[Marxism] Class status of the military?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue May 31 09:12:31 MDT 2005

>One of the disputes within in the anti-war movement is how to relate
>to the military.  There are some that advocate the line "Support The
>Troops" which is an
>idea some of us reject.  Some of us consider people in the military as
>part of the reactionary anti-working class.  Are they to be considered
>workers in unifrom(an idea I reject) or just part of a reactionary
>Carl Webb
>  http://carlwebb.net

Carl, what does it mean to say that soldiers are part of a "reactionary 
class". In Marxism, the notion of class is tied to a relationship to the 
means of production. When I was in the SWP in the 1970s, we had some 
discussions about how to regard soldiers in class terms. An analogy was 
made with students, who for a temporary period when they are in college 
lack any clear relationship to the means of production. The same analysis 
was applied to soldiers.

With respect to the characterization of GI's as workers in uniform, I don't 
see how we can disagree with this. If you've seen Michael Moore's 
"Fahrenheit 911," you'll recall the forays by recruitment officers into the 
poorer areas of town. They did not hand out brochures at country clubs or 
expensive private colleges.

A couple of years ago my wife was tutoring a female undergraduate who grew 
up in the Bronx but whose parents came from Ghana. After she graduated 
college, the only job she could find was as an attendant in a nursing home. 
She then gave serious consideration to joining the army out of desperation. 
Fortunately, she decided to go back to school and study nursing. This woman 
thought that the war in Iraq was unjust and hated Bush, but economic 
circumstances forced her to consider joining the military. My strong 
suspicions is that she is fairly typical, at least of Blacks and Latinos. 
When a working-class white joins the army, there might be more of a gung-ho 
element involved, but again economics plays a big role.


The Boston Globe, November 29, 2004
By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff

POMFRET, Md. Military recruiting saturates life at McDonough High, a 
working-class public school where recruiters chaperon dances, students in a 
junior ROTC class learn drills from a retired sergeant major in uniform, 
and every prospect gets called at least six times by the Army alone.

Recruiters distribute key chains, mugs, and military brochures at 
McDonough's cafeteria. They are trained to target students at schools like 
McDonough across the country, using techniques such as identifying a 
popular student whom they call a "center of influence" and conspicuously 
talking to that student in front of others.

Meanwhile, at McLean High, a more affluent public school 37 miles away in 
Virginia, there is no military chaperoning and no ROTC class. Recruiters 
adhere to a strict quota of visits, lining up behind dozens of colleges. In 
the guidance office, military brochures are dwarfed by college pennants. 
Posters promote life amid ivy-covered walls, not in the cockpits of fighter 

Students from McDonough are as much as six times more likely than those 
from McLean to join the military, a disparity that is replicated elsewhere. 
A survey of the military's recruitment system found that the Defense 
Department zeroes in on schools where students are perceived to be more 
likely to join up, while making far less effort at schools where students 
are steered toward college.

Now, as pressure mounts on recruiters to find 180,000 volunteers amid 
casualty counts from Iraq and Afghanistan that have surpassed 1,300 dead 
and 10,000 wounded, the fairness of the system by which the nation 
persuades young people to take on the burden of national defense is coming 
under increasing scrutiny.

The Globe inquiry found that recruiters target certain schools and students 
for heavy recruitment, and then won't give up easily: Officers call the 
chosen students repeatedly, tracking their responses in a computer program 
the Army calls "the Blueprint." Eligible students are hit with a blitz of 
mailings and home visits. Recruiters go hunting wherever teens from a 
targeted area hang out, following them to sporting events, shopping malls, 
and convenience stores.

Officers are trained to analyze students and make a pitch according to what 
will strike a motivational chord job training, college scholarships, 
adventure, signing bonuses, or service to country. A high-school recruiting 
manual describes the Army as "a product which can be sold."

The manual offers tips for recruiters to make themselves "indispensable" to 
schools; suggests tactics such as reading yearbooks to "mysteriously" know 
something about a prospect to spark the student's curiosity; notes that "it 
is only natural for people to resist" and suggests ways to turn aside 
objections; and lists techniques for closing the deal, such as the 
"challenge close":

"This closing method works best with younger men," the manual reads. "You 
must be careful how you use this one. You must be on friendly terms with 
your prospect, or this may backfire. It works like this: When you find 
difficulty in closing, particularly when your prospect's interest seems to 
be waning, challenge his ego by suggesting that basic training may be too 
difficult for him and he might not be able to pass it. Then, if he accepts 
your challenge, you will be a giant step closer to getting him to 
enlist."   Varying targets

The Defense Department spends $2.6 billion each year on recruiting, 
including signing bonuses, college funds, advertising, recruiter pay, and 
administering the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. The military 
pitches the test to schools as a free career exploration program, but which 
its manual notes is also "specifically designed" to "provide the recruiter 
with concrete and personal information about the student."

Nearly all efforts are aimed at impending or recent high school graduates. 
But the marketing message is not targeted equally, acknowledged Kurt 
Gilroy, who directs recruiting policy for the Office of the Secretary of 

Although the military strives to maintain a presence everywhere "to give 
everyone an opportunity to enlist if they so choose," he said, it 
concentrates on places most likely to "maximize return on the recruiting 
dollar [because] the advertising and marketing research people tell us to 
go where the low-hanging fruit is. In other words, we fish where the fish are."

But targeting some schools more than others raises questions about 
fairness. While some students at targeted schools are eager to join, others 
may be unduly manipulated into signing up.

David Walsh, a psychologist who has written a book about the impact of 
media on the adolescent brain, says teenage brains are not yet fully 
developed. Studies have shown that teens' brain structures make them less 
independent of group opinion and less likely to consider long-term 
consequences than adults a few years older.

For the masses of teenagers who are not peer group leaders, Walsh said, an 
aggressive sales pitch can sway their decisions especially if the recruiter 
knows how to get coaches, counselors, and popular students to endorse 

Indeed, the Army trains its recruiters to do exactly that.

"Some influential students such as the student president or the captain of 
the football team may not enlist; however, they can and will provide you 
with referrals who will enlist," the Army's school recruiting handbook 
says. "More important is the fact that an informed student leader will 
respect the choice of enlistment."

Walsh says an approach like this is certain to persuade some teens at 
targeted schools to join up, while essentially identical teens at other 
schools will make other choices.

"What we end up doing is maintaining the gap between the haves and the 
have-nots, because they are the ones who are targeted to put their lives on 
the line and make sacrifices for the rest of us," Walsh said. "The kids 
with more options, we don't bother with them."   Different paths

Principals and teachers play a role in determining whether military 
recruitment succeeds. In schools where educators are skeptical of the 
military, recruiters are shut out beyond the minimum required by President 
Bush's No Child Left Behind Act: two visits a year per service, as well as 
a list with every student's name, address, and phone number.

In other schools, the people who fill those same influential roles serve as 
advocates for the military.

At McDonough, guidance counselor Wanda Welch, who notes that her son 
recently completed four years in the Air Force, talks of the virtues of 
defending the country. Sitting near military posters and brochures, she 
says she appreciates the services recruiters give to the school and tells 
students that "if they don't know what they want to do, enlisting can be a 
good choice."

At McLean, counselor Isobel Rahn, who notes that she came of age amid the 
Vietnam War protests, says the school requires recruiters to sign in like 
any other outsider because "we protect our kids."

Sitting near a poster announcing visits from 23 colleges in the coming two 
weeks, she says she tells students that the military offers benefits but 
that "the con in 2004 is that you can get killed."

Over the past year, as casualties in Iraq have filled the news, recruiting 
has become much more difficult. For the 2003-04 recruiting year, which 
ended in September, the Army's active-duty and reserves recruiting effort 
narrowly met its quota, but the Army National Guard missed its goal of 
56,000 soldiers by about 5,000 its first shortfall in a decade.

"I think Iraq has hurt recruiting," said Sergeant Kevin Bidwell, who 
commands the Army recruiting station that includes McDonough High. "People 
automatically think that as soon as they join up, they're going to go over 

Bidwell said he tells prospects that such a fear is a "misperception 
because objectively you don't know for sure. The Army is a million strong, 
and if you look at statistics over there, there's under 100,000 from all 
four branches." Actually, about 140,000 US troops are serving in Iraq.

The number of students who go from the halls of McDonough to boot camp is 
substantial: 15 of its 322 seniors last year had decided to enlist by 
graduation, according to a state website. Local recruiters say that number 
will rise as they continue to contact targeted McDonough students over the 
next two years.

Far fewer students enlist coming out of McLean. Precise statistics are not 
available, but Rahn said that each year between three and seven of her 
roughly 400 seniors join the military.   Marketing gap

Those familiar with military recruiting say lower family incomes make 
McDonough students more likely to enlist, but that marketing also plays a 
major role.

Richard I. Stark Jr., a retired Army officer who once worked on personnel 
issues for the secretary of defense, said he thinks the targeted hard sell 
draws in students who otherwise might not join, while failing to find 
potential recruits at other schools.

"It's hard to imagine that it doesn't influence the proclivities of those 
people to make a judgment for themselves about the military," Stark said. 
"Once you start [recruiting at a school heavily], it's like a snowball. As 
more people from the school join the military, they go back on leave, walk 
around in their spiffy uniforms, brag about accomplishments. That generates 
interest by more recruits."

Stark said the recruiting marketing gap is a problem only insofar as it 
deprives the military of qualified students from a full range of high 
schools and all walks of life. But the recruiting system has drawn more 
aggressive critics.

Representative Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York, says society places 
what should be a shared burden of defense only on those poor enough to be 
induced to risk their lives for a chance at college or a signing bonus. 
Those who sign up with the infantry for five years get $12,000 in cash or a 
smaller bonus, as well as up to $70,000 in college aid.

"These young people are not 'volunteers,' " Rangel said. "They're not there 
because they're patriotic. They're there because they need the money."

Sergeant Isaac Horton, McDonough's Army recruiter, sees it differently. For 
him, enlisting is a way to improve the lives of young people with few 
options. In his pitches to recruits, he uses his life as an example, 
talking of returning home to find many of his high school friends either 
dead or in jail.

"If I had to do it over again, I would do it," Horton said. "Look at the 
crime rate in D.C. I'll take my chances in the military."

To show his displeasure with military recruiting, Rangel filed a bill in 
early 2003, before the Iraq invasion, proposing to revive the national 
draft. Congress killed the measure.   A class issue

Rangel's critique also has a strong sense of racial grievance, but data 
suggest that the military is not putting its energy into high schools 
attended by poor minority students. Instead of race, the clearest indicator 
of how hard a sell a student will receive is class. Generally, recruiters 
focus on the lower middle class in places with little economic opportunity.

The Defense Department does not track the socioeconomic background of its 
recruits, although Rangel has commissioned a Government Accountability 
Office study of the matter. The military also does not collect data for how 
many recruits it gets from which high schools; that information gets no 
higher than local recruiting commands.

But in 1999, the RAND Corp. conducted a study seeking patterns among 
qualified high school seniors.

"It turned out that kids who were of upper income were more likely to go to 
college, but it also turned out that kids from lower incomes had better 
chances of getting need-based financial aid to college," said Beth Asch, a 
RAND military personnel analyst. "So when you look at who goes to the 
military, you tend to get those in the middle."

Local recruiters use a computer system that combines socioeconomic data 
from the census, high school recruiting data for all four services, ZIP 
codes with high numbers of young adults, and other information to identify 
the likeliest candidates.

The obvious school districts that get screened out are those affluent 
enough that most of their students are probably college-bound. But 
recruiters also put less energy into underclass high schools because they 
do not want prospects who might be ineligible because they drop out of 
school, have criminal records, or do not score high enough on the Armed 
Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

Every three months, each service hands recruiting station commanders a 
quota to meet. The Army pegs its signing bonuses to the specific jobs with 
the greatest openings. Highly qualified recruits are much more coveted than 
low-scoring prospects, who can do only basic tasks.

But this year, the Army is relaxing its rules to help fill its quotas. The 
number of high school dropouts allowed to enlist will rise 25 percent 
accounting for 10 percent of recruits this year, compared with 8 percent 
last year. The percentage allowed to enlist despite borderline scores on a 
service aptitude test will rise by 33 percent from 1.5 percent last year to 
2 percent this year.

For recruiters on the ground such as Bidwell, it will be a tough year. So 
focusing on schools and ZIP codes that have had the highest rates of 
enlistment is good business sense.

"They have a higher propensity to enlist, so why not concentrate your 
efforts there?" Bidwell said.



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