I used to umpire Little League baseball in the roughest section of Burlington, VT. Compared to so-called rough sections of bigger cities in other parts of the United States, the Old North End was certainly not very rough. However, it did have the largest number of working and other poor families, a large number of immigrants and a higher number of single parent homes than most of the rest of Burlington. On any given game day, there would be a couple parole officers hanging around the game watching younger siblings of their charges playing ball. One of the officers who used to talk ball with me a little told me that he had been the parole officer for two old brothers of one of the better players in the league and hoped that the third and youngest boy would avoid the fate of his brothers who had both served time for drugs and robbery. In addition to the parole officers, various workers from Social Services and a good number of parents and relatives, a couple military recruiters began showing up at the occasional game in spring 2002.
The boys (and some of the girls) were intrigued by the recruiters. Their uniforms and their sense of certainty seemed to appeal to these young people-especially the ones with the least stable home lives. Burlington never had much of a gang problem, but it always seemed to me that the appeal of the recruiters was that they promised membership in something very much like a gang with all of the solidarity and unity such membership could provide. On the days the recruiters showed up they would converse with the kids-none who were older than 13-about the Red Sox, the game and what they thought about high school. After all, the military was only recruiting high school graduates at the time. To their credit, the recruiters were more convivial than anything else and may even have inspired some of the kids they talked to into staying in school. Yet, their primary reason for befriending these kids was to get them to join the military and go to war.
High schools across the nation include JROTC as a standard course. In some schools it replaces physical education. The course is about physical education but it is also about regimentation and indoctrination. Boys and girls in the course do not use guns except when they carry fake ones in drill. They do, however, get indoctrinated in the military doctrine and nationalistic propaganda. Meanwhile, the US military has total access to young people’s phone numbers and school records. Recruiters come to schools and speak to mandatory assemblies. The US Army sends mail and calls students incessantly in their last two years of high school and send recruitment vans into neighborhoods where many youth are present. Recruiters hang out in shopping malls near arcades hoping to get boys hyped up on the latest video game to consider a couple years in Iraq or Afghanistan as an option. They push their way into job fairs at two and four year colleges and set up offices in as many towns as possible throughout the United States. The culture of militarism is pervasive and it is heavily geared toward young people between the ages of twelve and twenty.
I mention all this in relation to a recent news item from the Associated Press stating that the group the Pentagon calls Al-Qaida in Iraq is recruiting and training teenagers. For the moment, let’s assume that this article is true and is not some kind of fake news planted by US psy-ops. According to the story, some videos were found in an operation against insurgents. According to Rear Admiral Smith of the US Navy, the videos “were meant to spread Al Qaida’s message among the young rather than train the boys for missions.” This was not the first time such videos had been found, the story continued, but “it was the most disturbing.”
Now, if I understand this right, the US military is appalled and disturbed because some Iraqi insurgent groups (that may or may not have anything to do with Al Qaida in Iraq) are using videos to propagandize among adolescents in the hope that they will enlist. Meanwhile, the US military, which is engaged in the same type of operations as the Iraqi insurgency only as the occupying force, glorifies its mission of bloodshed, intimidation, and killing in videos, video games, in schools, on the television, at shopping malls and through the mails. Naturally, these methods are not training the US adolescents that they are targeting for operations, but they are definitely “meant to spread the US military’s message among the young (to borrow Admiral Smith’s words.)”
As I write this, a news item is coming over the radio stating that the US Army Surgeon General issued an order telling military counselors to stop helping Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans fill out paperwork required to seek psychological assistance. After denying such a document existed, the General backtracked from that denial when the document was produced. He is now looking for another lie to explain away the order. Do you think the recruiters mention this to the teenagers they target?
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org