Tod Ensign is an attorney and director of Citizen Soldier, a GI and veterans rights advocacy project. With “America’s Military Today: The Challenge of Militarism,” Ensign has written a useful and important guide to the military today.

On one hand, it examines the public face of the armed forces as portrayed by the Department of Defense’s annual $3 billion dollar barrage of recruiting propaganda, further reinforced by a docile and largely unquestioning media. On the other hand, it looks at the inner face of military life, which rarely enters the public eye.

The author covers a wide range of subjects: recruiting tactics; discrimination against women, minorities, and gays; letters from troops in Iraq; the horrors of the veterans’ health care system; and injustice in the military’s justice system. What Ensign and others unveil will anger — and sometimes shock — the reader.

Ensign believes that the Bush administration’s reckless invasion of Iraq has stretched the military to the breaking point, and that it is rapidly approaching a crisis on a scale it last faced at the end of the Vietnam War. The army reserves (40 percent of the troop strength in Iraq) have been forced into a role for which they are ill prepared — combat. In addition, the Department of Defense is routinely extending combat tours and dates of discharge for the worn-out troops.

Ensign charges that the Bush administration has used a highly paid private security army to bridge the serious manpower gap and hide the chronic problem of troop shortages. “Clearly, [Rumsfeld’s] priority was to take care of his corporate chums including his new pals in the private army ‘business.’”

In the haste, waste, and arrogance of their mad drive to achieve global military domination, President Bush, Rumsfeld and their cronies are leaving behind a large army of broken, battered, and ill-treated combat veterans. Many wounded veterans are not receiving necessary care, and in some cases it reminds one of Bush’s corporate supporters who routinely dump workers who have outlived their profitability.

Most of the Pentagon’s annual recruiting budget is spent on extolling the virtues of a military career. Military recruiters, Ensign explains, are highly trained salesmen, who must ensnare 185,000 recruits annually for the military machine.

Linda Bird Francke wrote one of the most disturbing chapters, which examines what happens when the military cult of machismo collides with a female’s expectations and demands for equal treatment in the military. Francke crisply describes the military as “driven by a group dynamic centered around male perceptions, male psychology, and power, male anxieties and affirmation of masculinity. Harassment is an inevitable by-product.”

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the abuse of animals is a punishable offense, but the abuse of females is not. Women are often marginalized in the military and their acceptance as military peers “is antithetical to the hyper-masculine identity traditionally promoted by the institution and sought by many military men.” In the prevailing climate, the Department of Defense directives have failed to halt sexual harassment.

Tod Ensign has written and edited a searing expose of military life today. This book slices through the smokescreen obscuring the reality of military culture and it embeds itself on the side of truth. Any youth contemplating a military career should first read this book before talking with a recruiter.