The War for Latinos
"Latinos are very important to the national security of the United States," says Larry Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Logistics in the Reagan Administration Defense Department, where he administered about 70 percent of the largest line items in the federal budget. "A decrease in Latino enlistment numbers would make things very difficult for the armed forces, because they are the fastest-growing [minority] group in the country and they have a very distinguished record of service in the military. If I were Donald Rumsfeld, I would be very worried about the possibility of decreasing Latino numbers. I'd be thinking about how to make do with smaller numbers of troops or with further lowering standards for aptitude, age, education and other factors."
The centrality of Latinos to the military enterprise can be seen in statements by Pentagon officials like John McLaurin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Human Resources, who stated that in order to meet recruitment goals, Latino enlistments must grow to 22 percent by the year 2025, when one in four Americans will be Latino. Two factors add to the urgency. One is that while Latinos make up only 13 percent of the active-duty forces, they also make up a fast-growing 16 percent of the 17- to 21-year-old population. In the eyes of Pentagon planners, this rapidly growing, relatively poor population is prime recruiting material. Latinos already in the military are concentrated in the low ranks of the Marines and the Army, serving in the high-casualty, high-risk jobs of front-line troops urgently needed in Iraq. The second factor driving the Latinization of the Pentagon's recruitment strategy is the decrease in African-American and women recruits. Since 2000 the percentage of African-American recruits has dropped from 23.5 percent to less than 14 percent, thanks to the widespread disaffection with the Iraq War--and good organizing--among parents and students in the black community.
And some preliminary indicators show that the Pentagon's efforts are paying off. Latino enlistment increased from 10.4 percent of new recruits in 2000 to 13 percent in 2004. According to University of Maryland military sociologist David Segal, however, the jury is still out on whether the Latino enlistment campaign will solve the Defense Department's recruitment problem in the mid to long term. A drop in Latino numbers could, Segal says, "plunge the military into an even deeper crisis. They will have to learn how to better recruit whites." He adds that "when antiwar efforts focus on recruitment, they're denying recruiters major access they desperately need."
The Bush adventure in Iraq has done much to foster anti-recruitment sentiment and create the "Latino unity" activists have dreamed of for decades. Beyond the anonymous, individualistic rejection of the war measured in recent polls of Latinos, a more vocal and active rejection of war and recruitment is taking hold on the ground, tapping into several currents of Latino political tradition. Vietnam veteran and University of San Diego professor Jorge Mariscal is among those working feverishly to cut Pentagon strings they feel yank young Latinos further and further into imperial entanglements. "We are trying to show the historical continuity of Latino protest against the exploitation of other Latinos in US wars of aggression," says Mariscal, considered by many to be the dean of Latino counterrecruitment efforts.
On this past August 29, Mariscal's organization, the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (YANO), and dozens of other Latino groups launched a campaign to educate Latino parents and students about military recruitment in schools. A main focus was simply informing people that the No Child Left Behind Act, which allows recruiters access to student contact information, also contains an opt-out provision. The organizers chose to launch the campaign on August 29 because it was the anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium of 1970--the largest, most radical Latino antiwar, antirecruitment mobilization in US history. The campaign draws strength from the antimilitaristic traditions of US-born Latinos (especially Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans) as well as from the anti-militarismo traditions of more recent Latin American immigrants from such countries as El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.