As war once again has come to the forefront of American politics, some students may be wondering, as I have been, how war and militarism directly affect us when we are so far away from the front lines. The most obvious issue is the vast amount of money that war requires. As we are all painfully aware here at PSU, our tuition has been steadily increasing, a “temporary” surcharge appears to have become permanent, and enrollment caps are being discussed. Public education in Oregon and in other states across the nation is in dire straits while the Bush administration intends to spend over $100 billion on its war, money that could be distributed to the states to save our educational systems.
This ballooning military budget wastes national resources. As students, we can identify wasted resources in the form of the military’s Reserve Officer Training Core (ROTC) programs on university campuses and Junior ROTC programs on high school campuses. While ROTC programs offer financial support and military leadership resources to students and prospective students, the deceit and entrapment that result for many kids just trying to get a college education far outweigh the program’s usefulness. Students for Unity here at PSU is currently working on counter-recruitment on the PSU campus and PCC Sylvania campus as well as with high school students across Portland. As an organization committed to working for racial, social and economic justice, SFU believes it is crucial to work to rid educational institutions of military recruiters and work for increased access to higher education through non-military means.
What makes recruitment a social justice issue is the fact that the people targeted by the sales pitch of recruiters are overwhelmingly young people of color and young people from low-income areas. The military capitalizes on these young people’s desire for resources to access higher education. The problem is that recruiters present the military as the one and only means of securing funds for college, thereby making desperate people into soldiers. For example, most JROTC high school participants sign up for the program before they are 18, making it legal for them to leave the program before they are adults as well. Instead of making this choice clear, the military recruiters actively convince these students, who simply wanted leadership training or a club experience, that they have signed a binding commitment to serve in the armed forces. The draft may be gone, but there is still intact a de facto poverty draft, which actively seeks out, deceives and recruits the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our society. This fact is reflected in the demographics of the military. For example, according to the Military Family Resource Center, African Americans make up 20.3 percent of active duty military personnel while composing only 12.3 percent of the general population of the United States. Worse, in the last Gulf War, African Americans comprised 50 percent of front-line troops, who sustain the largest number of casualties and deaths. SFU doesn’t believe that this current war in Iraq is any different, and we’re working to stop the recruitment.
Finally, as students we know that education always has been and should continue to be about teaching people to be free thinkers and to critically analyze their own choices and decisions. Military training runs directly opposite to this goal, teaching blind obedience instead of free thought. The military, with its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, encourages blatantly homophobic behavior in its recruitment practices, which directly violates our university’s anti-discrimination policies. In an age when violence seems to permeate our high schools and our lives, when Americans are trying to promote peaceful conflict resolution among young students in the wake of tragedies like Columbine, it is self-defeating to teach students killing skills on school time.
It is time we redirect resources currently going to ROTC and JROTC programs to promote real community involvement among students, to make education more accessible, and to teach peace and nonviolent conflict resolution instead of violence, intolerance and blind obedience.
Member, PSU Students for Unity