by Gerard Donnelly Smith
(Swans - May 23, 2005) First, let's call unfair, unfair. Military recruiters were not allowed on campus before the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) for very good reasons: parental guidance, adolescent immaturity, and the coercive and discriminatory tactics used by military recruiters. The provision that allowed military recruiters on campus was attached to the NCLB which means Congress did not debate the issue fully and many who voted for the NCLB may not have even realized the rider was attached to the bill. Such tactics do not represent a very democratic process by any standard.
Often, the militaristic speaker/writer will claim those who oppose recruitment in schools are unpatriotic. "Love it or leave it," they will shout. Such propaganda tactics mirror the tactics used by the recruiters themselves, who invoke national pride, patriotism, and future benefits to attract canon fodder. Any student who has limited economic advantages will be offered a chance to go to college, a chance to travel the world, a chance to be patriotic. Sounds good doesn't it? Yet, does that teenager have the ability to think about the consequences of joining the military? Do teenagers often make rash decision, poorly thought through decisions that later they regret? Any parent knows that teenagers don't always think things through before taking action.
Although some teens may have the maturity to make an informed decision, most teens don't develop that ability until they've made a few very poor ones. Certainly most teenagers do not make "competent" decisions before their brains develop the cognitive functions that allow them to foresee consequences, to understand that they are not vulnerable, and to question any authority that presents only the positive aspects of a major life decision.
Furthermore, a militaristic writer who supports recruitment often ignores the facts that adolescents (those citizens under the age of 18) have limited legal rights. An adolescent may not enter into verbal or written contracts, whether the student's intentions are patriotically motivated, economically motivated, or even educationally motivated. Adolescents must have parental approval to enter into any contract. Given this legal fact, why then are military recruiters allowed on high school campuses?
Yes, there is an "opt-out" clause that parents may sign that specifically prohibits the military recruiter from contacting their son or daughter, but that option does not diminish the "symbolic" impact of the military's presence on campus. Indeed, the concept of "transfer" defined in 1936 by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis may help parents understand the impact of this military product placement. When the student sees the military recruiter on campus, they assume that the educational institute agrees with the goals of the recruiter. In other words, whatever respect the student feels for the institution is "transferred" to the recruiter. The converse is true also. Whatever disrespect the student has for the institution my also come into play. The shrewd recruiter, who has been well trained, will ask leading questions to discern which attitude the student has toward education, then "frame" his "talking points" to appeal to that student's attitude of respect or disrespect for education.
The same tactics an insurance salesman might use upon the parent concerned about the well-being of his/her family should they die and leave the children bereft, the military recruiter will use upon the high school student. By appealing to their desires, their needs, and their attitudes, the military recruiter (like a recruiter for a cult) preys on the individual's weakness, and in many cases the individual's desire to belong, to be accepted, to have worth within some social hierarchy. The military recruiter downplays the negative aspects of service within this "social institution" which include permanent physical disability, and potential continuing mental anguish from having blown someone's brains out.
Rather than wait until the teen turns 18, the military recruiter appeals to the adolescent whose parents either didn't know about the waiver, or who have militaristic beliefs themselves; perhaps those parents have accepted militaristic propaganda, or still have the parochial belief that their country is infallible, that might makes right. Such teens, raised by parents who believe in "service to god and country," may suggest or even pressure their children to "be all that [they] can be." If becoming a killer represents all that someone can be, then these parents would be right to encourage their children to join the military. "Yes, go kill a godless communist for Christ, it will make you all you can be, my son."
Being trained to kill, then being indoctrinated or brainwashed to carry out the orders to kill will change the individual for life. Indeed, the indoctrination works so well, that military office from the highest levels down can often count on the "well-trained" recruit to follow illegal orders to torture and even kill prisoners of war. Why would any society define that trait as "be all that you can be?"
In an attempt to make "all that you can be" inclusive of all citizens, several compromises have been offered. Recently, national conscription into the military service has been resurrected as a way to fill recruiting quotas. As the death toll inevitably rises in combat, the number of citizens willing to serve, fortunately, decreases, especially when the reason for the military actions is seen as illegal, unethical, or when combat is protracted. Those who support the re-establishment of the draft argue that those wealthy capitalists and the politicians who open their doors will be less likely to engage in military campaigns if their own sons and daughters must join the service. Anyone from the Vietnam era will argue that such reasoning is flawed. Those with money and with connections can always dodge the draft.
Others have suggested that all citizens perform two years of national service in either the military, The Peace Corp, or some other humanitarian organization. This alternative sounds reasonable until one adds "connections" and "wealth" to the equation. Allow all these organizations to recruit in the high schools, these pseudo-peaceniks argue, then those who really want to join the military will join, while those who don't will still have to serve their country. More likely the outcome will be that those who are connected or wealthy will somehow be accepted into the non-military service, while economically or educationally disadvantaged students will be "trained" to kill and to follow to orders to kill.
Finally, let's be fair and honest. Any system of recruitment either for national service conscription or for the voluntary military will be unfair and dishonest. The nation's best alternative is to declare peace, thus eliminating the necessary cause for the negative effects of military recruiting, not only in high schools, but in society as well. Support the troops and obey the first commandments: "thou shall not kill."