The militarization of America’s youth is the U.S. military’s strategic device for recruitment into the armed forces.
Through authorization by the Supreme Court the military engages youth in middle schools and high schools through the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC). A spokesperson for the Committee Against the Militarization of Youth (CAMY) reports that the Middle School Cadet Corps program proliferates a culture of militarization because it “…indoctrinates boys and girls (ages 11 –” 14) to use rifles and play video games.” As a result, the program is a discipline of teaching kids violence.
When youth learn about militarism through systematic instruction, then military principles mold their attitudes and thoughts about the armed forces. They become inspired to enlist after high school gradation. Therefore the program influences their decision to sign up for military service.
According to the American Friends Service Committee, 45 per cent of graduates from the cadet program join some branch of military service. However, the number of youth participating in the counter-recruitment movement is growing. Youth have integral, leadership roles in these social organizations. Through public forums and informational events youth talk with youth about how the military recruits them — especially in minority communities (African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, Native-Americans, women, etc.). Young women and men share their beliefs about the military and their experiences with recruitment in schools.
At a recent event about the youth’s counter-recruitment movement, several young poets spoke their beliefs about why they should not participate in the Iraq War. They reflected upon the consequences of war and they expressed their anguish about the suffering the war has caused American and Iraqi families.
“Why are the minorities being attacked?” one young woman recited from her poem. “Why are low-income families being attacked?”
The event began with several Aztec dances performed by teenage youth. Through ceremonial dance their energy was about giving to peace to stop the war. Moreover the dances were about facilitating balance in the room for constructive discussion. Prior to the dance ceremony people gathered resource fliers containing information they would typically not receive in their public schools. The fliers explained the ways youth can attend college or find career training that does not involve the military. Representatives from grassroots organizations answered their questions. Many young men and women did not know about the resources available that could help them with their future goals.
Careers and College Money
According to the American Friends Service Committee and the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools money for college and higher education opportunities can be found in private scholarships, grants and loans. Resources cited are the web sites www.college411.org and www.objector.org. They explained that the Corporation for National Service (800) 942-2677 www.nationalservice.org hires tens of thousands of people annually to do rewarding, interesting work while earning money for college. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) is available to high school and college students interested in financial assistance for higher education. They can ask their counselors for this application (the money is from the government).
People interested in job training opportunities may find them at large unions, such as the Service Employees International Union www.seiu.org. A list of unions can be found at www.calapprenticeship.org/programs, which offers apprenticeships so people can learn more about a diversity of trades.
Finally, the mother of Spc. Casey Austin Sheehan who was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004, Cindy Sheehan spoke about the founding of the Camp Casey Peace Foundation. “Our whole purpose will be to end this war and work for a culture of peace…and any young person or organization can apply for a grant from us…” she said. The grant will be called the Casey Sheehan Peace Award because she explained it is “…our young people and people of color who get killed in old white men’s wars.”
“Does anyone think of the innocent Iraqis dying?” Sheehan asked. “We have to end this war, we have to end militarism. We can’t have peace without justice and we can’t have justice without peace.”
Toward the end of the event, a young man stood up and said that Sheehan used propaganda the same way the military uses propaganda. He said not everyone is made for college and he asked why he should work a minimum wage job instead of joining the military.
Sheehan said that 50 per cent of Americans’ taxpayer dollars goes toward the war and that this money could be used to create more educational opportunities for youth in their schools and their neighborhoods. If the government put the money back into communities to improve socioeconomic conditions for low-income families then they would not suffer from the poverty draft. Current conditions cause social inequalities that influence youths’ decisions. A few weeks ago Sheehan visited the people of New Orleans. She explained what several of the residents told her what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:
“…they sent the residents to the Astrodome and then they sent recruiters into the Astrodome to recruit the young people into the military.” She concluded by congratulating all of the young people working for peace. “I’ve met so many young people who are doing counter-recruitment and doing work for peace all over the world,” she added.
College Money and the Military
Most youth believe that joining the military means money for college. Participants in the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) must meet the requirements for educational funding. According to the American Friends Service Committee, the Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors and Medal of Honor, two thirds of MGIB participants “…never receive any funding. Participants who do not receive funding actually lose $1200 in nonrefundable deposits.”
Here is a brief synopsis of the qualifications process summarized from these sources:
“In order to qualify for funds for college, a service member must achieve an Armed Forces Qualifications Test (AFQT) score of 50 or higher and enlist in a specific Military Occupational Specialty (often unpopular jobs that have few transferable skills to the civilian world). Percentage that pass –” If a service member does not meet these requirements then the maximum s/he can get from the MGIB is $32,400.
To receive any of that money you must be among the eighty percent of veterans to receive an honorable discharge. Even after all of this you still may not see all of your benefit. Because of the monthly benefit payment structure, you have to attend school for four years to get all $32,400. Only 15 per cent of those who pay in graduate with four-year degrees. If you are among the majority who attend a two-year school, you’ll receive a maximum of $7788. Subtracting your $1200, you’ll have only netted $6588 from your military service.”
Based on this information veterans who receive money for college from the military must work for it. One of the JROTC’s objectives is to teach cadets to “understand the importance of high school graduation for a successful future, and learn about college and other advanced educations and employment opportunities.”
The counter-recruitment movement has a diversity of resources to explain some of these opportunities also. Most people want to attend college, but they may not have the financial means to pay for it. When people learn about the variety of resources available to them, then they can help themselves make informed decisions.
“There needs to be peace,” one young woman said. “We want justice; say no to the war…we are the future.”