In 1966, when I was a senior at Fortuna High, military recruiters were a fixture at our school. They made regular appearances in their dress uniforms with all their pleats and flaps and brass buttons and medals. And they would give us their best speech. “You'll be heading off to Vietnam,” they told us. “You'll see plenty of action and come back heroes with a chest full of medals because you fought for the most powerful army in the world. And you'll be better for the experience.”
Lies, all lies. But I bought it lock, stock, and barrel. I yanked the pen out of a recruiter's hand and said, “Yes, sir, where do I sign, sir?” because I was seventeen and not overburdened with brains; because I was revved to race, poured full of the juice of youth.
I bought into their program, all right. I bought into their propaganda, too. Years later, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara admitted that the Vietnam War was “a big mistake.” One that killed 58,000 Americans, millions of Vietnamese, and turned a big profit for the military industrial complex, Defense Contractors, and Dow Chemical.
The real shame is that we learned nothing from Vietnam. We continue to engage in wars that are mistakes, the military still occupies our schools, and kids haven't stopped buying their lies and deception. Today, it's just a little more glitzy. Military recruiters roll up to high-schools in camouflaged Hummers decked out with flashy decals,
blasting hip-hop music and daring passing boys to test their strength on a pull-up bar. They offer mugs, T-shirts, posters, key chains and, (most tantalizingly) praise to those who can do a few pull-ups. But nowhere among the T-shirts and posters is there any indication of the true nature of war. The terrible death and destruction always go unmentioned.
I'm not your typical tree-hugging, NPR listening, hippy-loving liberal. My father served in World War II and lost his leg to a land mine in Italy. My step father also served and had two ships sunk out from under him. One of them was the U.S.S. Indianapolis. He survived the harrowing ordeal of floating five days in the Pacific Ocean and watching his shipmates be eaten by sharks. He came home a haunted man with a drinking problem. I also served my country during time of war, like many other Humboldt County men and women.
What high school kids fail to understand is, war is not pull-ups in front of your buddies. It's not crisp dress uniforms with brass buttons and medals. War is ugly. There is no glory. It's kill or be killed. But recruiters deliberately manipulate the truth to fill their quota. Why is such blatant propaganda permitted in our public schools? Is this the best we have to offer our children? There should be more effort to bring college and trade school representatives to speak to them. The military should not be allowed to intrude upon school grounds in search of impressionable youth to refill its ranks through means of sensational advertising, promotion and deception.
Here's another sad fact: the military tends to target students from more disadvantaged schools and less affluent neighborhoods. The issue of the recruiting only becomes a problem when it comes to schools that wealthier kids attend. Why? Because poor children are more expendable than those of prosperous Americans. Politicians and the wealthy always find loopholes to keep their kids out of harm's way. Just ask the man who currently hopes to become our president.
Among the most pressing of current affairs being discussed at public schools is the issue of military recruiters being allowed access to students' contact information. Per ex-President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, public schools are required to provide the same information to military recruiters as to representatives of colleges and scholarship foundations. Under the current law, parents must tell school officials if they don't want their child contacted by the military, at school or home. Otherwise, schools are required to turn over students' names, addresses and phone numbers to the military.
Since we presently can't keep these merchants of death out of our schools, I'm doing the next best thing. I've taught my kids not to be swayed by recruiters and their smoke and mirrors focus on uniforms, camaraderie, patriotism, medals, and heroism. Call me crazy, but I don't want some large corporation or arms dealer using my children to fight their wars.
If they need more cannon fodder, I've got a good solution. Let them use their own kids.
Tim Martin resides in McKinleyville.