The reports of recruiting difficulties by the U.S. Army come as no surprise to many Americans. Indeed, the surprise is that the armed forces did not seem to see it coming. Their response has been to raise sign-up bonuses, drop standards and circle vulnerable young men and women like hawks flying over little chicks. And Americans should not be surprised if we soon hear that the draft is coming back, despite all of the denials by government officials.
It’s not that young men and women are less patriotic these days. Perhaps they are just wiser, after two years of watching a war which has so far resulted in nearly 1,800 American deaths and ten times that many injuries. Perhaps they are just more cynical, after hearing that the purpose of the war originally was to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, which it turns out Iraq did not have. Then, the announced purpose was to end terrorism, when it seems to have spawned more terrorists. Perhaps they are less patient, after hearing no exit strategy for a two-year war that the secretary of defense promised would last no more than five months. Perhaps they are just more skeptical, after hearing of the armed forces’ stop-loss policy of extending soldiers’ and reservists’ tours of duty against their wills.
Or perhaps they are just more weary of the tactics of some recruiters, who have quotas to fill and who, it seems, will go to almost any length to fill them. More and more stories are being told of recruiters who call young people at home, even after being told by the parents not to call back. Or stories of recruiters trolling malls and movie theaters, seeking vulnerable youth to sign up.
Even more frightening are the stories of the presence of military recruiters in high schools, not just for one day or a program, but weekly or even daily. Many parents do not know that one of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act is that every U.S. high school is required to provide military recruiters with personal information of every student or face the loss of federal education funds. Gives new meaning to “no child left behind,” doesn’t it?
In yet a more chilling development, it was recently reported that the Defense Department recruitment list is being shared with a private contractor, which is building a database of 30 million young Americans, including their names, Social Security numbers, race, ethnic background and telephone number. And, oh, by the way, it just happens to also be the private contractor used by consumer goods producers most interested in young men.
Rep. Mike Hand has introduced the Student Privacy Protection Act (HR 551), which would amend the No Child Left Behind Act to stop military recruiters from contacting students unless students and parents opt in to such a list. Currently parents have to opt out, or their children will be included on potential recruitment lists. For more information on how to opt out, or on how to sign petitions in support of Rep. Hand’s bill, parents can contact leavemychildalone.org.
Not so surprising is the fact that many who are sought out by recruiters are poor and students of color. In the recent words of New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, “There are always plenty of hawks in America. But the hawks want their wars fought with other people’s children.”
U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney tried unsuccessfully to protect young people by amending the National Defense Reauthorization Act to include a provision calling for a non-military presence at every young person’s enlistment, as well as a 180-day revocation if a service person could prove recruitment impropriety and a requirement that the secretary of defense compile statistics on the number of recruiting improprieties and actions taken against overzealous recruiters. She may reintroduce such legislation in the coming congressional session.
I’m not paranoid, but all of this tells me that George Orwell’s 1984 is arriving 21 years late. I’m not paranoid, but all of this tells me that our young men and young women are in danger. I’m not paranoid, but I’d say that a backdoor draft is quietly being implemented. I’m not paranoid, but we’d all better write our president and secretaries of defense and education, our congresspersons and senators, our school superintendents and school boards and let them know how we feel about these recruiters and these lists. I’m not paranoid, but …
Bernice Powell Jackson is executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ. This article originally appeared at www.ucc.org/justice/.