Left Justified: April Fools? Recruited for the Killing Fields

We have a new bumper sticker at the Peace Store (623 7th St.— open first and third Saturdays of the month, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.). The bumper sticker says, “Now that you’ve conquered Iraq, why don’t you schmucks move there?” It might be used to entice recruitments of new soldiers. The saying came in amid a whole group of anti-war buttons, stickers, and even a few T-shirts.

Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee, the volunteers who run the Peace Store, is raising money for a new task: counter-recruitment. The peace movement wants to force military recruiters to tell the truth to the unsuspecting individuals who may enlist.

Since the occupation of Iraq has gone so poorly, and more than 1,500 U.S. military personnel have died, plus thousands wounded, plus another 5,000 deserted for Canada, our Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force have gone begging for a few good men and women. And they get the youth of this country (now up to age 39) to sign on the dotted line. Go to any high school or college, and you will see smartly uniformed salesmen making a pitch to enlist. And these salesmen are forceful and well trained!

The Peace Task Force was able to get a copy of the military recruiters’ handbook, USAREC Pamphlet 350-13 (ask for it through your elected congressman). It is 12 pages of great ideas for recruiting. The purpose is clearly outlined in Chapter 2: “The relationship between Army recruiters and educators in a school district is a potential source of comfort and conflict for both parties. Before you can expect any type of assistance from school officials or be accepted by students, you must first establish rapport and credibility. You must convince them that you have their students’ best interests in mind. They need to know that your interest in their students goes beyond enlisting them and extends to a genuine concern for their future. The purpose is to outline some of the ways to establish and maintain rapport, identify key influencers, and review basic preparations for the upcoming SY [school year]”

Recruiters are told to give gifts to the teachers, administrators, and coaches. Act as a volunteer. Donate materials. Never are recruiters told to lie, but anyone who has been recruited knows some of the tricks of the trade: promise them the moon, just don’t put it in writing; browbeat the youth and use whatever taunts and bullying you can.

Peace & Justice is developing a local “truth in advertising” flier. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says (and it’s listed right on our flier): “The reason to have a military is to be prepared to fight and win wars; it’s not a jobs program.”

Economic opportunity? I doubt it. Veterans earn less than non-veterans. Military training is primarily for military jobs, and the military is making a profit on the GI bill. There are alternatives to the military if you want money for college, job skills training, travel, adventure, and/or discipline. From the Peace Corps to Citizen Action, to the Red Cross and Peace Brigades International, there are lots of ways young people can find enriching experiences without risking life and limb.

And our kids do risk life and limb. Many of the wounds received by Iraq veterans involve the loss of one or more appendages. The medical miracles can keep a body alive, even though half of it was blown away. And thanks to our patriotic president, the veterans are getting fewer and fewer benefits, even if they served our country during this time of war.

I’d like to encourage people to look again at Nina Berman’s book, Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq, available from Trolley, 257 Church St., New York, NY 10013. (www.trolleybooks.com). The book contains pictures and interviews with returning wounded veterans, all of whom are permanently disabled.

If you have a horror story about recruiters, please let me know (815-964-7111). We want to bar overzealous recruiters from our schools. There is a big difference between exhorting and extorting youth to sign up, a difference betweeen handing out information and browbeating youth to enlist. The kids are in demand, and the military is going to do whatever it takes to fill the rolls; whether they do it by the book or by bending the rules is up to us. We don’t want to make fools out of our kids, even though it is April.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the March 30-April 5, 2005 issue

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