For hearts and minds

Ordinary moral considerations require one to do the right thing, and do it well. If it has its intended effect, the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday, requiring colleges that accept federal funding to allow military recruiters on campus, will bring students into the armed forces where the focus is on the second consideration and the “right thing” becomes whatever they’re ordered to do.

Many new recruits think they can join the armed forces ?” America’s most popular socialist institution, with steady paychecks and decent housing, medical and dental benefits ?” to serve and defend the nation while getting an education and learning the skills they’ll need to be successful in life and (one hopes) avoiding war.

Once you join, however, it doesn’t really matter what you think, if all works as it should. According to a Le Moyne College/Zogby poll published in February, 72 percent of U.S. troops say the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq within the next year, with 29 percent of respondents saying the U.S. should withdraw immediately and 22 percent saying the U.S. should withdraw within six months. Their opinions will remain as irrelevant as that of the rest of the U.S. public, until they take action, which in the past meant desertion (or fragging).

Defending the nation from attack is certainly admirable, as are the other goals. But for a nation that hasn’t been attacked by another since 1812, there should be no need for 2.6 million people to serve the armed forces per year, and no need at all for military recruiters on campus. And yet, somehow, having been free from attack for nearly 200 years and with millions already serving, the armed forces have been in danger of running recruitment shortages. Protecting America by joining the armed forces, it would seem, is done not by defending the nation from attack by other nations, but by killing people you never met in countries you’d never been to before.

On Monday, Sgt. Warren Morgan, an Army recruiter, told the Vanguard that a recruiter’s mission is to “get people who are qualified to go in the Army, whether we can be on campus or not.” His purpose, like that of all military recruiters, is not to inform potential recruits and allow them to make sound decisions. Instead, he must meet his recruitment quota and persuade potential recruits to join, and try to do so without exactly lying, but by exploiting hopes and fears and telling irrelevant truths ?” rarely answering the question he’s asked, but answering instead the question he would have liked to have been asked. In short, he, like all recruiters, is a propagandist.

Recruiters are only a small part of corporate and government propaganda efforts, however. According to a Government Accountability Office report, “By fiscal year 2003, [the Department of Defense’s] total recruiting budget was approaching $4 billion annually,” with nearly $600 million going to advertising, around $200 million of which is for the Army alone. In December the Army awarded its advertising account, the government’s largest, worth up to $1.35 billion over five years, to McCann Erickson, the world’s second biggest agency brand.

Creator of MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign, McCann Erickson’s other clients include Nestle, L’Oreal and Coca-Cola. For these other clients, McCann Erickson’s strategy is “creating demand” ?” using imagery and other means to “stir desire” to make people crave products they had never wanted or needed before. The company will go about selling the Army to potential recruits the same way it sells chocolate, makeup and soda, and is expected to replace the “Army of One” slogan with a more meaningless, misleading and persuasive one.

Without receiving government contracts, the U.S. media, including the ultra-liberal New York Times, has approved of and justified not 50 or 95, but 100 percent of U.S. wars, and has never questioned their stated motives, as though the elite families and corporations that own the media, and the corporations that fund it, have some financial interest in war. From the media, and Hollywood as well, we get the sense that U.S. leaders think soldiers are heroes to be admired.

According to Bob Woodward, however, Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state, used to say that “military men are ‘dumb, stupid animals to be used’ as pawns for foreign policy.” Had he never said it, it would still describe more accurately U.S. civilian leaders’ opinions of the armed forces. Ideally, for their civilian leaders in Washington, they would be pawns for foreign policy, but most are more than that, as indicated by the Zogby poll’s findings. Until people start refusing to join the armed forces, however, U.S. leaders will continue to see them as such.