You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.
The lies recruiters tell

March 4, 2005 | Page 7

THE U.S. Army is facing a crisis. It doesn't have enough people willing to sign up, go overseas and kill other people.

The military is scrambling to meet its recruitment quotas by dramatically increasing enlistment bonuses, adding new recruiters and seeking out new ways to reach potential recruits.

Resources on the Web

THE FOLLOWING Web resources can help you start a counter-recruitment campaign on your campus. They cover a wide range of subjects--including your right to protest even on a high school campus.

Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft

American Friends Service Committee Counter-recruitment links

Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools

Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors and the GI Rights Hotline

The Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities

But this new recruitment push has sparked resistance. Student antiwar activists have set out to stop military recruiters from reaching their targets with their slick brochures and tall tales of easy money, education benefits and international adventure.

Actions at high schools and college campuses across the country are fast blossoming into a new movement. By depriving the military of new recruits to pull triggers, repair vehicles and run supply missions, the antiwar movement can disrupt Washington's war machine. Here, ERIC RUDER examines the lies that recruiters tell--and asks the questions they don't want to answer.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE DIFFICULTY facing U.S. military recruiters comes down to a simple problem: Everyone knows that new enlistees are likely to be shipped to Iraq. And everyone knows that U.S. soldiers are dying in Iraq.

So even though the federal government has doubled its spending on advertising to find new recruits, there still aren't enough young people signing up to feed the Pentagon's appetite for "grunts."

Overall, the military spends nearly $4 billion on recruiting each year. In Connecticut, for example, the National Guard plans to use some of this money to start a magazine, launch a cable TV show, double its regular squad of 32 recruiters and make many more visits to high schools. "I've got to get down to the community level," said Major Gen. William Cugno. "I need to be in more schools for more time."

According to a handbook that the military gives to recruiters targeting high schools, the recruiters' goal is "school ownership" and "penetrating their school obtain the maximum number of quality enlistments." Though the handbook doesn't say it, accomplishing this goal means recruiters have to mislead, manipulate and tell outright lies.

This is why well-informed antiwar activists can be effective. By exposing the recruiters' half-truths and fabrications, it's possible to undercut their appeal to students, frustrate them--and even organize enough protest to drive them off campus.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE MOST important thing to remember about military recruiters is that they portray themselves as guidance counselors who care about helping students improve themselves. In reality, they are salespeople who are desperate to make their quotas.

For example, recruiters are directed by their superiors to "market" the military's standardized test--the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB--to schools as a program "to help students learn more about themselves and the world of work, identify and explore potentially satisfying occupations, and develop an effective strategy to realize their goals."

But the recruiting handbook explains the true importance of ASVAB to recruiters--the test is "specifically designed to provide recruiters with a source of pre-qualified leads. The ASVAB recruiter printout provides information you can't get from any other list. It...provides the recruiter with concrete and personal information about the student."

Recruiters often hype education benefits as a way to get students to sign on the dotted line, promising up to $70,000 to help pay for college. But the military actually makes money off this program. That's because recruits must pay into a fund to receive benefits. But so few end up with the qualifications necessary to take advantage of them that the military takes in $72 million more every year than it pays out!

And of course, recruiters never make the obvious point that education benefits aren't much use if you're dead.

Another tactic is to tell potential recruits that they can opt out of combat--because there is a "no war" clause in their contract. This is a blatant lie. But GI rights counselors who give legal advice to service members hear this again and again from people who are being shipped overseas and who want to get out.

In fact, GI rights counselors report a wide array of common lies from recruiters. For example, in hyping the military's job training programs, recruiters tell enlistees that if they train as a medic, they'll qualify as a civilian nurse--though they don't.

They also tell prospective recruits that they can request a specific job or specialty in the military--which they can, but the military is under no obligation to honor these requests, and usually doesn't. "One of my favorite examples was the caller who was told by the recruiter that if you don't like the Army after you've been in basic training for about two weeks, you just talk to your drill sergeant, and a discharge can be arranged," said Jim Picton, a GI rights counselor. "The caller, who seemed intelligent enough, said he did that. The drill sergeant responded, 'I own your ass--get out of my face!'"

At certain high schools--typically public schools located in the inner city--recruiters are everywhere. They have license to prowl the halls, they pull up outside with tricked-out Humvees and video war games to impress their targets, or appear in ads that are piped into every classroom each morning via the school's video announcements system. But at other schools, the recruiters are nowhere to be found.

Why? Because recruiters don't bother with schools where wealthy, college-bound kids tend to be. They prey on poor and minority students, figuring that these kids will have few other options. In 1995, Tom Wilson, then a high-level official in charge of the Army's personnel department, let the truth slip out in an interview. He explained how the military targeted students "particularly in inner cities...I hesitate to use the term at-risk kids, but kids who would otherwise be called at-risk."

This explains why Black and Latino kids end up in the military in disproportionate numbers.

The military claims to be a great place for minority youth to build a career. But when it comes to promotions to positions of authority, minorities and women are underrepresented--the officer corps is 88 percent white and 91 percent male.

And for gays and lesbians, the military's antigay "don't ask, don't tell" policy means that they must hide their identity, or be subjected to harassment and abuse. In fact, this openly discriminatory policy is being used by activists to demand that military recruiters be barred from campus if their school prohibits discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Defenders of the military complain that counter-recruitment efforts "infringe" on the right of students interested in a military careers. But it's the military's antigay policies that deny equal rights--and it's the lies told by recruiters that deny students the right to know the truth about how they're being targeted to be cannon fodder in George Bush's wars for oil and empire.

Your rights on campus

SEVERAL FEDERAL district courts have ruled that activists have a legal right to give students an opposing point of view when military recruiters come to campus. Last November, the Third U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the federal government can't withhold federal funds from colleges that refuse to grant access to military recruiters. The Justice Department has said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and has asked for a stay of the ruling. But pressure from counter-recruitment activists can make it easier for schools to say no to recruiters--and put pressure on the justices.

Even if you find it difficult to force your school to kick recruiters off campus, just setting up a table, holding a protest and handing out leaflets can keep recruiters from reaching their potential audience.

Home page | Back to the top