The ‘Poverty’ Draft

Ava Weintraub

Today’s Army recruiters, falling behind in their quotas, are resorting to more sophisticated tactics, targeting the poor and minorities.

“The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.”

Robert Maynard Hutchins, 1899-1980.
Former Chancellor, University of Chicago

Military recruiters are often seen on campus with their seductive brochures and enticements luring unsuspecting students into enlisting. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has noted reports of Army recruiters engaged in unethical or aggressive tactics to sign up recruits
With recruiters falling behind in their quotas and they have resorted to using marketing campaigns worthy of Pepsi or Coca-Cola, giving away free T-shirts, cups and key-chains. The official Army recruitment handbook offers the following advice for post-secondary school recruiting. Here are some highlights:

“The college recruiting market consists of regionally accredited two-year (community and junior colleges) and four-year (colleges and universities) degree-granting postsecondary institutions. This market is an excellent source of potential Army enlistments due to the high percentage of students who drop out of college, particularly during the first two years. Focus on the freshman class because they will have the highest dropout rate. They often lack both the direction and funds to fully pursue their education Review the catalog and focus on the times when students are most likely to consider leaving school.”

“Coordinate with school officials on a time (monthly) and place (Student Center) to set up an information table. You may not talk to many students initially, so don’t get discouraged, but as the semester progresses more students will talk with you about their future and what the Army has to offer.”

During the 2004 election, Democrats and Republicans avoided taking a stance on the “draft.” In a 2004 Associated Press article, Kerry said the Pentagon’s announcement of the “stop-loss” program may have increased the forces by 30,000 troops. “But this has happened on the backs of the men and women who’ve already fulfilled their obligation to the armed forces and to our country – and it runs counter to the traditions of an all-volunteer Army,” he said. “They have effectively used a stop-loss policy as a backdoor draft,” he said.

Selected active and reserve personnel scheduled to be discharged “stop-loss” and “stop-move” are programs the Army uses to freeze certain personnel in their current assignments, or prevent them from being discharged. These programs are frequently used to maintain the strength of a unit preparing to go to Iraq.

Senior Army leaders say approximately 9,000 soldiers are being kept in the service beyond the end of their enlistment contract under stop-loss, and an unknown number have been frozen in their current assignments under stop-move. Members of Congress have expressed concern that these policies contradict the spirit of the all-volunteer force, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others indicate they will likely continue.

In a Nov. 8, 2007, Christian Science Monitor article, by Gordon Lubold, “The Army’s choice to focus on retaining soldiers rather than on trying to find all new ones is a reflection of the realities of recruiting these days. The combination of a low jobless rate and the increased tendency of military-age individuals to pursue higher education after high school has made it difficult for the Army to compete.

At the same time, military officials lament that the ‘couch potato’ generation, which is more obese than previous enlistees, has a harder time meeting the military’s not-that-rigid physical fitness requirements. All of that comes against the backdrop of an unpopular war that has lasted longer than many had expected.”

The Iraq War has been raging since March 2003 with no end in sight, yet we know very little about the details. Compared to the media coverage of the Vietnam War, which played out on television sets throughout the country while CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite reported the body count each night – a constant reminder of the high cost of the war. Additionally, many journalists reported from the front lines, giving eyewitness accounts of the atrocities of war.
Today’s media coverage of the war in Iraq lacks details.
There are no daily body counts, additionally, reporters and photojournalists are restricted in what they write and photograph and don’t expect to see photos or videos of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

The war we are presented is a very sanitized version of what is really happening. The “government” is manipulating what we see, read and hear. How can we protest when it appears that everything is under control? That’s the way “they” want it.
President George W. Bush, on May 1, 2003, staged a dramatic visited to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to announce the now well-known “Mission Accomplished” speech. Bush declared victory because of the defeat of Iraq’s conventional army, even though Saddam Hussein was then still at large.

In 2005 students at the University of Vermont, Burlington received an e-mail with the heading: “Army Pays Off Student Loans” in their college e-mail according to the article, “Lies Military Recruiters Tell” by Ron Jacobs, CounterPunch magazine.
The message of the direct mailing was that if a student was nearing graduation and wondering how they were going to pay off the massive debt today’s U.S. college students incur, they should join the Army.

In essence, this e-mail was a college student’s version of the poverty draft that entraps so many working class and poor young people into enlisting in the service.”
The Montgomery GI Bill offers up to $71,000 for college.
Potential recruits are given an incentive to join the military in the form of scholarships for college when their tours end. This is the primary reason why many enlist.

“Counter-recruiters” argue that this is a false hope, noting for example that 57 percent of those who apply for GI Bill benefits do not receive them, and that the average net payment to those who do is less than $2,200. This is a consequence of various eligibility requirements; A total of 65 percent of eligible veterans receive money according to an article published by The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization.

Apathy is a dangerous thing. There’s a saying, “Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.” What does this mean to you?

The prevailing attitude is “There’s no draft so it doesn’t affect me.” However, there are important lessons to be learned from the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War marked turbulent times during the ’60s and ’70s, polarizing society and ripping apart the very fabric holding this country together.

Instituting the draft gave rise to huge anti-war protests on college campuses throughout the nation: U.C. Berkeley, Columbia University, Kent State – and Pierce College.

Early in the Vietnam War, the government started drafting eligible men. But, if you were in college you could get a draft deferment and this ruffled the feathers of the so-called “war hawks.”

A Roundup editorial written by then-editor in chief Ed Delaney addressed the “draft-dodging students” controversy in an Oct. 1, 1965, editorial:

“Last week a leaflet was circulated on campus which accused the men of draftable age of going to school so they could dodge the draft. The author of the ridiculous leaflet feels that if you are enrolled in school you are afraid to defend your country. According to him we go to school to keep from getting drafted, and that we couldn’t care less if communism spreads.”

Staying in college was indeed a way to stay out of the war – at least for those who could afford it. Those from wealthy and influential families consulted with draft counselors and attorneys who helped them avoid the draft or helped get them into the National Guard and Reserve.

Only a handful of these units were sent to Vietnam, so enlistment in the in these branches became a favored means of draft avoidance. The unfortunate ones, the ones who could not afford college and lacked political connections, were sent to war. Who went to war was a matter of “the haves and the have-nots.” Poor and working class young men resented this fact immensely.

Just as it is now, the Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular as the U.S. became mired in never-ending battles with increasing body counts and no end in sight.
The draft as it was known during Vietnam War no longer exists. Men must register with the Selective Service System when they turn 18 years old.

“Reseda and Santa Clarita are good recruiting areas,” said Mark Howell, acting chief of public affairs and advertising of the San Fernando Valley Battalion. “High schools are best,” he added, “community colleges are just ‘so-so.’ ”

Clearly the Army wants the greatest return on its investment, so they concentrate on geographical areas that either have high drop-out rates from high school and community colleges, lower-income families and areas with undocumented immigrants.

In a report generated for Congress by the Congressional Research Service – The Library of Congress “Expedited Citizenship Through Military Service: Policy and Issues,” President George W. Bush on July 3, 2002, designated the period beginning September 11, 2001, as a “period of hostilities,” which triggered immediate naturalization eligibility for active-duty U.S. military service members, at which point the Department of Defense and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service announced that they would work together to ensure that military naturalization applications were processed quickly.

For those who seek citizenship it is a good opportunity, however it comes with a warning: a solider can also die and be awarded citizenship posthumously.
Let the buyer beware.

It is an honor to defend one’s country but being manipulated into serving is wrong.

Taking advantage of those who don’t completely understand what they’re getting unto is wrong. Soldiers who should have returned home have had their tours extended again and again – this is wrong.

Those who choose to fight for our country have my admiration and respect. But in a war that has become deeply mired in civil war and unrelenting insurgents, and with no clear end in sight, the Department of Defense is desperate to make the all-volunteer appear as though it’s working.

With Iran looming on the horizon, how thin can we stretch our armed forces before the Selective Service System department falls apart?

Gambling our future on the backs of those less fortunate is a no-win situation.

As a country, we need to take a closer look at recruiting tactics and strategies to ensure that those who truly want to serve their country can do so without being manipulated.


GAO report to Congress about aggressive recruiting tactics:

Army handbook for school recruitment:

Pierce Students march down the campus mall on Moratorium Day, Oct. 16, 1969 ()

Pierce College student Craig Cravens speaks to a crowd of 1,000 on Moratorium Day October, 1969 ()

“Give us your poor, we’ll send them to war.” (Natalie Yemenidjian)