[News] America’s Child Soldiers - JROTC and the Militarizing of America

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Dec 17 14:45:42 EST 2013

    *America’s Child Soldiers *
    *JROTC and the Militarizing of America*


    By Ann Jones <http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/annjones>

    Congress surely meant to do the right thing when, in the fall of
    2008, it passed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act
    <http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/135981.pdf> (CSPA). The
    law was designed to protect kids worldwide from being forced to
    fight the wars of Big Men. From then on, any country that coerced
    children into becoming soldiers was supposed to lose all U.S.
    military aid.

    It turned out, however, that Congress -- in its rare moment of
    concern for the next generation -- had it all wrong. In its greater
    wisdom, the White House
    found countries like Chad and Yemen so vital to the national
    interest of the United States that it preferred to overlook what
    happened to the children in their midst.

    As required by CSPA, this year the State Department once again
    10 countries that use child soldiers: Burma (Myanmar), the Central
    African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
    Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  Seven of
    them were scheduled to receive millions of dollars in U.S. military
    aid as well as what’s called <http://www.state.gov/t/pm/65531.htm>
    “U.S. Foreign Military Financing.”  That’s a shell game aimed at
    supporting the Pentagon and American weapons makers by handing
    millions of taxpayer dollars over to such dodgy “allies,” who must
    then turn around and buy “services” from the Pentagon or “materiel”
    from the usual merchants of death. You know the crowd: Lockheed
    Martin, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman, and so on.

    Here was a chance for Washington to teach a set of countries to
    cherish their young people, not lead them to the slaughter. But in
    October, as it has done every year since CSPA became law, the White
    House again granted
    whole or partial “waivers” to five countries on the State
    Department’s “do not aid” list: Chad, South Sudan, Yemen, the
    Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia.

    Too bad for the young -- and the future -- of those countries.  But
    look at it this way: Why should Washington help the children of
    Sudan or Yemen escape war when it spares no expense right here at
    home to press our own impressionable, idealistic, ambitious American
    kids into military “service”?

    It should be no secret that the United States has the biggest, most
    efficiently organized, most effective system for recruiting child
    soldiers in the world.  With uncharacteristic modesty, however, the
    Pentagon doesn’t call it that.  Its term is “youth development

    Pushed by multiple high-powered, highly paid public relations and
    advertising firms under contract to the Department of Defense, the
    program is a many splendored thing. Its major public face is the
    Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps or JROTC.

    What makes this child-soldier recruiting program so striking is that
    the Pentagon carries it out in plain sight in hundreds and hundreds
    of private, military, and public high schools across the U.S.

    Unlike the notorious West African warlords Foday Sankoh
    and Charles Taylor
    (both brought before international tribunals on charges of war
    crimes), the Pentagon doesn’t actually kidnap children and drag them
    bodily into battle.  It seeks instead to make its young “cadets”
    what John Stuart Mill once termed “willing slaves,” so taken in by
    the master’s script that they accept their parts with a gusto that
    passes for personal choice. To that end, JROTC works on their
    not-yet-fully-developed minds, instilling what the program’s
    textbooks call “patriotism” and “leadership,” as well as a reflexive
    attention to authoritarian commands.

    The scheme is much more sophisticated -- so much more "civilized" --
    than any ever devised in Liberia or Sierra Leone, and it works.  The
    result is the same, however: kids get swept into soldiering, a job
    they will not be free to leave, and in the course of which they may
    be forced to commit spirit-breaking atrocities. When they start to
    complain or crack under pressure, in the U.S. as in West Africa, out
    come the drugs.

    The JROTC program, still spreading in high schools across the
    country, costs
    U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.  It has
    cost some unknown number of taxpayers their children.

    *The Acne and Braces Brigades*

    I first stumbled upon JROTC kids a few years ago at a Veterans Day
    parade in Boston. Before it got underway, I wandered among the
    uniformed groups taking their places along the Boston Common. There
    were some old geezers sporting the banners of their American Legion
    posts, a few high school bands, and some sharp young men in smart
    dress uniforms: greater Boston’s military recruiters.

    Then there were the kids.  The acne and braces brigades, 14- and
    15-year-olds in military uniforms carrying rifles against their
    shoulders.  Some of the girl groups sported snazzy white gloves.

    Far too many such groups, with far too many underage children,
    stretched the length of Boston Common.  They represented all
    branches of the military and many different local communities,
    though almost all of them were brown or black in hue: African
    Americans, Hispanics, the children of immigrants from Vietnam and
    other points South. Just last month in New York City, I watched
    similarly color-coded JROTC squads march up Fifth Avenue on
    Veterans’ Day.  One thing JROTC is not is a rainbow coalition.

    In Boston, I asked a 14-year-old boy why he had joined JROTC.  He
    wore a junior Army uniform and toted a rifle nearly as big as
    himself. He said, “My dad, he left us, and my mom, she works two
    jobs, and when she gets home, well, she’s not big on structure. But
    they told us at school you gotta have a lot of structure if you want
    to get somewhere.  So I guess you could say I joined up for that.”

    A group of girls, all Army JROTC members, told me they took classes
    with the boys but had their own all-girl (all-black) drill team that
    competed against others as far away as New Jersey. They showed me
    their medals and invited me to their high school to see their
    trophies.  They, too, were 14 or 15. They jumped up and down like
    the enthusiastic young teens they were as we talked. One said, “I
    never got no prizes before.”

    Their excitement took me back. When I was their age, growing up in
    the Midwest, I rose before daybreak to march around a football field
    and practice close formation maneuvers in the dark before the school
    day began.  Nothing would have kept me from that “structure,” that
    “drill,” that “team,” but I was in a marching band and the weapon I
    carried was a clarinet.  JROTC has entrapped that eternal youthful
    yearning to be part of something bigger and more important than
    one’s own pitiful, neglected, acne-spattered self. JROTC captures
    youthful idealism and ambition, twists it, trains it, arms it, and
    sets it on the path to war.

    *A Little History*

    The U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps was conceived
    as part of the National Defense Act of 1916 in the midst of World
    War I. In the aftermath of that war, however, only six high schools
    took up the military's offer of equipment and instructors. A senior
    version <http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/ROTC.aspx> of ROTC, was
    made compulsory on many state college and university campuses,
    despite the then-controversial question of whether the government
    could compel students to take military training.

    By 1961, ROTC had become an optional program, popular at some
    schools, but unwelcome on others.  It soon disappeared altogether
    <http://www.legion.org/magazine/213230/return-rotc> from the
    campuses of many elite colleges and progressive state universities,
    pushed out by protest against the war in Vietnam and pulled out by
    the Pentagon, which insisted on maintaining discriminatory policies
    (especially regarding sexual preference and gender) outlawed in
    university codes of conduct. When it gave up “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
    <http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2010/0610_dadt/>” in 2011 and
    offered a menu of substantial research grants for such institutions,
    elite universities like Harvard and Yale welcomed the military back
    with unbecoming deference.

    During ROTC’s exile from such institutions, however, it put down
    roots on college campuses in states that made no fuss about
    discrimination, while the Pentagon expanded its recruitment program
    in high schools. Almost half a century after Army JROTC was
    established, the Reserve Officers Training Corps Vitalization Act of
    1964 opened <http://www.usarmyjrotc.com/jrotc-history> such junior
    training to all branches of the military. What’s more, the number of
    JROTC units nationwide, previously capped
    <http://www.legion.org/magazine/213230/return-rotc> at 1,200,
    climbed rapidly until 2001, when the very idea of imposing limits on
    the program disappeared.

    The reason was clear enough. In 1973, the Nixon administration
    discarded the draft in favor of a standing professional
    “all-volunteer” army.  But where were those professionals to be
    found?  And how exactly were they to be persuaded to “volunteer”?
    Since World War II, ROTC programs at institutions of higher
    education had provided about 60% of commissioned officers. But an
    army needs foot soldiers.

    Officially, the Pentagon claims that JROTC is not a recruiting
    program. Privately, it never considered it to be anything else. Army
    JROTC now describes itself
    <http://www.usarmyjrotc.com/jrotc-history> as having “evolved from a
    source of enlisted recruits and officer candidates to a citizenship
    program devoted to the moral, physical, and educational uplift of
    American youth.” Yet former Defense Secretary William Cohen,
    testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in 2000, named
    “one of the best recruiting devices that we could have.”

    With that unacknowledged mission in hand, the Pentagon pushed for a
    goal first advanced in 1991 by Colin Powell, then chairman of the
    Joint Chiefs of Staff: the establishment of 3,500 JROTC units to
    “uplift” students in high schools nationwide.  The plan was to
    into "educationally and economically deprived areas.”  The shoddy
    schools of the inner cities, the rust belt, the deep South, and
    Texas became rich hunting grounds.  By the start of 2013, the Army
    alone was recycling 4,000 retired officers to run its programs in
    1,731 high schools. All together, Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine
    JROTC units now flourish in 3,402 high schools nationwide -- 65% of
    them in the South -- with a total enrollment of 557,129 kids.

    *Getting With the Program*

    Here’s how the program works. The Department of Defense spends
    several hundred million dollars -- $365 million in 2013 -- to
    provide uniforms, Pentagon-approved textbooks, and equipment to
    JROTC, as well as part of the instructors’ salaries.  Those
    instructors, assigned by the military (not the schools), are retired
    officers. They continue to collect federal retirement pay, even
    though the schools are required to cover their salaries at levels
    they would receive on active duty.  The military then reimburses the
    school for about half of that hefty pay, but the school is still out
    a bundle.

    Ten years ago, the American Friends Service Committee found
    <http://www.peaceworkmagazine.org/pwork/0410/041021.htm> that the
    true cost of JROTC programs to local school districts was “often
    much higher -- in some cases more than double -- the cost claimed by
    the Department of Defense.”  In 2004, local school districts were
    shelling out “more than $222 million in personnel costs alone.”

    Several principals who spoke to me about the program praised the
    Pentagon for subsidizing the school budget, but in this matter they
    evidently don’t grasp their own school finances. The fact is that
    public schools offering JROTC programs actually subsidize the
    Pentagon’s recruitment drive. In fact, a JROTC class costs schools
    (and taxpayers) significantly more than would a regular physical
    education or American history course -- for both of which it is
    often considered a suitable substitute.

    Local schools have no control over the Pentagon’s prescribed JROTC
    curricula, which are inherently biased toward militarism. Many
    school systems simply adopt JROTC programs without so much as a peek
    at what the students will be taught. The American Friends Service
    Committee, Veterans for Peace, and other civic groups have compiled
    evidence that these classes are not only more costly than regular
    school courses, but also inferior in quality.

    What else but inferior quality might be expected from self-serving
    textbooks written by competing branches of the military and used by
    retired military men with no teaching qualifications or experience? 
    For one thing, neither the texts nor the instructors teach the sort
    of critical thinking central to the best school curricula today.
    Instead, they inculcate obedience to authority, inspire fear of
    “enemies,” and advance the primacy of military might in American
    foreign policy.

    Civic groups have raised a number of other objections
    to JROTC, ranging from discriminatory practices -- against gays,
    immigrants, and Muslims, for example -- to dangerous ones, such as
    bringing guns into schools (of all places).  Some units even set up
    shooting ranges where automatic rifles and live ammunition are used.
      JROTC embellishes the dangerous mystique of such weapons, making
    them objects to covet, embrace, and jump at the chance to use.

    In its own defense, the program publicizes a selling point widely
    accepted across the United States: that it provides "structure,"
    keeps kids from dropping out of school, and turns boys (and now
    girls) of "troubled" background into "men" who, without JROTC to
    save them (and the rest of us /from /them), would become junkies or
    criminals or worse. Colin Powell, the first ROTC grad ever to rise
    to the military’s top job, peddled just this line in his memoir /My
    American Journey/. "Inner-city kids," he wrote, "many from broken
    homes, [find] stability and role models in Junior ROTC."

    No evidence exists to prove these claims, however, apart from
    student testimonials like that offered by the 14-year-old who told
    me he joined up for “structure.”  That kids (and their parents) fall
    for this sales pitch is a measure of their own limited options. The
    great majority of students find better, more life-affirming
    “structure” in school itself through academic courses, sports,
    choirs, bands, science or language clubs, internships -- you name it
    -- in schools where such opportunities exist.  Yet it is precisely
    in schools with such programs that administrators, teachers,
    parents, and kids working together are most likely to succeed in
    keeping JROTC out.  It is left to the “economically and
    educationally deprived” school systems targeted by the Pentagon to
    cut such “frills” and blow their budgets on a colonel or two who can
    offer students in need of “stability and role models” a promising,
    though perhaps very short, future as soldiers.

    *School Days*

    In one such Boston inner city school, predominantly black, I sat in
    on JROTC classes where kids watched endless films of soldiers on
    parade, then had a go at it themselves in the school gym, rifles in
    hand.  (I have to admit that they could march far better than squads
    of the Afghan National Army, which I’ve also observed
    but is that something to be proud of?) Since those classes often
    seemed to consist of hanging out, students had lots of time to chat
    with the Army recruiter whose desk was conveniently located in the
    JROTC classroom.

    They chatted with me, too.  A 16-year-old African American girl, who
    was first in her class and had already signed up for the Army, told
    me she would make the military her career.  Her instructor -- a
    white colonel she regarded as the father she never had at home --
    had led the class to believe that “our war” would go on for a very
    long time, or as he put it, “until we’ve killed every last Muslim on
    Earth.” She wanted to help save America by devoting her life to that
    “big job ahead.”

    Stunned, I blurted out, “But what about Malcolm X?”  He grew up in
    Boston and a boulevard not far from the school was named in his
    honor. “Wasn’t he a Muslim?” I asked.

    “Oh no, ma’am,” she said.  “Malcolm X was an American.”

    A senior boy, who had also signed up with the recruiter, wanted to
    escape the violence of city streets.  He joined up shortly after one
    of his best friends, caught in the crossfire of somebody else’s
    fight, was killed in a convenience store just down the block from
    the school.  He told me, “I’ve got no future here.  I might as well
    be in Afghanistan.”  He thought his chances of survival would be
    better there, but he worried about the fact that he had to finish
    high school before reporting for “duty.”  He said, “I just hope I
    can make it to the war.”

    What kind of school system gives boys and girls such “choices”? 
    What kind of country?

    What goes on in schools in your town?  Isn’t it time you found out?

    /TomDispatch regular/ <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175769/>/ Ann
    Jones is the author of a new book, /They Were Soldiers: How the
    Wounded Return from America’s Wars -- the Untold Story
    <http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608463710/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20>/, a
    Dispatch Books project in cooperation with Haymarket Books. (Jeremy
    Scahill just //chose it/
    as his favorite book of 2013.)  Jones, who has reported from
    Afghanistan since 2002, is also the author of two books about the
    impact of war on civilians: /Kabul in Winter/ and /War Is Not Over
    When It’s Over/. Her website is annjonesonline.com

    Copyright 2013 Ann Jones

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
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