December 20, 2007

In 1966, succinctly explaining one of his reasons for not enlisting in the army, Muhammad Ali said “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” Today, it seems that many black youth are singing the same note. As the US disastrously skates through the Iraq War with blinders on, spouting off premature congratulatory sound bytes conveniently planted in White House speeches, the number of black youth enlistees is dramatically dropping.

Since fiscal year 2000, Defense Department statistics show that the number of young black enlistees has fallen by more than 58 percent . Additionally, according to data obtained by The Associated Press, “the decline covers all four military services for active duty recruits, and the drop is even more dramatic when National Guard and Reserve recruiting is included.”

What are the reasons for these dramatic (yet welcomed by me) drops in enrollment? Mistrust of the Bush administration, and what Boston.com reported as “the notion that black soldiers are being steered to combat jobs, a lingering perception from the Vietnam War,” and the general unpopularity among blacks of the war in Iraq.

“Why would we go over there and help them [Iraqis], when [the US government] can’t help us over here?” Nathaniel Daley, a young black man from Atlantic City, New Jersey, told Boston.com recently, noting the government’s failure in 2005 at providing Hurricane Katrina relief.

The war “is unnecessary,” Jackson said. “It’s not our war. We got our own war here, just staying alive,” he added, noting his hometown of Philadelphia has racked up more than 200 homicides so far this year, most involving young black men.

Other articles say similar things about the state of black enlistees.

Not to be defeated by the news of wisened up black youth, in an unprecedented move, America is making black youth are a priority–a priority when their bodies are needed to catch bullets in their shallow rib cages. With black youth as the largest decline of any demographic group, the US military has beefed up its recruitment efforts targeting black youth. The military lowered age, education, and physical fitness standards. And because some black youth may have criminal records, recruiters turning a blind eye to past criminal records is sure to catch more black youth.

Enlistment bonuses have also been adjusted to seduce more black youth to join the forces. What is the new bait? College tuition money. I am sure you have spotted the commercials where the black kid is parroting how great of a choice enlistment is. Of course, this assumes that you make it out alive.

These new efforts to recruit more black youth have legislative backing to allow the infiltration of seemingly safe school spaces by military recruiters. No Child Left Behind legislation has a “provision requiring public secondary schools to provide military recruiters not only with access to facilities, but also with contact information for every student–or face a cutoff of all federal aid.” This means that military recruiters have just as much access to students as do college recruiters.

This provision gives new meaning to No Child Left Behind–no child left behind after the US Military’s attempt to recruit more black youth.

One discordant note amongst the symphony of more aggressive recruiting efforts is Curtis Gilroy who oversees the Pentagon’s active-duty military recruiting. He comments the drop in black recruits partly a “good-news story” because it illustrates that many minorities now have career options outside the military. Curtis’ assertion is backed up by a bit of statistical data that finds that “Blacks are less dependent on military service than they once were for job and educational opportunities. From 1980 to 2002, the percentage of blacks over 25 with at least four years of college has more than doubled, from 7.9 percent to 17.2 percent,” according to Digest of Education statistics.

Whatever the case, I am excited to see enrollment down. And let’s keep it down and keep recruiters out of schools. Check out the resources below:

American Friends Service Committee Youth and Militarism Program includes many downloadable pamphlets and leaflets alerting students to their rights, choices, realities and alternatives when considering the military.

Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools (CAMS) is a southern California-based organization with lots of resources, links and lesson plans on its website.

Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (COMD) “challenges the institution of the military, its effect on society, its budget, its role abroad and at home, and the racism, sexism and homophobia that are inherent in the armed forces and Selective Service System.”

CounterRecruiter “aims to chronicle the growing counter military recruiting movement across the country. It is a project of The Indypendent, the newspaper of the New York City Independent Media Center.”

Leave My Child Alone! “is a family privacy campaign to protect…high school students from unwanted military recruiting.” It enables parents to go online to opt-out their children.

Mainstream Moms Operation Blue currently is sponsoring a project focusing “on family privacy, and helping parents and students opt out of the No Child Left Behind requirement that high schools turn over family information to military recruiters.”

Solomon Amendment Response and Protest is a web page located on the Georgetown Law School site that deals with the Solomon Amendment. The page explains that to “comply with the Solomon Amendment, law schools must affirmatively assist military recruiters in the same manner they assist other recruiters, which means they must propagate, accommodate, and subsidize the military’s message. In so doing, the Solomon Amendment conditions funding on a basis that violates the law schools’ First Amendment rights.”

Stopping the War Where It Begins is the web site for The National Network Opposing Militarization of Youth (NNOMY), “a growing national network of groups working to stop the militarization of schools and young people.”

The Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities ( Project YANO) describes itself as a “nonprofit community organization that provides young people with an alternative point of view about military enlistment.”

RecruitmentEducation.org has developed a rich lesson plan on the topic “What Recruiters Don’t Tell You.”

Source: Educators Stop The War