Column: An army of everyone

By Jenette Sturges

On Aug. 25, Gen. Peter Schoomaker commented on the influx of new recruits for the United States Army, claiming recruiters exceeded their goals in June and July, according to the Associated Press. He added that there was a high rate of re-enlistment among the third infantry division, the first division to return for a second tour of duty in Iraq. The high numbers of re-enlistees, he said, is offsetting the need for new recruits.

How they’re doing this is beyond me. During the recruitment slump from early this year, experts had determined that it was actually parents and teachers that were against military enlistment, not the 18-year-old men. In response, the Army began a relentless ad campaign targeted at parents. The ads encouraged them to allow their children, who were recent high school graduates, to join the ranks. The ads herald the discipline and job training the military offers, along with commentary from adult-sounding teenagers claiming, “Besides, it’s time for me to be a man.” But why are so many young men willing to go off and risk their lives in the name of patriotism?

While the conservatives of the world would like to believe this, patriotism and hatred of terrorists isn’t the motivation driving children into battle. Sure, there are real Bush supporters. Generally, they are in league with the people who believe Iraqis flew airplanes into the World Trade Center four years ago. But the reason boys are going to war isn’t the red, white and blue – it’s the green.

It’s a theme in every American conflict since the Civil War. The poor enlist, hoping for three square meals a day and a paycheck with which they can start a future – provided they survive combat. Army sign-on bonuses alone can range up to $12,000 in addition to allowances from the GI Bill, state veteran programs and regular salary. For a close companion of mine, serving his second tour in Iraq, it was wanting to be independent from his parents. Others, like many friends from high school, looked around their city and didn’t find any opportunities in the job market and no way of paying for college – so, they enlisted.

Though military enlistment doesn’t work quite the same way as the Vietnam-era draft, the consequences are the same. Those who are able pay tuition escape war. Those who can’t pay and are looking for some way to forge a future sign up. Moreover, minorities are enlisting at ever-increasing numbers, due in large part to the military’s targeting of poorer students. Marines spend more time in predominately black or Latino high schools than college recruiters, and Spanish language television runs an Army ad in nearly every commercial break.

I believe in conscription. If every eighteen-year-old, rich or poor, male or female, white, brown, or black were subject to the draft and thrown into military service for two years before attending college, the notion of equality in this country might improve. Not only would our troops be sufficient for worldwide campaigns, but also GI Bills would defray the cost of college for everyone. Everyone would earn some sort of job training above a high school shop class.

More importantly, everyone in the country, rich and poor alike would weigh the consequences of war a lot heavier, particularly those members of Congress who currently send their kids to Harvard instead of Fort Stewart. Perhaps policymakers and upper-middle class white constituents would reconsider the U.S. policy of democratizing the world if they knew that any one of their own children might be fighting the war. Switzerland has enacted conscription for centuries but remains peaceful and free. Perhaps the Swiss mentality of seclusion from world conflicts allows them to allot more money toward health care and education instead of defense. Or maybe it’s because Swiss politicians don’t want to send their children to war. Odds are, our president wouldn’t want to send his children either – which is a shame, because the Bush daughters would look great in camouflage.