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Remarkably, the U.S. Army War College has published a report (PDF) that makes an overwhelming case against enlisting in the U.S. Army. The report, called “Civilian Organizational Inhibitors to U.S. Army Recruiting and the Road Ahead,” identifies counter-recruitment organizations that effectively discourage young people from joining the military.
This is the highest honor the Army could give these groups, including Quaker House, the Mennonite Central Committee, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans For Peace, and Courage to Resist. Activists often disbelieve in the effectiveness of their own work until the government admits it explicitly. Well, here is that admission. And counter-recruitment activists really do seem to appreciate it.
No doubt someone quickly sent the report along to the NSA and the FBI. The report is, in fact, a few years old, and we have seen the government infiltrating at least some of the organizations named in it during the past few years.
But who really should be reading this excellent report is potential recruits. In laying out the arguments of the counter-recruitment groups and then trying to refute them, the report’s author, Lieutenant Colonel Todd M. Jacobus, makes their case persuasively and his own weakly in the extreme. I’m not sure if this is intentional subterfuge, drug-induced self-parody, or just intellectual debility. Regardless, the government will have new appreciation for its standard disclaimer that says the views expressed are the author’s alone.
“Hundreds of organizations throughout our Country [sic] have a negative influence on our recruiting efforts, using techniques and strategies that frequently depict professional military recruiters in an ill light, disillusion influencers and dissuade potential applicants from looking into military service as a viable option.”
The typical Army reaction to any such challenge is, Jacobus says, to cut and run:
“Too often, the tactic of our recruiting force when engaged by a hostile force, is to break contact, and re-focus efforts and resources where those hostile to military recruitment are less likely to be confronted, and therefore where success is more likely.”
Jacobus calls the Army “all-volunteer” before noting the absurdity of that claim:
“The manner in which the Quaker House illustrates their support for their Quaker ideals is by endeavoring to hurt our Army’s recruiting and retention efforts by: 1. providing reference material to potential Soldiers and centers of influence that negatively portrays the military recruiter and the enlistment process; 2. counseling enlistees in the delayed entry program on how they can terminate their enlistment; 3. counseling Soldiers on active duty on how to adjudicate their situation when they are in an unexcused absence or absent without leave status; 4. counseling to Soldiers on how they can quickly adjudicate a conscientious objector status with the Army; 5. providing expertise to Soldiers on discharge procedures and regulations.”
Surely a volunteer service would not require such elaborate assistance for someone attempting to stop volunteering.
Jacobus presents the arguments of counter-recruiters at some length and never counters most of them in any way at all:
“Quaker House publishes and widely distributes a document entitled, ‘Meet Sgt. Abe, the Honest Recruiter’. This pamphlet emphasizes that the applicant needs to thoroughly read and understand the enlistment contract before signing the document. The pamphlet draws attention to the fact that the Army can at will extend an enlistment indefinitely, that ‘Recruiters make “sweet promises” that the Army is not required to deliver’. The pamphlet draws attention to the fact that serving in the Army is ‘not a normal job’, and that ‘you can be sent to war’. The final few pages give our impressionable applicant some ‘things to think about’, included in this list is that ‘much military training is NOT useful in civilian jobs'; that ‘many Vets suffer LONG-TERM physical and psychological damage: PTSD, “Gulf War Syndrome”‘, that ‘Women in the military face a HIGH RISK of sexual harassment and rape'; that ‘military life is hard on families with higher rates of domestic abuse and divorce’, that ‘there are long delays in getting veterans benefits'; that ‘dozens of Soldiers are killed and hundreds are wounded every month’. Finally, Sgt Abe warns the potential Soldier to, ‘think HARD before you sign – your life could be at stake.'”
In addition, a Mennonite Central Committee flyer
“highlights the fact that most students enlist in order for education benefits, and suggests that a student will NOT get the amount of money promised by their recruiter. The flier emphasizes that these students will be trained and expected to kill on the field of battle, and that the guidance counselor should ensure that there is an understanding of this expectation. The Mennonite Central Committee highlights on their ‘ask a veteran’ web site link the very negative opinions of those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. All of the individuals highlighted regret having served in the U.S. Armed Forces, and provide a variety of reasons. These reasons include the following: serving in the military is incompatible with following Jesus; basic training is de-humanizing; the military trains soldiers to hate entire groups of people; soldiers do not show sadness in removing evil, but instead rejoice in the opportunity to kill; the military makes every effort to rob what is inside a person; people for whom we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan do not want us there; I came to the determination that love is stronger than fear, hate, suffering, and death. The veteran testimonials ranged from their description of the sincere sorrow that followed the death of a comrade to the frustrations of not being able to do more for a soldier in need. In all cases they describe how they eventually came to see our presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places as illegal, and against their convictions.”
A Veterans For Peace video , the report helpfully tells us, (in reality the video is the work of a number of organizations):
“begins with video from the United States Army Recruiting Command, where a recruiter comments that, ‘just because you get deployed doesn’t mean you will end up in the Middle East or Iraq’ – followed quickly by an applicant saying, ‘if I were to get mobilized, it wouldn’t be a whole big ordeal’. These comments are quickly retorted by a Soldier who had been severely injured in an improvised explosive device in Iraq, his mother providing an overview of her son’s injuries. Next, a Marine veteran of Vietnam addresses the invincibility of being a Marine ending as soon as one engages in combat, and that ‘all of the myths and lies’ that a recruit has been told are ‘over’. This is followed by a stepmother talking about her stepson being killed in Fallujah, and the fact that he was only 19 years old when he enlisted, and therefore he could not know what he would face in Iraq. Next, there is an excerpt from a U.S. Army Recruiting Command video of a recruit talking about joining for the educational benefits. Several veterans then discuss the smoking mirrors [sic] associated with educational benefits. There is a claim that ‘on average the Montgomery GI Bill will only cover 1⁄2 the cost of a public college and 1/5 the cost of a private college’. Further, they communicate a message that Soldiers in the Reserve Components of the U.S. Army are prevented from using education benefits due to repeated deployments. And, by the time a Soldier completes two and three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are in no shape to go to college. A former Reservist says that because he cannot use GI Bill benefits after being discharged that the government is not fulfilling their obligation to him. The video transitions to a recruit saying that he is joining the U.S. Army because, ‘service will help me in civilian life’. This transitions immediately to a young man who served in Iraq who says, ‘I’m a great killer; I know how to blow up bridges and buildings, and people, and how to dismantle mines'; this same young man says that the Army prepared him to be a custodian. Another veteran commenting that she was absolutely lost after leaving the service, and worked menial jobs for many years, and still does not have a direction. The video then transitions to a Vietnam veteran talking about his transition from Southeast Asia to his life here in the United States, and his homeless lifestyle of panhandling for three years. The video shows a statistic that ‘the VA estimates on any given night 200,000 veterans are homeless’. The video includes an interview of a former Recruiter, who indicates that he was trained to cover up one-time drug offenses, and to do what it takes to enlist applicants into the service. The video shows a statistic that ‘the Government Accounting Office reports 6,600 complaints of recruiting wrongdoing during a one year period.’ Cindy Sheehan, whose son, SPC Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq, said that her son’s recruiter told her that ‘even if there was a war, he would not see combat’. She clearly communicates on the video that Recruiters will tell a recruit anything in order to get their signature on a contract. Further, this contract binds the recruit, but not the United States government. There is a comment that ‘since the start of the Iraq War the Army has extended the enlistment of more than 50,000 troops through “stop loss”‘.”
Of course you could just watch the above video, rather than reading the play-by-play produced on your dime, but I want to make clear that Jacobus recounts all of these claims without ever refuting them. “Counter-recruiting organizations,” he writes, “present as evidence Youtube videos, web page links, and newspaper articles highlighting sexual misconduct and criminal activity by Army Recruiters. Their messages highlight our Recruiters lying to applicants, encouraging applicants to lie on their medical and criminal history, promises of bonus money that never come, promises of education benefits that are grossly exaggerated, and promises of state-side duty with no likelihood for service overseas.” Jacobus follows this summary of well-documented charges, just as he does several others, with vague platitudes and generalized assertions about the mental states of all Army recruiters: “Our Army’s Recruiters are interested in people, have had positive experiences in our Army, and want to share these experiences, and present the same opportunities to our next generation of Soldiers.” Golly gee, no kidding? All of them? You wouldn’t insult our intelligence, would you, Sir?
To counter extensive evidence that the military does not prepare a lot of people for jobs, Jacobus just asserts that the military makes people leaders (with no evidence that this finds them jobs).
In other cases, Jacobus summarizes the charges against recruiters and the military, and then immediately admits that they are true:
“Counter-recruiter groups’ messages implore potential Soldiers to consider that they will be trained to kill, they will be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, they will live and serve in austere conditions, and they will see destruction and death of both friends and innocent people. They challenge potential Soldiers to visit a hospital and see those who suffer the effects of physical and psychological damage as a result of service in America‘s Army. Counter-recruiting organizations highlight the increasing domestic abuse and divorce rate present in Army families. Many of the issues raised by these counter-recruiting organizations are based on truths, although in a quite negative manner.”
The truth is notoriously biased against positive depictions of mass-murder.
Similarly, on sexual assault, Jacobus recommends admitting it happens, but then asserting that every member of the U.S. military follows a code of ethics — which apparently allows killing people and/or sexually assaulting your fellow ethical beings. Jacobus goes on to make a serious claim, namely that a college campus is the most dangerous place for sexual assaults, not the military. But clearly there are studies finding the opposite. And a separate question is the quality of the environment for recovering from (and seeking accountability for) sexual assault in the military versus on a college campus.
After writing as if we had limited intelligence for two-dozen pages, Jacobus present the “myth” that the military requires limited intelligence, in order to debunk it. But, of course, the military does not require limited intelligence; it requires limited independence of thought, which is only one particular type of intelligence.
Jacobus spends remarkably few words putting up an argument in favor of enlistment. He suggests that recruiters should counter nasty talk of dying with reassurances about medical support. Of course, that medical support is the reason so many troops are surviving without arms and legs and other, um, appendages. The author also suggests that recruiters claim (without any provided basis or explanation) that the military is defensive and that it defends “freedom.” That’s not what top members of the U.S. military say. It’s also not what the people of the world say.
Moving on into the realm of self-parody, Jacobus recommends talking about 9-11 a lot, and then a bit more, and then maybe a little extra. And he proposes expanding on that theme by depicting the world as a permanent source of irrational terrorists out to attack the United States for no reason. Why there are no anti-Norwegian terrorist networks or anti-Anybody-Else terrorist networks is never explained. The Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 is presented as evidence of the permanent senseless presence of anti-U.S. terrorism in the world, with no reference to the 1953 U.S. overthrow of Iran’s democracy and the imposition of a vicious U.S.-backed dictator from 1953 to 1979. Jacobus offers another dozen similar examples of terrorism and alleged terrorism, all completely context free. Of course, U.S. interference in people’s countries cannot justify terrorism, but it goes a great distance toward explaining it. Only by pretending that militarism does not produce terrorism, can anyone continue promoting militarism as a supposed defense against terrorism.
Delving deeply into self-parody, Jacobus holds up Colin Powell (who took a laughable case for attacking Iraq to the U.N. which rejected it) as the absolute authority on honest straight talk about why the U.S. is not aggressive or imperialistic. He quotes Powell baselessly making that claim and then skipping back over 70 years of contrary evidence to claim that after World War II the United States did not “ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe.” Well, except Germany. Oh, and the need for military bases in all the other countries. And let’s not forget Japan and Korea.
Jacobus claims that members of the military are not disproportionately from poor backgrounds, and indeed some studies seem to back him up. And, indeed, most members of the military, when asked if they joined to “serve their country” answer yes. But three-quarters also say they joined for education benefits, which makes one wonder what the impact on recruitment would be if the United States made education free or affordable the way other nations do. And, if that happened, what would be the further effect on susceptibility to Pentagon propaganda of a populace with a higher education level?
The following, unlike Jacobus’ report, is known with certainty to be a parody. I produced it.
David Swanson is author of War is a Lie. He lives in Virginia.