issues raised by these counter-recruiting organizations are based on truths, although in a quite negative manner."
The truth is notoriously biased against positive depictions of mass-murder.
Similarly, on sexual assault, Jacobus recommends admitting it happens, but then asserting that every member of the U.S. military follows a code of ethics -- which apparently allows killing people and/or sexually assaulting your fellow ethical beings. Jacobus goes on to make a serious claim, namely that a college campus is the most dangerous place for sexual assaults, not the military. But clearly there are studies finding the opposite. And a separate question is the quality of the environment for recovering from (and seeking accountability for) sexual assault in the military versus on a college campus.
After writing as if we had limited intelligence for two-dozen pages, Jacobus present the "myth" that the military requires limited intelligence, in order to debunk it. But, of course, the military does not require limited intelligence; it requires limited independence of thought, which is only one particular type of intelligence.
Jacobus spends remarkably few words putting up an argument in favor of enlistment. He suggests that recruiters should counter nasty talk of dying with reassurances about medical support. Of course, that medical support is the reason so many troops are surviving without arms and legs and other, um, appendages. The author also suggests that recruiters claim (without any provided basis or explanation) that the military is defensive and that it defends "freedom." That's not what top members of the U.S. military say. It's also not what the people of the world say.
Moving on into the realm of self-parody, Jacobus recommends talking about 9-11 a lot, and then a bit more, and then maybe a little extra. And he proposes expanding on that theme by depicting the world as a permanent source of irrational terrorists out to attack the United States for no reason. Why there are no anti-Norwegian terrorist networks or anti-Anybody-Else terrorist networks is never explained. The Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 is presented as evidence of the permanent senseless presence of anti-U.S. terrorism in the world, with no reference to the 1953 U.S. overthrow of Iran's democracy and the imposition of a vicious U.S.-backed dictator from 1953 to 1979. Jacobus offers another dozen similar examples of terrorism and alleged terrorism, all completely context free. Of course, U.S. interference in people's countries cannot justify terrorism, but it goes a great distance toward explaining it. Only by pretending that militarism does not produce terrorism, can anyone continue promoting militarism as a supposed defense against terrorism.
Delving deeply into self-parody, Jacobus holds up Colin Powell (who took a laughable case for attacking Iraq to the U.N. which rejected it) as the absolute authority on honest straight talk about why the U.S. is not aggressive or imperialistic. He quotes Powell baselessly making that claim and then skipping back over 70 years of contrary evidence to claim that after World War II the United States did not "ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe." Well, except Germany. Oh, and the need for military bases in all the other countries. And let's not forget Japan and Korea.
Jacobus claims that members of the military are not disproportionately from poor backgrounds, and indeed some studies seem to back him up. And, indeed, most members of the military, when asked if they joined to "serve their country" answer yes. But three-quarters also say they joined for education benefits, which makes one wonder what the impact on recruitment would be if the United States made education free or affordable the way other nations do. And, if that happened, what would be the further effect on susceptibility to Pentagon propaganda of a populace with a higher education level?
The following, unlike Jacobus' report, is known with certainty to be a parody. I produced it.
Student Privacy Compromised by Massive Program
By Pat Elder
In late December, 2013 the Department of Defense released a database on the military's controversial Student Testing Program in 11,700 high schools across the country. An examination of the complex and contradictory dataset raises serious issues regarding student privacy and the integrity of the Student Testing Program in America's schools.
The data was released after a protracted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.