Counting the extra $87 billion Congress approved for the war in Iraq, last year’s U.S. military budget totaled over $488 billion. The government spends workers’ tax money to invade and occupy Iraq, while U.S. public school students face budget cuts and tuition hikes.
However, in order to wage their vicious war, the U.S. ruling class is taking more from workers than just the money which should be spent on healthcare, housing, and education. They are also taking working-class youth and sending them to risk their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is why the government spent $2.7 billion last year to recruit young people into the military.
The government fills the ranks of its military by promising stable employment, housing, health benefits, and money for college. Since the end of the draft in 1973, the U.S. has officially had an all-volunteer military. However, the rich usually don’t “volunteer” to send their children to get killed in Iraq.
For working-class youth faced with a choice between unemployment, dead-end jobs, and enlistment, targeted recruitment amounts to nothing less than a poverty draft. After all, the billions spent on arms and recruitment could instead fund a huge jobs program at living wages for working-class youth, and revitalize our crumbling schools.
Military recruiters would have a hard time signing kids up if they talked about the ruling class’s real aims or described the hazards of roadside bombs and depleted uranium in Iraq. Instead, recruiters push military service as if it were a jobs program. But the promises of military recruiters frequently turn out to be cruel swindles.
Recruiters advertise that the military can provide over $35,000 for college, which is only a fraction of what it now costs to get a degree. However, two thirds of recruits receive no college funding and only around 15% graduate with a four-year degree.
Furthermore, many troops who survive the armed forces face unemployment and uncertainty. On average, veterans earn $1,700 less per year than their non-veteran peers, and the Veterans Association reports that 250,000 U.S. veterans are homeless.
As people in the U.S. learn more about the daily carnage in Iraq, the involuntary extension of soldiers’ tours of duty, and the mobilization of reservists and national guard troops for duty overseas, more young people are thinking twice about signing up and shipping out to Iraq.
In July, the Army Chief of Staff reported that the Army National Guard is running roughly 12% short of its annual recruitment goal. Since the ruling class will not willingly give up control over Iraq and its oil resources, they are responding to shrinking reserves of troops by redoubling their recruitment efforts.
This, however, will take some doing. The massive military recruitment apparatus already reaches into most high schools, colleges, and working-class communities. Section 9528 of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law requires all school districts in the country to allow military recruiters full access to students. This means that kids as young as 14 receive mailings, phone calls, and in-school recruitment pitches.
Army recruiters run flashy commercials during popular television shows like “The Simpsons,” and they have created a fleet of recruitment vans which visit 2000 high schools per year, attracting kids with recruitment videos, climbing walls, and an electronic M-16 simulator called the “Weaponeer.” Since military recruiters have quotas to fill and get bonuses and promotions for high recruitment numbers, they are motivated to say whatever will get more young people to enlist.
And although recruiters recognize high school students as an impressionable audience, they do not stop there. Twenty of Chicago’s middle schools have Cadet Corps – a program which gives 11 to 14 year old students drill practice, takes them on field trips to naval stations, and prepares them for high school JROTC programs.
From grade school through college, military recruitment programs are designed to make young people believe that enlistment will amount to heroism, a good career move, or a Nintendo game, rather than a deadly, psychologically damaging, and low-paid stint as a hated invader in Iraq.
Time to Fight Back!
In the late 1960s, during a period of growing student, black, and working-class militancy which eventually played a central role in defeating U.S. imperialism in Vietnam, protesters were able to shut down ROTC departments and make many campuses off-limits to recruiters. Today, we can draw from the lessons and experience of the Vietnam anti-war movement, and successfully kick military recruiters out of our schools.
Anti-recruitment committees need to be organized at every high school and college. Already this fall, campaigns are emerging to kick military recruiters out of high schools and college campuses. Socialist Alternative is working to launch and build these campaigns in a number of schools. These structures can mobilize students to participate in informational pickets, educational forums, counter-recruitment protests, office occupations, and other events.
Through these actions, we can send military recruiters packing with the message that working-class youth and youth of color will not fight and die for corporate profits and the U.S. empire.