Did John Kelly tell the Truth?

The New York Times editorial board today published “Honor the Truth, John Kelly.”  After Trump told Myeshia Johnson that her husband Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger, knew what he was signing up for when he joined the military. Chief of staff Kelly then made several remarks that incited huge fury.

But missing in the discussions are the fact that people do join the military, unaware of the chance they may die…or get PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, or be unable to get a job when out of the military. We have a national preoccupation to ignore the effects of the war and of military service on young people.

I wrote a short comment to the NY Times:

There is widespread denial of what military recruiters (who are MANDATED to be in the schools and to have access to students’ home information by NCLB/ESSA) tell the high school students about war. And that is nothing. You can search online and find the recommendations given to recruiters with which to answer questions such as “Will I be sent to battle?” That question is punted always. Add that to the widespread denial of the USA militarism and wars- see the very recent NY Times editorial- and you have recruits and families who believe they will sign up to the military to have a job and to travel the world, or to do good, not knowing that they will be used for other purposes.

Posted in antiwar, militarism, PTSD, Recruiting, war

Make Art Not war- Or Both? From the UK

Different continents, same problem with militarism and recruiting the young.

Make Art Not War… or both?

Poppy Kohner

The Fringe festival has always been eclectic. Not an inch of Edinburgh is wasted as the whole city becomes a stage and all the people, merely players. But this year, on its 70th anniversary, the well-regarded Fringe venue Summerhall collaborated with a newcomer: the British Army. The Army Reserve Centre and Drill Hall in East Claremont Street transformed into a performance venue that was programmed and staffed by serving soldiers. This was billed as an opportunity to demystify the military, but should we be concerned that this particular kind of militainment is only the beginning of the Army’s engagement in the arts in Scotland and the UK?

I’m an anthropologist of militarism and a theatre-maker, so I felt I had to wander down Leith Walk and make a visit to the drill hall-cum-theatre venue to take a closer look.

Many of the shows programmed by Army@theFringe dealt with subject matters such as race, gender, disability, mental illness and even imperialism. But here I am not interested in reviewing the shows as much as I am reviewing the politics of the Army hosting audiences at the Fringe.

On entering the drill hall I am greeted by soldiers. Lots of soldiers – more than are necessary. There is a relaxed, jovial, slightly disorganised atmosphere that is fairly welcoming. From the research I have done inside military bases the playful banter between soldiers on shift feels fairly familiar to me. Contrary to the marketed image of travel and adventure, being in the army usually entails a lot of waiting around.

I chat to a small crowd of friendly soldiers loitering in the entrance by the makeshift box office. I ask if they are paid any extra on their normal salary to staff the venue. “No,” they tell me, “but we volunteered to do it.” A Superior Officer catches wind of our conversation and strides between us with a brisk yet casual air of importance. He extends his finger in the air and without stopping or looking in my direction he bellows, “All our British soldiers are volunteers! Every single one of them wants to be here!” and continues to walk out the front door.

Compared to a larger conscription army, a volunteer force is easier to train, discipline, and retain. A smaller army also allows for public perception to be controlled by the military public relations team, as a smaller percent of the population actually experience army life. This notion of a professional army full of patriotic volunteers bolsters the cogency of the hero myth that makes up a central tenant of militarism. Once inside the military, individuals have a different (and limited) set of rights compared to civilians, and it is extremely difficult to leave once a contract is signed. In an era of austerity, increasing precarity, and the privatisation of social services such as higher education and healthcare, the army successfully presents itself as a fast track means towards social and economic mobility. So in response to the Superior Officer, how free is a choice between a vanishing number of options?

Inside the drill hall’s Mess there are Chesterfield sofas, a long table complete with tartan tablecloths, cut glass, candelabras, statuettes, trophies and other silver ornaments. The massive stuffed head of a caribou stares over us with glazed eyes and sprawling antlers, framed either side by pictures of Queen Liz and Prince Phillip. Despite all the twee, it feels sterile, solemn and stuffy.

The exhibition at the venue was a celebration of soldiers in both training and operations, including a bigger-than-life-sized photograph of a small child in army camouflage crouching in long grass, without explanation. The Army were keen to assure me that this endeavor was not a recruitment exercise but about public engagement. Lt Col Jo Young, the British Army’s Officer for the Arts commented, “The impact of this is not something we can measure in terms of how many more people will join us as a result.” Lt Col Gordon McKenzie, head of public engagement, described it as “deepening the public understanding of who we are and what we do. So that people can know that behind the uniform we are also human beings”. But focusing on the person behind the uniform diverts the audience’s attention away from the Army as an institution. “Don’t worry about what we might be doing in the Middle East,” it says, “just remember: we’re people too.” In this way, the army’s engagement with the arts is a means to depoliticise the image of a soldier; a deeply political and strategic move.

Theatre is always in danger of becoming an apparatus of the state. Theatre operates on our sensibilities in ways that can evoke deep emotional responses and has the potential to change perceptions and consequential actions (or inaction). Aristotle called this catharsis: an empathetic connection towards the protagonist of a story, which, as the play comes to a resolution, arouses a potent mix of pity and fear in the hearts of the spectators.

Militarism is a kind of theatre in and of itself; a domestic military operation of public relations to recruit our hearts and minds. It communicates a simplified and highly censored story of British exceptionalism and moral righteousness of state sanctioned violence. It transforms violence into something to celebrate. The tragic heroes of this story are service members and we the civilians are a captive audience.

Lt Col Young commented that “Human spirit and human resilience is the common thread that runs throughout our programming. But we are also keen to have conversations with the public about what the forces looks like in the 21st Century. We want to show the public a different side of us. We are society’s army, and so its important that those we serve know about what the army does”.

My research has shown that there is often a disjuncture between imagined and lived military identities. As the protagonists in the narrative of militarism, soldiers and veterans are silenced by idealised notions of their lives and experiences. The more confounding and painful lived realities of post-9/11 military experience get blocked out by the noise of militarism and quickly become unspeakable, un-hearable and invisible. A romanticized public perception of military life can further injure soldiers who are trapped in a traumatic silence, unable to speak their contrary truths.

Lt Col Young and her team are proud to act as programmers, and not actors, writers or directors. Over a gin and tonic Lt Col McKenzie told me that if they become the theatre makers they would be more vulnerable to criticism, but they are not ruling this out for the future. The narratives of militarism that we find at Army@theFringe presents the Army as being inclusive, diverse and open to dialogue. However there is something more at work – the claim to inclusivity conceals the fact that the Army@theFringe is a carefully constructed, morally manageable, imitation of the Army which is difficult to challenge.

Public engagement exercises like the Army@TheFringe venue distance the military from the realities of what it does and disciplines the nation from critically engaging with war, and the implications of our arms trade. “What is often missing from theatre and film depictions of the army” says Iraqi-British playwright Hassan Abdulrazzak “is the voice of those who are/were at the receiving end of military power, namely Afghani, Iraqi, Libyan and Yemeni civilians.”

This is a beginning of much wider programme of work orientated around military engagement in the arts. Army@theFringe is a part of worrying trend of the British military using US-style techniques of garnering public support for the troops. Some of these include the creation of Armed Forces Day in 2009, the commercialization of the Remembrance Poppy, army engagement in schools, learning packs that celebrate British military history for school children, increasing cadet forces across the UK, and a recruitment campaign that exploits young people’s desire to belong.

The Fringe is an open access festival, and this is important for nurturing creative freedom and expression, as was the ethos it was borne out of 70 years ago. I am not advocating censorship or blacklisting. However, this entanglement between the arts and the forces is an issue of censorship – we need to ask, what becomes censored when elite institutions take on the programming and hosting of the arts? Can we really expect to have a meaningful dialogue when the armed forces are calling the shots? How critical can embedded artists really be when in a relationship of gratitude to their military hosts?

The MoD did not have direct influence on four of the shows in their programme, with the exception of Rosie Kay’s dance company for their production of 5 Soldiers: the body is the frontline and the writers of Wired, who visited in the army for a period of time in the research and development stages of their creative process.

So what’s the pull for producers to choose the Army drill hall as the venue to host their show? Lt Col Young tells me that many of the costs involved in putting on a show at the Drill Hall have been subsidised and artists have been further helped out with access to free rehearsal space. The Army@theFringe have already started planning for next year’s Fringe noting in their brief that 2018 is designated Year of the Young Person by the Scottish Government. As part of their package to attract artists they have promised: to organise visits to Army bases or exercises to assist development of productions; access to rehearsal space in army halls across the UK; army personnel and musicians to take part in productions; promotional support from army media and marketing teams, including free distribution of leaflets by uniformed flyer teams; army accommodation being made available for the duration of shows, free meals for casts at the venue; and the possibility of being selected for post-Fringe tours of the Scotland and the UK, supported by the Army.

How to resist being seduced by these offerings that give emerging artists opportunities in a competitive arena like the Fringe? I wanted to ask Summerhall whether, in a time of escalating fear, xenophobia and military activity, is it not the responsibility of arts institutions to make choices that counter, not aide, a growing culture that idolises militarism and war? Despite leaving many messages and sending emails, I’m yet to get an answer.

Militarism operates in innocuous ways that normalise military imaginaries as a part of our everyday lives. At these first stages of the British Armed Forces moving into arts engagement we have a moment to act. Now is the time for artists, writers, directors and arts organisations in the UK and Scotland to come together to make a collective and public declaration on the ethics of collaborating with the Army.

Dr P Kohner is an anthropologist and has a PhD in Applied Social Science specializing in the anthropology of militarism and trauma from the University of Glasgow.  She is also a co-founder of The Workers Theatre cooperative.


Posted in militarism, Recruiting Tagged with: , , , ,

Education not militarization at VFP in Chicago

The National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth will be participating in the 2017 Veterans For Peace National Convention in Chicago August 11th, 2017. Located at the beautiful and historic Palmer House Hotel, veterans and allies will gather to discuss “Education Not Militarization”. Registration begins on Wednesday, August 9th and ends on August 13th with a benefit concert by Jackson Browne. The week will be filled with amazing workshops, discussions, community and music.

NNOMY will be presenting a Mini Plenary workshop between 1:30 and 3:00pm in the Spire meeting room on Friday, August 11th 2017 with the theme, Education Not Militarization: The Nuts and Bolts of Pursuing Policy Changes to Counter Recruitment and Demilitarize Schools.

In the Hancock room, at 3:15 to 4:45pm NNOMY will conduct the workshop, Education Not Militarization: Educating students and countering military recruitment inside the schools, with multiple presenters. Please be on time so we can cover all the materials and have time for questions.






Posted in conference, militarism, Veterans for Peace Tagged with: , , , ,

Military recruitment activist from the UK seeking collaborations!

July 11, 2017
Greetings from the UK.
I’m reaching out to let you know about some of our research into military recruitment, the effects of military training, and the mental health of veterans, which I hope might be of some use to you in the US.
In particular, the work looks in detail at military marketing strategies, the psychological impact of military employment, and the child rights issues arising from enlisting under the age of 18.
The most recent report, released last week by Veterans for Peace UK, is The First Ambush? Effects of army training and employment, which is based mainly on studies published in the UK and US.
Several other reports of this kind cover other parts of the military recruitment and employment pathway.
Even though some of the reports are focused on the British situation, much of the data and many of the arguments could be used in other countries too. Some of the reports are quite long but each has a short executive summary.
Here is a list:
  • The First Ambush? Effects of army training and employment (Veterans for Peace UK, 2017)
  • The Last Ambush? Aspects of mental health in the British armed forces (ForcesWatch, 2013)
The following are focused on the enlistment of minors:
  • The recruitment of children by the UK armed forces: A critique from health professionals (Medact, 2016)
  • Is it counter-productive to enlist minors into the army? (RUSI Journal, 2016) [this presents a child rights, military and financial case for raising the enlistment age to 18]
  • Young age at army enlistment is associated with greater war zone risks (ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International)
You can google any of the titles to get straight to the docs.
Collectively, the research shows comprehensively that enlisting in the armed forces (particularly the army/marines) carries high risks of a negative impact on health, attitudes, behaviour, and socioeconomic outcomes. The youngest recruits are most affected, but older recruits are also affected. The research goes some way to quantifying these effects.
In addition, BeforeYouSignUp.info is available as a British version of your GI Rights site.
I wrote or co-wrote some of these reports and can answer any questions you may have.
I wish our work was more linked up with yours in the US – perhaps I should have contacted you earlier!
Since I really don’t know who’s working on this in the US, would you please send this on to any other organisations you think might be interested? Feel free to pass on my email address, too.
Finally, if you have any similar research that you would like us to know about in the UK, I and others here would be glad to hear of it.
Kind regards
Posted in counter military recruiting, militarism Tagged with: , , ,

What if – the Mariners honored peace activists?

In a Seattle Times article about the possible renaming of Safco Field, there was a picture of the team standing as part of the Salute to Armed Forces Night. This ubiquitous link between sports and the military is seldom questioned, and so, this “subtle” recruiting continues.

Father’s Day is this weekend. Several years ago, at the same time of year, I wandered over to the Father’s Day exhibit at the downtown Seattle Barnes and Noble. The stack of books was a tribute to war, with all of the books being about past wars or weapons.

I went to Customer Service to ask whether this is really how they saw fathers. The Customer Service rep told me that the holiday displays were determined by the main office, and he gave me a phone number. I called, and spoke to someone who said that the displays were different for different kinds of places: as we in Seattle have so many military bases around us, we are deemed to be military-friendly and get the military books.

Otherwise, we might have had books for fathers with families and emotions, as I saw later in a Manhattan Barnes and Noble Father’s Day display.

Recruiting and militarism cannot be separated.


Posted in militarism, sports, war Tagged with: , , , , ,

PNACAC College Fair Seattle April 29, 2017

Alternative to enlisting!

Seattle, April 29, 2017 – Seattle University, Connolly Center
No passes or fees required. Parking is available on the street, at the Connolly Center (at 14th & E Jefferson), at the East Columbia Building (13th Ave & E Cherry), in the Broadway garage (Broadway & E Columbia), and the Murphy garage (on E Cherry between Broadway & 12th Ave). Please note that due to the urban nature of our campus setting, you may need to walk up to 5-10 blocks roundtrip from your car to the location of the fair.
Be aware that street parking is limited to two hours; cars parked on the street longer than two hours will be subject to citation.
Seattle Fair Logistics Information for College Representatives, Students & Parents
Chair: Patrick McCarthy

See http://www.pnacac.org/college-fairs for links and more information

Posted in college, conference, scholarship Tagged with: ,

Peace scholarships for youth 14-23 years, application due April 1, 2017

The Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) is writing to request your help in finding young people 14 to 23 years old (high school and college age) who may be interested in applying for a Fellowship where they would get:

1) $600 to design and conduct their own social change project;

2) get free training for 9 days (June 23 to July 4, 2017, including at the Seabeck conference, (see July 1-4, below) in the theory and skills of organizing nonviolent projects, campaigns and movements, including 2 days for “Core Training in Kingian Nonviolence”; and

3) get further support and training for 1 year as they execute their own project. We are accepting applications from youth anywhere in the country.
Info and applications http://www.wwfor.org/mike-yarrow-peace-fellowship/ info Janis or Bruce Pruitt-Hamm at 206-466-2924 or jpruitthamm@gmail.com

Applications due April 1, 2017

Posted in Peace, Seattle

Draft? For all the wrong reasons….

Karl Marlantes, a Former Marine who fought in the war on Viet-Nam, has an article in today’s New York Times, “The War That Killed Trust.” Marlantes has several books out on Viet Nam, and is very invested in that war, and has written one of the saddest and most illogical stories I’ve ever read.

Marlantes applauds the camaraderie of the military, and believes that the reinstitution of a military draft would bring back a feeling of service to the country, and would level the inequality that has taken over the USA. Wrong and wrong- the rich have always gotten out of serving in US wars, and the anti-war protests that covered the country don’t auger well for a renewed draft. The draft was suspended after Vietnam in an attempt to quell the protests, and fear of those protests has led to a poverty draft, in which public high schools and the Department of Education have collaborated with the Department of Defense to assure the military of access to and influence over students. As long as the (decreasing) middle class kids aren’t forced to fight wars, the protests are few.

That cameraderie belief, reflected so well in Studs Terkel’s “The Good War,” is crafted by military training to cause recruits to protect each other. How grim that so many men of war can only recreate bonds to other men in war. How childish and selfish to believe that to be a model for other people….to make bonds of friendship over the mass murder of civilians. This is nonsense.

Nice, Mr. Marlantes, that you had never eaten a tamale or spoken with a citizen from Mexico before Vietnam. These are society’s failings that will not be made better by having more wars, more recruits. Many of us believe we can skip the step of going to war in finding the humanity in all people.

The comments section is also illuminating. Several commenters, always from the military, mention how good going to war was for them. This is something we often hear at schools when counter recruiting- the military was good for me! I got to travel! I built character! It is a self-centered, short-sighted feeling, and not one to build a foreign policy on. Another article in today’s Times was, of course, about former National Guardsmen Esteban Santiago, who fought in Iraq but came back deeply damaged with PTSD, and killed 5 people and wounded 6 others at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport on January 6, 2017. Many Vietnam veterans are living on the streets. Many, many people do not do well after war.

Many of the commenters also mention the toll of the Vietnam War on Vietnam. Thank goodness for some sanity. Mr. Marlantes doesn’t talk about the utter devastation an illegal and vicious war did to that country, and sounds pretty damaged to me, desperately trying somehow to rationalize what he did, what we did.

January 9, 2017. The New York Times today published an article that attempted to minimize the likelihood that Marlantes came back from Iraq with PTSD. This is a public relations move that has been a constant through the war on Iraq and on Afghanistan: PTSD is overstated! Don’t worry! The military has worried so much about the public seeing the effects of war on their own recruits that authorities at my local Ft. Lewis Joint Base McCord Madigan Hospital  had over 300 PTSD diagnoses reversed. They were also worried, as described in the same article, about the disability payouts to soldiers diagnosed with PTSD that could cost as much as 1.5 million dollars a person for lifetime treatment.


Posted in antiwar, Draft, PTSD Tagged with: , , ,

In combat, you will kill civilians.

Combat Rules To Protect Civilians are Revised,” an article in today’s New York Times, describes the Pentagon’s parsing of the rules for killing civilians.

Potential recruits should understand that they will be put in the position of killing civilians, including children, and that this is not something the psyche bears easily.

No matter how you rationalize killing to yourself, or someone rationalized it to you, you will know it is wrong.

The Pentagon has revised a 2015 manual for waging combat while obeying the international laws of war, tightening rules for when it is lawful to fire on a military target even though civilians — from human shields to workers at weapons factories — are nearby.

The changes, announced late on Tuesday, are the second time this year that the Defense Department has modified its Law of War Manual in response to criticism that portions were inaccurate or dangerous. In July, it overhauled sections of the manual to better protect journalists working in battlefield areas.

“Protecting civilians in armed conflict is critical, and it’s important that our legal guidance is clear and practical,” said Jennifer O’Connor, the Pentagon’s general counsel. “This version of the manual provides greater clarity and also reflects important developments such as the president’s recent executive order on civilian casualties.”

Several legal specialists, who had criticized the old version of the manual as misrepresenting the law of armed conflict in ways that endangered civilians, praised some of the changes but criticized others as still muddled.

Adil Haque, a law professor at Rutgers University who has criticized the manual, offered a mixed review of the changes, saying, “It’s definitely an improvement,” but arguing that some parts still fell short.

The changes focus largely on a section of the manual that discusses the principle of proportionality. In war, it can be lawful to fire on a military target even if civilians are nearby and will be killed as a consequence, but only if the anticipated collateral damage is proportionate to a legitimate military objective.

The original version of the manual suggested that commanders could exclude entire categories of civilians when analyzing proportionality before firing, like civilians used as human shields or those who accompany an enemy force, like mechanics and food workers. They also could exclude civilians working at a place that helps sustain the enemy, like an arms factory.

The manual now makes it clear that commanders selecting targets must take into account the anticipated harm to such civilians, too. In particular, it says that involuntary human shields are fully protected under the proportionality rule.

That is “very important since that category includes both civilians actively forced to shield military targets and civilians passively used to shield military targets without their knowledge or consent (think of the armed group that fires rockets from a residential neighborhood, hospital, etc.),” Mr. Haque wrote in an email. “That’s pretty much every civilian in ISIS-controlled cities and towns.”

Still, the revised manual suggests that voluntary human shields and civilians employed in jobs related to military objectives may count for less in such analysis than ordinary civilians. Some scholars object to the ideathat the law of war permits using a sliding scale when deciding how much protection various civilians will receive.

Mr. Haque found it “really disappointing” that the revisions did not alter a section that states that when there is doubt about the identity of potential targets, commanders need not presume civilians are there.

The manual is the latest in a series that trace back to the Lieber Code, devised by Francis Lieber, a legal scholar and philosopher, whose instructions for war were issued to Union soldiers during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln.

The Pentagon had worked on developing the current manual for two decades and finally issued it in 2015 after a difficult bureaucratic process; other parts of the government with expertise in international law, like the State and the Justice Departments, did not sign off on it.

The changes to the manual’s discussion of civilian protections came after months of criticism from various legal scholars about the wording in the 2015 version.  AUTHOR Charlie Savage

Posted in antiwar, killing, war Tagged with: ,

Military Recruiting in the United States and Planning its Decline and Fall- New Book by Pat Elder!

Military recruiting in the united states cover 1


Military Recruiting in the United States and Planning its Decline and Fall


1. Military Enlistment Ruins Lives  

2. The Military Enlistment Document Is Fraudulent  

3. Recruiting Is Psy Ops at Home 

4. Should Recruiters “Own” Our Schools? 

5. Love Our enemies? Or Kill Them?  

6. Hollywood Pledges Allegiance to the Dollar

7. Madison Avenue Joins the Army  

8. Video Games Recruit & Train Killers

9. Schools Teach Reading, Writing, & Marksmanship

10. The Pentagon Is Tracking Our Kids  

11. “Career Program” Is Enlistment Tool in Camo  

12. JROTC Militarizes American Youth

13. U.S. Flouts U.N. Protocol on Child Soldiers  

Military Recruiting in the United States is available at Amazon.

Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Military Recruiting in the United States provides a fearless and penetrating
description of the deceptive practices of the U.S. military as it recruits
American youth into the armed forces. Long-time antiwar activist Pat Elder
exposes the underworld of American military recruiting in this explosive and
consequential book. The book describes how recruiters manage to convince
youth to enlist. It details a sophisticated psy-ops campaign directed at
children. Elder describes how the military encourages first-person shooter
games and places firearms into the hands of thousands using the schools, its
JROTC programs, and the Civilian Marksmanship Program to inculcate youth
with a reverence for guns. Previously unpublished investigative work reveals
how indoor shooting ranges in schools are threatening the health of children
and school staff through exposure to lead particulate matter. The book
provides a kind of “what’s coming next manual” for European peacemakers as
they also confront a rising tide of militarism. The book examines the
disturbing, nurturing role of the Catholic Church in recruiting youth. It
surveys the wholesale military censorship of Hollywood films, pervasive
military testing in the high schools, and an explosion of military programs
directed toward youth. For more information, visit: www.counter-recruit.org

David Swanson, of World Without War, has written a review.

Military Recruiting in the United States, and Planning its Decline and Fall


By David Swanson
*This text is the foreword to a new book by Pat Elder called Military
Recruiting in the United States <http://www.counter-recruit.org>.*

Most people in the United States are far from aware of the full extent of
military marketing, advertising, and recruitment efforts. We run into
movies and comic books and video games and toys and school worksheets and
science fairs and television shows and websites all the time that have been
funded by and created in collaboration with the U.S. military. But we don’t
know it. Or we know it, but we have so internalized the idea that the most
expensive and extensive military the earth has ever known is simply normal,
that we don’t think of its role in our educational and entertainment
systems as in any way questionable. We don’t even think of the military’s
marketing as being aimed at recruitment, much less ask each other whether
that’s a good thing or being done in a proper way, or whether we ourselves
should be forking over some $600 million a year just for the military’s
advertising budget.

Even more people are unaware of the work of counter-recruiters, of
individuals and organizations that work to increase awareness of military
recruitment and to counter it with inconvenient information — that is,
information that may be inconvenient to recruiters but highly useful to
potential recruits. Counter-recruiters bring veterans into schools to talk
about their regrets. Counter-recruiters warn young people of the dangers of
false promises and of contracts that will be binding only on them, not on
the military. Counter recruiters lobby for policy changes that prevent the
military from obtaining information on students without parental consent.

Sometimes — very rarely – counter-recruiters write outstanding books that
inform us of the current state of affairs and guide us toward paths for
engagement with their work. Pat Elder is a counter-recruiter turned author,
and we are all in his debt. This book makes clear the need for
counter-recruitment, and it provides the tools to expand it.

Why is counter-recruitment appropriate even when there is no draft, the
military is all volunteer, and many people reading this book have never
been pressured to enlist at all? Well, 99% of us in the United States are
asked only to pay taxes for wars, vote for war architects for public
office, tell pollsters we support wars, and tolerate war promotion
throughout our culture. Nothing more is asked of us. But what about that
other one percent? Our tax dollars don’t fund a dime’s worth of pro-peace
propaganda for them. Despite warnings of health threats from the American
Medical Association, military recruiters do not, like cigarette or alcohol
marketers, have to provide the slightest shred of warning regarding the
risks involved. They also are permitted to market to younger people than
are the marketers of cigarettes and alcohol. As Elder points out, in most
U.S. states you must be 21 to drink alcohol and 25 to rent a car, but at 18
you can kill or die in war.

Explaining the heavy, one-sided push experienced by targeted young men and
women, disproportionately in low-income communities, to those who haven’t
experienced it, is like trying to explain predatory mortgage loans that
push the borrower to default in order to collect more fees to someone who’s
only ever encountered banks that hoped their loans would be paid back. If
you doubt the reality of aggressive recruitment, that’s not your fault. But
you won’t doubt it after you read this book.

Counter-recruiters don’t make any promises to anyone, though they may try
to help young people find peaceful careers. They don’t ask anyone to sign a
contract to remain peaceful for six or eight or an infinite number of
years. They don’t secretly receive detailed data on students without their
knowledge in order to better target them for counter recruitment. If we are
to truly think of those who enlist in the U.S. military as volunteers, we
are required to make sure they have accurate information. Volunteering on
the basis of insufficient or misleading knowledge is not volunteering at
all. Counter-recruitment, then, is not something to tolerate, but something
to insist upon.

One of the first things a counter-recruiter, and this book, will make
clear, is that even a well-informed volunteer in the U.S. military, unlike
any other volunteer in any other enterprise, is not permitted to cease
volunteering. Even when a contract expires, the military can extend it
indefinitely. Before it expires, the recruit cannot end it without risk of
a dishonorable discharge and/or prison, and the recruit— by the terms of
the contract—lacks basic Constitutional rights that he or she is often told
the wars are fought to somehow defend. The risks haven’t stopped tens of
thousands of people from deserting the U.S. military in recent years as
soon as they discovered that, like most things, the military does not
really resemble its television commercials.

War participation, unlike in the movies, does not come easily in real life.
It takes intense conditioning to get most people to kill other human
beings, and most people have a hard time recovering from having done so.
This is great news for humanity, but bad news for veterans. The top cause
of death in the U.S. military is suicide, and the suicide rates far exceed
those for civilians. As Elder reports, some 45% of U.S. veterans of Iraq
and Afghanistan have filed injury claims, and some 25% have sought mental
health treatment through the Veterans Administration. About 26,000 sexual
assaults occurred within the U.S. military in 2012. Some states are working
to eliminate veteran homelessness. This is an indication of the
normalization of war in a society in which at some point in the future all
homeless people could be non-veterans. It is also an indication of the fact
that veterans for many years have been far more likely than non-veterans to
lose all means of subsistence. “Support the troops” bumper stickers don’t
actually pay anybody’s rent.

On June 12, 2016, the *New York Times* ran an article that reported that
“modern warfare destroys your brain.” This was a reference to newly
understood physical evidence of the damage done by being near explosions.
If this were the National Football League you might expect a movie like
*Concussion* to dramatize the problem. This being the military, which— by
the way— pays the NFL with our money for most of the war hype at football
games, one must rely on counter-recruiters to spread the word.

There are two major ways in which war destroys your brain, one of them long
predating modernity, and both of them serious, real, and tragic whether
neuroscientists have figured out what they look like under a microscope or
not. In addition to the trauma of explosions, a participant in war faces
the trauma of morality, the pain of facing hatred and violence, the agony
of threatening and inflicting hatred and violence — aggravated in many
cases by the weakness of belief in the cause. Once you join up, you’re not
asked to kill in only the wars you believe in. You’re asked to obey without
thinking at all.

In an end-of-year worldwide poll in 2014, Gallup asked people in dozens of
countries whether they would be willing to fight in a war for their
country. The results were encouraging, with some countries listed at only
10% or 20% willing to join in a war. The United States, at 44% willing to
fight in a war, was quite high — though not the highest — by comparison.
But people surveyed by Gallup covered the full age range of adults, and
most of those years are above recruitment age. Most of those years are
years in which you cannot enlist even if you want to. This poll was
conducted at a time when the United States had multiple wars underway and
had for many years. Why would people claim that they “would” fight in a
war, when clearly they would not? Why would the National Rifle Association
produce a video with an elderly musician, Charlie Daniels, encouraging
warmongering toward Iran? I think a lot of people like to imagine
themselves at war from the safety of their backyards. But in doing so, they
fuel a culture that encourages young people to sign up without thinking it
through. In the words of Phil Ochs:

It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
Now look at all we’ve won
With the saber and the gun.
Tell me, is it worth it all?

I’ve met many veterans who signed up imagining they’d be global policemen
and rescue workers, who discovered they were global pirates and snipers.
Many of the most dedicated peace activists in the United States were once
among the most enthusiastic recruits in the military. Many of them would
not have been recruited had they had more information and other options.
Many would not have been as attracted to Donald Trump’s “steal their oil!”
and “kill their families!” as they were to pretenses of defense or

Polls have found that a majority of recruits say the lack of other career
options was a major factor in their joining up. This is why one of the most
indirect but powerful means of countering recruitment is to increase access
to jobs or college. A “volunteer” military in a full-employment society
with free college and job training would be far more significantly

There are, of course, many sorts of peace activism, including education,
demonstrations, protests, civil disobedience, citizen diplomacy, and so on.
I engage in all of these and support them. But one major form of peace
activism in need of expansion is counter-recruitment. It’s a means of
working locally, something that has greatly benefitted the environmental
movement. It’s a means of working face-to-face with people. It’s a means of
achieving immediate personal successes. When you help one young person stay
out of the military, you know that you have done good work.

And don’t imagine that every person you keep out will be replaced by
someone else going in. And don’t imagine the military does not need people
now that it has robots. The military is having a heck of a time recruiting
enough people to manage its robots. Even drone pilots have suffered PTSD
and suicide. The military is struggling with recruitment, while
counter-recruiters are piling up successes they can point to. Elder points
to some of them in this book and advises on how to achieve more— how to
limit the use of military tests to collect data from students, how to
counter recruitment pitches.

The military not only wants more recruits than it is getting right now, it
wants the ability to use the draft again if desired. Bills have made
significant progress in Congress this year to require that young women
register for the draft just like young men, and to abolish the Selective
Service entirely. The liberal progressive position has been in favor of
keeping the Selective Service in place while adding women to it. That’s how
deeply war has been normalized. Some peace activists even want a draft
because they think it would enlarge the peace movement. They claim the
peace movement has never been as large as during the Vietnam War era when
there was a draft. But there also has not been a U.S. war that killed
anywhere close to as many people since that war. Imagining that we need a
worse war in order to halt war requires that we fail to know our strength.
We actually have the potential to end the draft forever and to deny the
military the “volunteers” it wants as well.

People as smart as Tolstoy and Einstein thought we would end war only when
individuals refused to take part. Ninety-nine percent of us are not asked
to take part, but we have a role to play in protecting that other one
percent. Of course the harm that U.S. wars inflict is overwhelmingly on the
people who live where the wars are fought. The harm to U.S. troops is a
drop in the bucket. But much of that harm is the moral injury that follows
the infliction of harm on others. The experience of killing and injuring is
traumatic for adults and even more so for kids. The United Nations, as
Elder details, has sought to hold the United States accountable for its
violation of a treaty in its recruitment of 17-year-olds. The United States
is also now the only country on earth that has not ratified the Convention
on the Rights of the Child. It’s hard to dismiss the suspicion that
military recruitment plays a role in the decision to remain outside that
otherwise universal treaty and basic standard of modern civilization.

*This text is the foreword to a new book by Pat Elder called Military
Recruiting in the United States <http://www.counter-recruit.org>.*


*David Swanson *is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is
director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org.
Swanson’s books include *War Is A Lie <http://warisalie.org/>*. He blogs at
DavidSwanson.org <http://davidswanson.org/> and WarIsACrime.org
<http://warisacrime.org/>. He hosts Talk Nation Radio
<http://davidswanson.org/taxonomy/term/41>. He is a 2015 and 2016 Nobel
Peace Prize Nominee.

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