America's Child Soldiers: US Military Recruiting Children to Serve in the Armed Forces
The Pentagon also spends about $6 million a year to flog an online video game called Ă˘€śAmericaĂ˘€™s ArmyĂ˘€ť to attract children as young as 13, Ă˘€śtrain them to use weapons, and engage in virtual combat and other military missionsĂ˘€Â¦learn how to fire realistic Army weapons such as automatic rifles and grenade launchers and learn how to jump from airplanes,Ă˘€ť the ACLU reports. As of Sept., 2006, 7.5 million users were registered on the gameĂ˘€™s website, which is linked to the ArmyĂ˘€™s main recruiting website.
And when Pentagon recruiters sign 17-year-olds into the inactive reserves under the Future Soldiers Training Program, (the idea being to let them earn their high school diploma), they frequently donĂ˘€™t tell the children they can withdraw with no penalty.
Singled out by the Pentagon for intense recruitment drives are urban centers such as Los Angeles and New York. The latter, in which low-income students account for 51% of all high school enrollment and where 71% are black or Latino, contains three of the nationĂ˘€™s top 32 counties for Army enlistment. In Los Angeles, 91% of the students are non-white and 75% are low-income.
And the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools says the 30 JROTC programs in Los Angeles Unified School District (with 4,754 students) are Ă˘€śLocated in the most economically depressed communities of the city.Ă˘€ť
African-Americans make up 16% of the civilian population of military age but 22% of the ArmyĂ˘€™s enlisted personnel, the ACLU notes. It charges bluntly: Ă˘€śThe U.S. militaryĂ˘€™s practice of targeting low-income youth and students of color in combination with exaggerated promises of financial rewards for enlistment, undermines the voluntariness of their enlistmentĂ˘€Â¦Ă˘€ť
JROTC also runs a Middle School Cadet Corp for children as young as 11, that militarizes them even before they graduate elementary school. Ă˘€śFlorida, Texas, and Chicago, offer military-run after-school programs to sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-gradersĂ˘€Â¦(that) involve drills with wooden rifles and military chantsĂ˘€Â¦.and military history.Ă˘€ť Children wear uniforms to school once a week for inspection.
While the U.S. claims Ă˘€śno one under age 17 is eligible for recruitment,Ă˘€ť the PentagonĂ˘€™s Joint Advertising Market Research & Studies database(JAMRS) scoops up data on eleventh graders, typically just 16. JAMRS has data on 30 million Americans between age 16 and 25 for recruitment purposes.
The ACLU says this data includes Ă˘€śe-mail addresses, grade point averages, college intentions, height and weight information, schools attended, courses of study, military interests, and racial and ethnic dataĂ˘€ť as well as Social Security numbers.
In the face of grim casualty reports from the Middle East, Pentagon recruiters appear increasingly desperate to make their quotas. About one in five, the New York Times reported in 2004, was found to have engaged in Ă˘€śrecruiting improprietiesĂ˘€ť ranging from Ă˘€śthreats and coercion to making false promises to young people that they would not be sent to Iraq.Ă˘€ť
Given the Bush regimeĂ˘€™s plunge into criminal wars of aggression that defy international law and the Geneva conventions, there is no reason why military recruitment of any kind should be allowed on any college campus, much less in the secondary schools. If the United States truly wished to spread democracy, (rather than seize oil fields), it would be assigning vast numbers of Peace Corps recruiters to college campuses, and the budgets of the Peace Corps and the Defense Department would be reversed.
As Eugene Debs, the presidential candidate on the Socialist ticket that went to prison for speaking against World War One, (he polled 913,000 votes in 1920) once said: Ă˘€śI would no more teach children military training than I would teach them arson, robbery or assassination.Ă˘€ť
The fact that the Pentagon is having such a daunting time these days filling its ranks as it wages an illegal war speaks very well for the intelligence of the American people. ThatĂ˘€™s no excuse, though, for the Defense Department to illegally recruit impressionable children.
Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based public relations consultant and columnist who previously worked for the Chicago Daily News, as a radio commentator, and as a columnist for wire services. Reach him at email@example.com
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