SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 92 - June 2005

Jamming the US military machine

Over the past year, the Pentagon has dramatically stepped up its recruitment efforts as Bush’s debacle in Iraq drags on. In response, there has been a small explosion of counter-military recruitment campaigns in high schools and colleges across the country. TY MOORE of Socialist Alternative (CWI – US) reports.

IN MANY AREAS, these youthful and combative campaigns are emerging as the cutting edge of the anti-war movement, and could grow dramatically over the coming year. The potential strength and mass appeal of the counter-recruitment movement flows from the growing public opposition to the war. This mood is particularly strong among working-class youth, who are unwilling to fight and die for a war they increasingly see as futile and wrong. Already, despite the still small size of the actual movement, this anti-war mood is placing serious strains on military recruitment efforts.

Traditionally a primary target of recruiters, "black volunteers have fallen 41% – from 23.5% of recruits in fiscal 2000 down steadily to 13.9%" in 2005. (North County Times, 4 March) The army, National Guard and Reserve, which make up 45% of the troops in Iraq, have not hit their recruitment targets since October. Halfway through their recruitment year, the Reserve is 10% behind its goal and the Guard is 24% behind. The active army began missing its targets in February, and by March it was 32% behind!

This is despite adding over 2,500 recruiters to the Guard, Reserve and army this year alone. The army also increased its promise of college money from $50,000 to $70,000 (though few soldiers ever end up receiving this), while the Guard and Reserve doubled their signing bonus, now offering $15,000 for six-year commitments.

These offers, alongside financial incentives for agreeing to high-risk positions and early deployment, will amount to over $1 billion spent this year to entice new recruits into the army. This cynical resort to bribery of working-class youth – this poverty draft – underscores how shallow the support for the war actually is. Where are the tens of millions of right-wing patriots that Bush claims his mandate from if the army can’t even meet its target of recruiting 80,000 ‘volunteers’ by September?

Against this background the potential exists for a powerful national movement of young people, organised in their schools and communities, explaining the real interests being served by the war, and taking bold action to kick recruiters out of their schools. However, achieving this will mean activists adopting the most effective methods of struggle, and demands that can appeal to wide layers of working-class youth, bringing them into organised activity.

Will there be a draft?

THE DEEP CRISIS facing US imperialism in Iraq and the growing problem of serious military overstretch have fuelled widespread speculation that Bush will be forced to reintroduce a draft in order to crush the Iraqi insurgency. Socialist Alternative completely opposes a draft, which would forcibly send millions of working-class youth to be used as cannon fodder in a war for oil and empire.

However, Bush will not lightly decide on such a course. The ruling establishment has learned at least some lessons from its experience in Vietnam. Most military brass and the leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties recognise that, at this stage, reinstating the draft is politically impossible.

Given the fresh memory of Vietnam and the broad anti-war mood today, any attempt to force young people onto the battlefields of Iraq would be met with explosive opposition, including uprisings and riots in many inner cities. Conscription would also introduce massive demoralisation into the army that could rapidly recreate the kind of military meltdown last seen in Vietnam.

But we should not lose sight of the fact that there already is a draft. The government carries out a racist poverty draft aimed at people of colour and poor youth. On top of this, the Pentagon has instituted a ‘backdoor draft’ through the mandatory call-up of hundreds of thousands of national guards and reservists, and through their ‘stop loss’ policies.

We urgently need to build a movement to counter this draft by campaigning for money for jobs and education, not war, and calling for the troops to be brought home now. Building a powerful anti-war movement today is the best way to prevent the draft from being reinstated in the future.

Many of the anti-war groups, basing themselves on the idea that a draft is imminent, concentrate on urging youth to build conscientious objector files. Unfortunately, this strategy leads youth down the path of individual moral opposition, rather than public opposition through education and mass action that are most effective in stopping the war or preventing attempts to impose a draft.

Of course, any soldier or youth seeking conscientious objector status deserves full support for their personal stand against the war. Most young people do oppose the Iraq war. They do oppose cuts in education, economic inequality, racism and other by-products of Bush’s big-business agenda. The key question young anti-war activists must grapple with is how broad sections of working-class youth can be mobilised into a powerful movement capable of challenging the policies of the US ruling class.

Mass action is key

FOR THIS REASON, the counter-recruitment movement should combine anti-war agitation and campaigns against the poverty draft with class demands, such as funding for education and well-paid jobs, and access to college. Highlighting the military’s racist recruiting practices and the social problems faced by youth of colour is particularly important.

In the early stages of building campaigns in schools the main tasks are to establish the right to table (set up stalls) and to public activities at the school, educate students about their right to withdraw from the Delayed Enlistment Program, and campaign to force the school to stop giving students’ contact information to the military.

We should advocate tactics and methods of struggle that involve the broadest possible number of youth, and that educate young people about the power of collective action. Student walk-outs, mass demonstrations and direct action, systematic anti-war agitation, big teach-ins, and the need for an ongoing, organised presence in every school, are the central ideas we must put forward.

The growing presence of military recruiters in our schools provides an ongoing and clear target for anti-war activism. We should not wait for the tame lobbying efforts at the federal or local level to stop recruiters from spreading their misinformation and bribing youth into the war machine.

Every time recruiters dare to step foot in our schools, we should organise counter-recruitment tables and protests demanding that they leave. The aim is to create an overwhelming unwelcome, to prevent recruiters from conducting business as usual, and to convince them that their continued presence in our schools will achieve nothing.

As the movement develops, national days of action and student strikes need to be organised, calling for an end to the occupation, full funding for education, and an end to military recruitment in our schools. Such a mass movement of young people could help spark broader movements of the US working class which, in the final analysis, is the key to defeating US imperialism.


Victory for Students Against the Draft & War

ON 5 MAY, a teach-in organised by Students Against the Draft and War (SADW) at Foss High School, Tacoma, WA, was banned by the principal. This followed an intervention by instructors from JROTC (High School military organisation), who regularly recruit Foss students into the armed forces. Clara Lightner and Jessica Pruitt, SADW campaigners at the school, met with principal Sharon Schauss and were told they could not hold the meeting – due to take place after school hours – on the spurious grounds that they had not filled in the requisite paperwork and did not have $1 million insurance cover. They were then thrown out of Schauss’s office.

SADW immediately called a press conference, distributing fliers to advertise it. Local press attended. The principal’s use of the intercom to order everyone to leave the building was ignored and the event proceeded. A hundred students signed on to the SADW email list.

On 6 May the principal agreed to some important SADW demands. These included being given two week’s notice of military recruiters’ visits to the school, with the right to set up tables next to the recruiters, and the right to weekly SADW meetings in the school.

Constructive discussions have been had with JROTC students, explaining the SADW campaign for more money for jobs and education so young people can chose an alternative to the military and being signed up to die for a war for oil and empire.

The campaign to defend free speech at Foss High School included thousands of phone calls from all over the US and around the world. The US steelworkers’ national union office spoke to Clara to guarantee 100 calls to the principal and offered more support if it was needed.

Ty Moore spoke at the rescheduled SADW meeting. He also addressed two classes after being invited by their teachers – once again, in the face of attempts by the principal to stop them going ahead.

Subsequently, at Franklin High School, Seattle, Ty spoke at a meeting of 90 predominantly African-American students and, with Clara, addressed 85 at the University of Washington, Seattle.

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