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War, n: A time-tested political tactic guaranteed to raise a president’s popularity rating by at least 30 points. It is especially useful during election years and economic downturns.
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December 17, 2004

Enlist Today!


Winning young hearts and minds – behind parents' backs

by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst

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 warrior.

"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."
- The 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."
-
The 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 in that same article.

1. Lazy? Eating Junk-Food? Smoking and Drinking? Stuck in a Dead End Job? Enlist Today!

"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 team.'"

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." (emphasis added)

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.


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Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting(2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn’t Have to Choose Just One." Visit her website.

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