Fahrenheit 9/11 brought attention to the tactics of military recruiters in Flint, Michigan: targeting poor neighborhoods, promising lucrative careers even in music, and just plain being deceitful to get names and addresses. And the Supreme Court will rule in the next year on the consitutionality of the Solomon Amendment, which would punish law schools for refusing access to military recruiters on the grounds that they discriminate based on sexual orientation.
The bottom line is that an all-volunteer army will have to be recruited. These days, that isn't going so well. April's numbers fell short by 42%, and May's numbers have been postponed--not a confidence-building development. And so it clearly takes more than a hard-headed, heavy-handed bullrush by recruiters with all the tact of door-to-door knife salesmen to counteract the damage done by the Iraq War. Proud families with service histories, plus community and institutional encouragement for young people to find fulfillment and opportunity in the military have been the hallmark of our volunteer force.
But that is much less the case these days. Today's Times reports on the increasing number of parent groups who are actively monitoring, refuting, and even successfully banning military recruiters from their children's high schools, once a fertile ground for new enlistees.
Amy Hagopian, co-chairwoman of the Parent-Teacher-Student Association at Garfield High School in Seattle....recently took a few hours off work to stand beside recruiters at Garfield High and display pictures of injured American soldiers from Iraq.Of course, the Pentagon has only themselves to blame for this situation. Why wouldn't growing numbers of parents mistrust the promise to send their children into harm's way only as a last resort, and only in defense of America?
"We want to show the military that they are not welcome by the P.T.S.A. in this building," she said. "We hope other P.T.S.A.'s will follow."
Two years into the war in Iraq, as the Army and Marines struggle to refill their ranks, parents have become boulders of opposition that recruiters cannot move.
Mothers and fathers around the country said they were terrified that their children would have to be killed - or kill - in a war that many see as unnecessary and without end.
Around the dinner table, many parents said, they are discouraging their children from serving.
But all of this to lead to the real question on my mind. Why aren't we hearing a single defender of this war actively encourage people, the young and the not-so-young, to sign up? I understand why the Pentagon itself isn't going on TV to plead for troops. Obviously that desperation would send all the wrong signals. But supposedly 40-50% of the country supports the war effort on some level. And conservatives berate as un-American anyone who suggests that the war was wrong-headed or a bad idea.
I've never enjoyed the common liberal argument that somehow defenders of the war should be criticized for not sending their own children to fight to show their true belief in the cause. As if that's how we want anyone to do it: sending their children. I do think it's more than fair to demand that war apologists of fighting age should sign up if they are going to claim such an emergency as reason to threaten the well-being of others. But, failing that (and most of them do) are any of them even going to put in a good word for service? Why aren't Shawn Hannity, James Dobson, Jonah Goldberg, Rush Limbaugh, or any of the other war-drum-beaters out front telling young people that they owe it to their country to sign up? That their country needs them? Maybe they are and I'm missing it.
I suspect it's because they know. They know that this is not a debt owed. This cause does not demand such a sacrifice. They don't want to be the one that inspires a young man or woman to meet their doom against an anti-American, anti-democratic fanatic insurgency that will likely never be quelled by military means.
Unless and until more of the country is fully behind this military objective and continued deployment--a level of support that has flagged due to the Bush Administration's own mistakes and deceptions--all the doughnuts, feigned enthusiasm, and flashy video-game-styled advertisements will never keep up with the good word of a trusted voice. These days, the trusted voices are understandably in near unison: No way. Not for this.
UPDATE: At the Huffington Post blog, Jesse Kornbluth points to a provision in the Leave No Child Behind lawl that allows parents to exempt their children from having their files handed over to the military---yes, turning student info over to the military was a part of the LNCB law. Get more info on this exemption at www.leavemychildalone.org.