FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Poverty, Militarism and the Public Schools

What’s the difference between education and obedience? If you see very little, you probably have no problem with the militarization of the American school system — or rather, the militarization of the impoverished schools . . . the ones that can’t afford new textbooks or functional plumbing, much less art supplies or band equipment. My town, Chicago, is a case study in this national trend.

The Pentagon has been eyeing these schools — broken and gang-ridden — for a decade now, and seeing its future there. It comes in like a cammy-clad Santa, bringing money and discipline. In return it gets young minds to shape, to (I fear) possess: to turn into the next generation of soldiers, available for the coming wars.

The United States no longer has a draft because the nation no longer believes in war, except abstractly, as background noise. But it has an economic draft: It claims recruits largely from the neighborhoods of hopelessness. Joining the U.S. military is the only opportunity available to millions of young Americans to escape poverty. We have no government programs to build the infrastructure of peace and environmental sustainability — we can’t afford that, so it has to happen on its own (or not at all) — but our military marches on, funded at more than half a trillion dollars a year, into ever more pointless wars of aggression.

Glory, glory hallelujah. I’d never been to a Memorial Day parade in my life, but I went to this year’s parade in downtown Chicago because members of the Chicago chapter of Veterans for Peace were going to be there, protesting the militarization of the city’s schools.

I arrived as the parade was still assembling itself along Wacker Drive. What I saw, along with the Humvees and the floats (Gold Star Families of the Fallen, Paralyzed Veterans of America: Making a difference for 70 years) were thousands of young people — mostly kids of color, of course — bedecked in various uniforms, standing in formation as martial music erupted sporadically, driven by the drumbeat of certainty. Some of the boys and girls seemed as young as 10 or 11. One boy walked past me twirling a rifle like it was a baton. Was it real? Was it loaded?

The concept of America is a totally military phenomenon, I thought as I walked along the parade route. This is what holds it together, not culturally, but as a legally organized entity. The flags, the rifles, the Humvees, the names of the dead . . . the uniformed children. For a moment I wondered if I could continue calling myself an American.

Then I met up with the Vets for Peace people at State and Lake — a small group of men and women handing out stickers that read: “No military in Chicago Public Schools. Education, not militarization.”

“The idea is, just by being here, we’re having people stop for a moment and think about the militarization of Chicago schools,” Kevin Merwin told me. “There’s opposition to the wholesale militarization of youth in Chicago. It’s the most militarized school system in the country, if not the world.”

Indeed, according to various sources, there are between 9,000 and 10,000 young people in the Pentagon’s JROTC program, with “military academies” — often in spite of furious community opposition — taking over portions of 45 of the city’s 104 high schools.

“Kids in seventh grade are being rolled up into this Memorial Day parade,” Merwin said. “We’re inculcating kids into the military system at a young age — the kind of thing we criticized the Soviet Union for back in the day. And it’s mostly kids of color.”

Ann Jones, addressing this hypocrisy, pointed out in an excellent essay that Congress actually passed an act in 2008 — the Child Soldiers Prevention Act — that was “designed to protect kids worldwide from being forced to fight the wars of Big Men. From then on, any country that coerced children into becoming soldiers was supposed to lose all U.S. military aid.”

However, not surprisingly, the economic interests of the military-industrial complex eventually gutted the intention of this rare bit of compassionate legislation. Five of the 10 countries on the child-solider list, Chad, South Sudan, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, have been granted “waivers” so they can continue to purchase American weapons.

“Too bad for the young — and the future — of those countries,” Jones wrote. “But look at it this way: Why should Washington help the children of Sudan or Yemen escape war when it spares no expense right here at home to press our own impressionable, idealistic, ambitious American kids into military ‘service’?

“It should be no secret that the United States has the biggest, most efficiently organized, most effective system for recruiting child soldiers in the world.”

Those who want to perpetuate the military mindset — that is to say, the servants of the most powerful economic interests in the country — have to grab the minds of the young, because only in one’s youth does militarism resonate with uncontaminated glory. This is why the Army maintains a gamer website. And it’s why every branch of military service sets up shop in our most desperate schools and parades the Junior ROTC boys and girls before the public on Memorial Day, our national holiday in celebration of arrested development.

More articles by:

Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy
Vijay Prashad
Undermining Brazilian Democracy: the Curious Saga of Lula
Steve Fraser
Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red State America
John W. Whitehead
Crimes of a Monster: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Kenn Orphan
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Karl Grossman TJ Coles
Opening Pandora’s Box: Karl Grossman on Trump and the Weaponization of Space
Colin Todhunter
Behind Theresa May’s ‘Humanitarian Hysterics’: The Ideology of Empire and Conquest
Jesse Jackson
Syrian Strikes is One More step Toward a Lawless Presidency
Michael Welton
Confronting Militarism is Early Twentieth Century Canada: the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Alycee Lane
On David S. Buckel and Setting Ourselves on Fire
Jennifer Matsui
Our Overlords Reveal Their Top ‘To Do’s: Are YOU Next On Their Kill List?
George Ochenski
Jive Talkin’: On the Campaign Trail With Montana Republicans
Kary Love
Is It Time for A Nice, “Little” Nuclear War?
April 18, 2018
Alan Nasser
Could Student Loans Lead to Debt Prison? The Handwriting on the Wall
Susan Roberts
Uses for the Poor
Alvaro Huerta
I Am Not Your “Wetback”
Jonah Raskin
Napa County, California: the Clash of Oligarchy & Democracy
Robert Hunziker
America’s Dystopian Future
Geoffrey McDonald
“America First!” as Economic War
Jonathan Cook
Robert Fisk’s Douma Report Rips Away Excuses for Air Strike on Syria
Jeff Berg
WW III This Ain’t
Binoy Kampmark
Macron’s Syria Game
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
Katie Fite
Chaos in Urban Canyons – Air Force Efforts to Carve a Civilian Population War Game Range across Southern Idaho
Robby Sherwin
Facebook: This Is Where I Leave You
April 17, 2018
Paul Street
Eight Takeaways on Boss Tweet’s Latest Syrian Missile Spasm
Robert Fisk
The Search for the Truth in Douma
Eric Mann
The Historic 1968 Struggle Against Columbia University
Roy Eidelson
The 1%’s Mind Games: Psychology Gone Bad
John Steppling
The Sleep of Civilization
Patrick Cockburn
Syria Bombing Reveals Weakness of Theresa May
Dave Lindorff
No Indication in the US That the Country is at War Again
W. T. Whitney
Colombia and Cuba:  a Tale of Two Countries
Dean Baker
Why Isn’t the Median Wage for Black Workers Rising?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
C. L. Cook
Man in the Glass
Kary Love
“The Mob Boss Orders a Hit and a Pardon”
Lawrence Wittner
Which Nations Are the Happiest―and Why
Dr. Hakim
Where on Earth is the Just Economy that Works for All, Including Afghan Children?
April 16, 2018
Dave Lindorff
President Trump’s War Crime is Worse than the One He Accuses Assad of
Ron Jacobs
War is Just F**kin’ Wrong
John Laforge
Nuclear Keeps on Polluting, Long After Shutdown
Norman Solomon
Missile Attack on Syria Is a Salute to “Russiagate” Enthusiasts, Whether They Like It or Not
Uri Avnery
Eyeless in Gaza   
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Then, Syria Now
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail