In my years of working in low income, title one schools, I have seen military recruiters on campus using some questionable methods to recruit kids. They once used a military customized Dodge Charger with all types of technology and artillery attached. I have seen them use video games and even a huge Suburban with a trunk full of speakers blasting throughout the campus. I have even had recruiters in my class. The military presence in high school is ubiquitous. Recruiters and ROTC students walk around campus in military regalia all day. It doesn’t seem to fit well in an academic environment. Of course students should know that the military is an option after school, but joining the military is an adult decision. The point of the military is to kill and this carries risks that students are not equipped to assess, especially when one factors in advertising and all the bells and whistles that come with recruitment.
Why are they here?
An obvious question, at least to me is, “Why are they here?” Of course one could argue that the students have a right to know all their options available to them after high school. There are opportunities to earn money for college, learn a trade, travel the world, or serve the country. What strikes me is how much the military is touted as a job training program or some type of travel agency to students and how little the actual purpose of the military is mentioned. The point of the military is to kill enemies of the US government. Anything else they do is peripheral. Killing is a brutal and gruesome business and obviously involves risks of being killed, maimed or psychologically disturbed. I have never seen this laid out plain by a recruiter. In my opinion this is dishonest, even worse, predatory towards young people who are not sophisticated enough to dig below the surface.
As recruiters they have been trained how to recruit. They are taught how to relate to kids and how to use what they like to get their attention and how to sell them a product. It seems as though they are also directed or trained to steer the conversation away from actual combat, the possibility of being shipped to a warzone, politics, or any unpleasant topic that may challenge the narrative they are trained to put forth. Our students on the other hand are not prepared to deal with these adults on an equal footing.
Recruiters in School
Last week, I had two representatives of the United States Army come to my class. Of course my kids were prepped and ready to ask the tough questions. We dealt with questions of imperialism, morality, PTSD, civilian casualties, sexual assault etc. in the military for a couple days before the guest speakers arrived. I couldn’t have someone who is in essence hustling a product, discussing such matters with my students without preparing them beforehand. The recruiter seemed unprepared and downright shocked at the questions he had to field from some of my students about high rates of suicide and homelessness among veterans, how cases of sexual assault are dealt with in the military, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and more. The recruiter masterfully dodged, dismissed or brushed off their concerns. One student asked if the recruiter had ever killed anyone and how he deals with it psychologically, to which he curtly replied in the positive and that he has no qualms with it. The man said he didn’t want to talk politics but went on and on about how the US can kick North Korea’s ass. He also made light of PTSD comparing it to feeling uneasy about riding in a car for the first time after a car accident.
He then went on and on fetishizing the weapons and ammunition he is qualified to work with, harping on how his favorite weapon shoots ammunition so big, with so much force that it can “take off your arm just whizzing by”. He detailed kicking in doors in Afghanistan like it was a video game. All this to appeal to the most base conditioning of our male students but nothing dealing with the reality of warfare.
The recruiter continued, offering $7,500 to any student who “joins the army today”. This started a round of side discussion and commotion among the kids. This type of recruiting is immoral. These students come from low income background and do not understand that $7,500 really ain’t shit. Any lump sum of money can fire them up.
Using the ASVAB to Cloud Intentions
What’s foul is how they couch all this in publicizing the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), a test that gages what what military career one is fit for. Instead of simply coming in and announcing the test, saying it over the loudspeaker or giving me the information to pass out, an entire class period is dedicated to announcing this test. Once a student takes the test, the military will have access to their contact information and school records, unless the student opts out of sharing such information before the test.
This is obviously a thinly veiled ploy to get sensitive information from students for the purpose of recruitment. Parents should have to give written permission for military access to their personal information just like they do in order for students to play sports or attend a field trip. It seems quite irresponsible to ask children to opt out of giving their sensitive information to third parties that are seeking to recruit them without notifying their parents.
Military’s Impact on Mental Health
All of this was all profoundly aggravating to me. I had just gotten over the news of a man that I had known for over a year who grabbed national headlines for walking into his ex wife’s class- where she taught as a special education teacher- and shooting her and a student dead, injuring another student before turning his gun on himself. This all took place in front of a classroom full of small students.
This was indeed a horrible and shameful act for which there is no excuse, however, what the news did not discuss was his time in the military and how it affected him mentally. Nor did the media fit this tragedy in the larger context of the difficulty faced by returning veterans upon coming home and the scores of other vets that have flipped out and killed people due to mental instability. Stories like this are swept under the rug or explained away as an aberration when the numbers say other wise; in fact military service has been identified by the American Public Health Association as common indicator of poor mental health.
I have never seen university, trade school or community college representatives with as much unfettered access to students as the military. They even have a military training program, JROTC, in which students basically take a class that indoctrinates them into the military with ranks, drills and all. School is an academic environment, in which students should be encouraged to challenge the prevailing wisdom of the day. The military, on the other hand, is a hierarchical dictatorship in a sense. There is no democracy, personal opinion or questioning of authority involved. You have to do as you are told. JROTC programs for high school students promote blind patriotism and military values. One student recently asked me, “Why is it that in your class, America always seems to be aggressive and in ROTC, America is always the ‘good guy’ in wars?” Obviously, this child is getting a military interpretation of American history in ROTC class. This is crazy, the goals of the two institutions are incompatible and the military has no place in school, at least not on equal footing as colleges and universities.
The decision to join the military for 4 years is a heavy commitment, much more so than college, given the risks involved, especially with the dubious and aggressive nature of American wars. No high school junior should be offered money to commit to the military or seduced with video games and customized cars. If they should be there at all, recruiters and ROTC instructors should be honest and up-front with children about the risks that military life entails even once one has completed their term. The minimization of the possibility of combat, PTSD, death or injury is criminal when recruiting for an organization whose sole purpose is to kill. I thought preparing my students with critical information to counter the attractive spiel of the recruiters would be sufficient, now I know better. Next time I am asked to host recruiters to publicize the ASVAB, I will decline.