Like the drug gangs you've always worried about,
charming military recruiters have weaseled their way into American public schools
and are luring your child to what could be his death with the very things that
other gangs offer: immediate cash for fast cars, a macho image to scare off
bullies and impress the girls, and a uniform – whether it's one pant leg hiked
up, a baseball cap with a certain team logo, a hoodie in a specified color,
or a camouflage outfit with military insignia.
These are things you can't provide – thousands and thousands of dollars ("today!")
as sign-up bonuses, promises of a college education, relief from decision-making,
avoidance of scary things like job interviews, and a uniform to demand instant
respect from others. That's why the military is dangling these carrots before
your child's eyes – it's
got all the money in the world.
What do you have to offer? Love? Caring? The instinctual urge to keep
your baby alive?
Worthless stuff, or so the sales pitch implies, when compared with cold, hard
cash, the aura of macho
"discipline," a prepackaged future, and a really cool uniform.
Still, some kids are pretty savvy, and start having doubts when recruiters
come to call. "But how long will I be in for?" they ask. "Will
I be sent to Iraq?" "Could I end up having to stay in longer than
I signed up for?" "Why do I need to enlist just to go to college – isn't
there something called a Pell Grant that could help me get an education
without becoming cannon fodder?"
Knowing that military recruiters are desperate for warm young bodies makes
the smart high-schooler suspicious of whatever a recruiter says; he knows that
a stranger in a uniform can't possibly have his best interests at heart.
The Trickle-Down Theory of Recruiting
If, as a military recruiter, you can't get kids
to sign up in a straightforward way by telling the truth and nothing but the
truth – including the risk that their young lives will be ruined or ended –
just go through the back door! Forget about the parents – they're too soft,
they don't want the kid killed or maimed, etc. Win the child's trust by getting
their favorite teacher to do your dirty work:
"For more than a decade, recruiters have been bringing teachers, counselors
and coaches to the boot camp to let them see how the Marines can be a positive
force on young adults – and to encourage them to steer their students toward
military careers. The Marines want to show them that even lackluster students
can thrive, that the rigors of boot camp can help recruits tap their own potential,
and that maybe the students they least expect contain the makings of a disciplined
"In the long run, the Marines hope, those teachers will become advocates
of military service – and at least some of their students will consider
becoming Marines. Call it the trickle-down theory of recruiting. Judging from
local educators' reactions last week, it works."
Virginian-Pilot (emphasis added)
Teachers are especially useful for luring kids into the military because most
teachers are genuinely concerned about their students. I remember all the kids
who lined up to talk to my mother, their favorite high school teacher, after
school. Sometimes they wanted to talk about schoolwork, but more often they
just needed to talk – about their problems, their family issues, their hopes and
dreams for the future, their boyfriends or girlfriends, you name it. They trusted
her because she was their teacher and she really cared. Even if they wouldn't
listen to anybody else, they'd listen to her.
Recruiting kids to die for the war games of old men is the first art of war.
When the Pentagon needs more playing pieces for dangerous urban warfare, who
better to utilize than school teachers, whose opinions the children already
trust? The key to victory, as Mr. Bush has reminded us again and again, is to
win hearts and minds.
But minds balk when they learn unsavory facts, so it's advisable to focus instead
on winning hearts by playing on the emotions. Publicize tear-stained testimonials
suggesting that the teacher who really cares about his or her students will
urge them to enlist:
"[D]edafoe's former teacher continues to inspire him and that he plans
on stopping in at Lakeland as soon as he finishes basic training. 'I was a slacker,'
Dedafoe said. 'She motivated me, she told me I could do anything I wanted to
and not to give up.'
"With parents busy working, Dedafoe said Warren's interest spurred
him to do better. He recalls studying Edgar Allan Poe, but it was Warren's personal
comments that he remembers most. 'She said I had a big heart,' Dedafoe said,
his eyes moistening. 'She saw something in me. She said I was glowing.'
"On the other side of the table, Thompson dabbed at her eyes with a
tissue. She exchanged looks with Olds, whose eyes were wet, too."
Virginian-Pilot (emphasis added)
From Teacher to Student: 5 Great Reasons to Enlist
Even with all the emotional appeals in the world,
however, some kids won't be persuaded. All those years of piano or art lessons,
soccer practice, church youth activities, and science clubs may have implanted
into your child the wild idea that he or she should invest those talents right
here in America, rather than join the military and possibly die someplace in
the Middle East. But never fear: Recruiters are helping teachers find the best
arguments to convince kids to give up those silly pipe dreams and enlist today.
Here are five marketing tactics that seem to work on resistant teens, as noted
1. Lazy? Eating Junk-Food? Smoking and Drinking? Stuck in a Dead End Job?
"Christopher Dedafoe admits that just a few months ago, he was a lazy
American teen. He barely graduated from Lakeland High School in Suffolk this
past summer. He worked a dead-end job at a pancake house to earn money for booze,
tobacco, and weed.
"Now, more than halfway through Marine boot camp here, the 18-year-old
hasn't had a sip of soda in weeks, let alone alcohol. The former junk-food
addict enjoys healthier fare such as apples and grits. And having broken his
smoking habit, he can run three miles without getting winded."
2. Exhausted? Need Advice? Flunking Math? Enlist Today!
"Back at Lakeland High School, Amy Warren was touched to learn how
much Dedafoe had taken her words to heart. She described teaching him as 'pulling
teeth,' saying Dedafoe was 'the kid who was always asleep, or didn't want to
do the work.'
"But she saw he had a good heart and knew the difference between right
and wrong. He just needed some direction, she said. She shudders to think about
Dedafoe ending up in Iraq, but she thinks the training he's getting will serve
him for the rest of his life."
3. Got Busy Parents? Want Security and Structure? Enlist Today!
Then there's the family-values argument. It goes like this: "Look at these
directionless kids. Their own families have failed them, so the military will
give them a better family."
The Bush administration's solution isn't to invest our nation's massive wealth
into helping struggling families, communities, and schools, but to funnel those
poor rudderless children into the military to give them the "structure"
their weary parents can no longer provide.
"'There's so much lacking in society today to give them structure,'
she said, 'and I think the military is a good place for that. It teaches them
teamwork, and how to work with one another, and to create a family out of a
4. Want to Stay Alive? Enlist Today!
Teacher Kevin Olds puts the risk of dying in Iraq into perspective, since so
many kids are dying right here in the U.S.: "In the past five years, I've
lost six students to homicide." That's a new one: Teens, enlist in the
military if you want to stay alive!
And if those teens end up dead because they enlisted? Mr. Olds will feel no
regret: "If a student were to die in uniform, he said, he would be full
of grief – but not regret."
How about you, fellow parent? If your child dies in the next six months, will
you feel no regret? If his legs are blown off, will you feel no regret, knowing
they were blown off in the servicing of Mr. Bush's just wars? If she comes home
with night terrors, crushing guilt, and mental disorders that may never fully
heal, will you feel no regret?
5. Want to Avoid a Fate Worse Than Death? Enlist Today!
If none of the arguments above do the trick, try this one on for size:
"Thompson said she would counsel students considering the military
to think about the chance they might end up in battle. But like Olds, she said
she could think of far worse fates than dying honorably for one's country."
Could these and other arguments, if expressed by trusted teachers, convince
your child to enlist? You be the judge:
"[Mr. Olds] enjoyed the chance to fire a machine gun. He cried when
the newly minted Marines paraded in front of their families for the first time.
And he had fun trading stories and barbs with Jones and the other drill instructors
each night at dinner. But it was being reminded that teachers can deeply
affect students' lives that really struck him, he said.
"Olds and Thompson said they didn't think the program tried to turn
teachers into recruiters who would push students to join. Both educators
and drill instructors want their charges to do well and to become good people.
The prospect of deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan wouldn't stop him from
suggesting that a student think about enlisting, Olds said." (emphasis
added, irony noted)
Genuine defense of one's country and kin is something for which most Americans,
young and old, would make huge sacrifices. Nation-building and preemptive strikes
are not. If ambitious old men in leather chairs want those kinds of wars, let
them go fight without drawing our precious children – or their beloved teachers
– into the bloody mess.