Military Can Blame Itself for Recruiting Woes

By Chris Lombardi

IN THE PAST FEW MONTHS, the Pentagon public relations machine has sounded the alarm about its trouble recruiting and retaining personnel. All four services missed their recruiting quotas last year, despite lavish budgets, a huge sales force and ready access to their target market in schools. In addition, between 3 5 and 40 percent of personnel in all four branches did not complete their first term of enlistment, according to Army Times.

They call it a "crisis," and some conservative members of Congress, such as Sen. Strom Thurmond, R S.C., and Rep. Steve Buyer, R Ind., have responded by calling for a resumption of universal conscription.

The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors takes any call for conscription seriously. Until the end of conscription in 1975, we helped hundreds of thousands of young men sort out their options in the face of a draft. We have since confronted the "poverty draft," the $2 billion recruiting machine that targets highachieving young people in low income communities and communities of color.

Our purpose is to help young people hear what recruiters don't tell them. We also staff the G.I. Rights Hotline (1 800FYI 95GI) for those who fall for the recruiter's pitch and live to regret it.

You can hardly blame the young people targeted by the poverty draft for saying no" now in record numbers.

Instead of a "crisis," one might instead call recruiting troubles a triumph of the free market: Offered a four year contract for indentured service, including the loss of many civil rights and a license to abuse granted to your employer, more and more young people are choosing civilian education and employment.

But what about "serving your country?" the draft proponents ask. What about making a difference in the world? ,

The young people who call the G.I. Rights Hotline wanted to make a difference in the world as much as they wanted to get an education. Most were young and vulnerable when a military recruiter suddenly became their best friend, telling them what they wanted to hear and never mentioning the loss of civil rights, the regimentation and exhaustion of training, the slowness and difficulty of obtaining education benefits.

Certainly, the recruiters never mention the dehumanization process that teaches troops to kill on command, the shouts of "Blood makes the grass grow!" They never mention the environment that protects the abusers of women, especially when the abuser is of higher rank. The Hotline is flooded with calls from those who learned the truth about military life the hard way and want out now.

One might view young people's refusal to enlist as an instinctive response illuminating a deeper awareness: that this method of training killers, like the post Cold War military budget itself, is an anachronism one that has little if anything to do with making the world a better place.

Since the Cold War, the military has insinuated itself where it doesn't belong: humanitarian relief, drug interdiction, 11 peacekeeping" tasks better left to professionals who imderstand the complexities of the problems they're confronting.

Now the Army and Marines are busy plotting for "the wars of the future," with $43 million spent by the Marines alone on urban warfare exercises" like the ones staged in Oakland last March. Meanwhile, troops are being sent to Eastern Europe and the Mideast either as heavily armed cops, as is the case in Kosovo, or as enforcers in turf battles, as is the case in Iraq.

Is it any wonder that today's young people are opting out of this equation?

Draft proponents call conscription an emergency response" and claim they're trying to call attention to the "problem." Perhaps the problem is that the military is still recruiting at Cold War levels, training for yesterday's failed wars and abusing the personnel it does manage to enlist.

Perhaps our young people understand better than our politicians that the new millennium demands new ways of intervening abroad and better opportunities foi national and international service.

Chris Lombardi is communications coordinator at the Central Committee for Consci. entious Objectors in Oakland.

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