[Marxism] Class status of the military?
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, 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
MILITARY RECRUITERS TARGET SCHOOLS STRATEGICALLY
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
"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
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
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
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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