Military Enlistment: or When a Contract Isn't Contract

Jorge Mariscal -

Santiago v. Rumsfeld

It is an axiom among activists working in the area of counter-recruitment that the enlistment contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. What this means in practical terms is that whatever a recruiter promises to deliver to a new recruit-specific jobs or assignment, length of service, benefits, or even citizenship-can be withdrawn or changed at any time.

Section C, Paragraph 9(b) of the enlistment contract states:

"Laws and regulations that govern military personnel may change without notice to me. Such changes may affect my status, pay, allowances, benefits, and responsibilities as a member of the Armed Forces regardless of the provisions of this enlistment/reenlistment document."

While this loophole is well known in counter-recruitment circles, it obviously is not something recruiters emphasize to young people and their families. Major David Griesmer, public affairs officer for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command based in Quantico, Virginia, for example, recently described the recruitment process to the San Francisco Chronicle:

"If you don’t like what you’re hearing, you can walk away. And I can tell you that everything is spelled out in a contract when the applicant signs."

But the Pentagon’s stand down of all recruitment activities on May 20 was a warning flag signaling widespread recruiter deception and unethical conduct. More important, the recent case brought by a National Guard soldier against the Pentagon puts the lie to Major Griesmer’s claim and sheds new light on the true nature of the military enlistment contract, a contract that according to this recent court decision is no contract at all.

In Santiago v. Rumsfeld, the curtain concealing the realities of military service is pulled back to reveal the literal meaning of G.I. (government issue) or the soldier as property. Emiliano Santiago, the young Mexican immigrant who brought the case, was not a political activist and did not oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The son of migrant farmworkers, he enlisted in the Oregon National Guard for one of the more intangible reasons young people sign up-the lure of the uniform. He recalls his recruiter telling him that the National Guard would never leave the United States "unless there was World War III."

For almost eight years, the recruiter’s partial truth held up for Santiago even though thousands of National Guard troops already had been sent to Afghanistan and Iraq. With only two weeks left in the Guard, Santiago was ordered to report to Fort Sill where his unit was prepariing for deployment to Afghanistan.

Because his term of enlistment was technically over Santiago decided to challenge the government. Currently more than a dozen soldiers affected by the so-called stop-loss policy have filed similar lawsuits. Between 40,000 and 50,000 active-duty, reserve, and National Guard personnel have had their terms extended under the policy since 2001.

Santiago and his attorneys lost the first round in the U.S. District Court in Oregon, and immediately appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit. On May 13, 2005, a panel of three judges upheld the lower court’s ruling and thereby validated the government’s position.

In their opinion, the judges invoked Title 10 § 12305(a) of the U.S. Code which reads in part:

"the President may suspend any provision of law relating to promotion, retirement, or separation applicable to any member of the armed forces who the President determines is essential to the national security of the United States."

According to Santiago’s lawyers, such presidential power is granted only when Congress has declared war or a national emergency. President Bush declared a national emergency on September 14, 2001 but Congress has yet to do so. The presidential decree has been renewed each year since 2001 even though U.S. Code Title 50 § 1622 reads:

"Not later than six months after a national emergency is declared, and not later than the end of each six-month period thereafter that such emergency continues, each House of Congress shall meet to consider a vote on a joint resolution to determine whether that emergency shall be terminated.."

The Ninth Circuit Court’s decision underwrites the almost unlimited power of the executive branch in national security situations, affirming the government’s contention that "threre is no basis for the notion that principles of construction drawn from commercial contract disputes can be invoked to transform a vital federal statute into a dead letter, especially in the crucial area of the President’s power to command the military and protect this Nation’s security."

Of greater interest to counter-recruitment activists are the arguments made about the legal status of military personnel. In both the district court case and the Ninth Circuit case government lawyers argued that contractual obligations did not apply in the Santiago case because upon entering the military the status of a "citizen" shifts to that of "soldier."

Basing its argument on Bell v. United States (1961), itself based on an 1890 decision, the government stipulated: "Enlistment in the armed forces does not constitute merely a bargain between two parties, but effects a change of status by which ‘the citizen becomes a soldier.’" Under this new status, "common law contract principles yield to federal statutes and regulations." The government further argued: "The terms of an enlistment contract certainly cannot circumscribe the authority of the Presidentto conduct the nation’s military policy."

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling reiterated that the military enlistment contract "provides notice that changes in federal law-even if inconsistent with the written terms of the contract-would apply" given that "the contract itself specifies that unlisted contingencies may cause an alteration in the agreed upn terms." In short, every recruit who signs an enlistment contract has just signed away his or her fundamental rights as a U.S. citizen.

Acknowledging the "disruption, hardship, and risk that extension of his enlistment is causing Santiago to endure," the Ninth Circuit nevertheless upheld the original decision and in effect sent Santiago packing to Afghanistan. Post-trial comments by the Pentagon spokesmen denied that the purpose of stop-loss orders was to compensate for recent recruitment shortfalls.

Rather, argued Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, "It’s about teams I think most Americans would prefer that, even if they’re opposed to the war, that they fight together as teams." Apparently, as Emiliano Santiago learned the hard way, the U.S. military is a "team" that recruits young men and women under false pretenses and then never allows them to quit. Santiago’s new estmated date of separation from the National Guard is December 25, 2031. The government has assured him that the date is simply an "administrative convenience."

JORGE MARISCAL teaches Chicano Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Project YANO (San Diego), a counter-recruitment and anti-militarism organization. Visit his blog at: He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Jorge Mariscal habla sobre el reclutamiento de latinoamericanos en el ejército de Estados Unidos

Erasmo Magoulas/Rebelión -

Entrevista a Jorge Mariscal, activista anti-reclutamiento de la organización YANO (Oportunidades No-militares para los Jóvenes) Los hispanos que optan por alistarse en el ejercito usamericano para combatir en Iraq

Jorge Mariscal es profesor del Departamento de Estudios Chicanos y Latinos de la Universidad de California en San Diego

La inmensa mayoría de los jóvenes hispanos en Usamérica tiene la posibilidad de abrir tres puertas hacia sus futuros. Una es la de los empleos de poca monta, mal pagados, donde serán discriminados continuamente. La segunda puerta que pueden abrir es la de la cárcel. La última los lleva de frente con el reclutador. Llenan los formularios mientras escuchan promesas sobre la tierra de las oportunidades. Sólo tienen que “defender su patria” en Irak.

“Muy pocos latinos que viven en los Estados Unidos llegan a la universidad. El 40% no termina el nivel de escuela secundaria. El crecimiento demográfico de la comunidad hispana en este país es muy alto, pero por otro lado, las oportunidades de mejores empleos son cada vez menores. La verdad es que algunos, pero muy pocos, logran terminar sus estudios, gracias a haberse alistado en el ejercito y muchos pierden la vida en lugares como Iraq. En 20 años tendremos en los estados del sur de la Unión un verdadero “Apartheid”, como el que sufrió Sudáfrica.” Jorge Mariscal

Cuéntanos cómo es un día de reclutamiento en una escuela de San Diego. ¿Qué factores psicológicos, económicos, sociales y políticos entrar en juego para que los reclutadores del ejército llenen sus planillas con jóvenes hispanos?

Primero, permíteme decirte que trabajo para una organización cuyas siglas en ingles son «Project YANO» (Proyecto de Oportunidades No-militares para Jóvenes). Este proyecto ha venido haciendo trabajo de contra reclutamiento mediante la concientización, a los mismos jóvenes que son blancos de los reclutadores, de lo que significa alistarse en el ejército de los Estados Unidos y también charlas y talleres con sus familias.

Ya en 1980 nos dimos cuenta que el gobierno no concedía prestamos para estudios a los que no se alistaban. Esto nos dio la pauta que, desde el vamos, la guerra y todo su aparato tiene un componente de discriminación de clase social y económica. La guerra es una herramienta de perpetuación y profundización de las diferencias económicas.

Durante la administración Clinton, esta se dio cuenta de la poca representación en el ejército de nuestra comunidad y a su vez de las pocas oportunidades de mejoría económica y social que tienen los hispanos en los Estados Unidos.

Un porcentaje muy bajo de nuestros jóvenes llega a la universidad, más del 40 % no termina la escuela secundaria. Entonces se presenta todo un nuevo esfuerzo, por parte del gobierno, en mostrar al ejército como una oportunidad de ascenso económico y social para nuestros jóvenes.

Los programas de reclutamiento son en español, los reclutadores comienzan a manejar los signos y símbolos de los jóvenes hispanos, penetran su cultura, para poder convencerlos de los beneficios de alistarse en el ejército. La escuela se convierte en el lugar ideal para los reclutadores. Ellos comparten con los jóvenes el almuerzo, los recreos jugando al baloncesto y las charlas sobre los beneficios de alistarse, pero también existen programas de estudio, como por ejemplo "la versión militar de la Historia«,»valores patrióticos" y demás. El mismo manual de los reclutadores dice que estos deben «tomar control» de la escuela. En San Diego tenemos escuelas donde los maestros llevan a los estudiantes a las bases militares o a una graduación del Cuerpo de Marines. A veces los mismos militares llegan a las aulas con afiches y diapositivas para hablar de la vida militar.

¿Cuáles son las tres principales razones que llevan a los jóvenes latinos a decir «Pero yo necesito hacer esto ahora», alistarse como Infante de Marina?

J. M. La razón principal es "Quiero estudiar y mi familia no puede pagar por mi educación." Es decir, se alistan para poder estudiar en el futuro (otra versión del deseo postergado y desviado, típico de la clase trabajadora en EEUU). La verdad es que algunos, pero muy pocos, logran terminar sus estudios, gracias a haberse alistado en el ejercito y muchos pierden la vida en lugares como Iraq. Segundo, los jóvenes dicen «Quiero ser alguien» o "Quiero hacer orgullosos a mis padres,«o»Quiero hacer una diferencia," lo cual es el resultado de la alineación creada en las comunidades pobres y minoritarias dentro del sistema capitalista en EEUU. Puesto que a los jóvenes les falta un sentido de pertenencia o voluntad personal, para poder tener un impacto en el mundo como individuo buscan la pertenencia ofrecida por los militares (otra ilusión, desde luego). Y tercero hay que admitir que muchos jóvenes hispanos operan dentro de un patriotismo o nacionalismo ciego, producto de un lavado de cerebro, en el cual reproducen las ideologías de la clase dirigente diciendo bobadas como «EEUU, somos el número uno» y cosas por el estilo.

¿Qué respuesta tiene la campaña anti-reclutamiento del Proyecto YANO? ¿Cómo responden los jóvenes latinos a esta campaña?

J. M. Proyecto YANO provee información a los jóvenes sobre las realidades de la vida militar. La guerra en Irak va a acabar algún día. Nosotros tratamos de parar la próxima guerra, por medio de un movimiento de base contra el militarismo, sobre todo contra la militarización del sistema escolar en EEUU. El hecho de que los Infantes de Marina tienen un programa para los niños de ocho años indica hasta qué nivel ha llegado la militarización en este país. Pero no cabe duda, de que lo que necesitamos es una agenda sobre las prioridades nacionales totalmente diferente a la actual. Si las cuestiones de educación, salud y justicia económica no se resuelven, las masas de los hispanos y otros grupos no privilegiados van a estar empujados hacia las fuerzas armadas, los trabajos menos deseables o la cárcel. Muchos jóvenes hispanos se dan cuenta de que su futuro está en juego y responden muy positivamente a nuestra campaña. Sobre todo las familias inmigrantes recién llegadas nos han apoyado.

La emigración de un determinado país implica una negación y la inmigración a otro un reconocimiento a valores culturales. ¿Cómo es afectado, inclusive el joven de segunda generación usamericano (latino) en este proceso de transculturación?

J. M. Depende mucho de donde está ubicado el individuo. Hay algunos jóvenes hispanos que se asimilan totalmente a la cultura dominante. Es decir, se identifican a-críticamente con los valores del sistema, del poder, del establecimiento. Algunos de ellos llegan a alto niveles de poder como el fiscal Alberto González (hijo de campesinos mexicanos del sur de Texas) «comprobando» el mito de «Horatio Alger» o de la movilidad vertical para todos. Estos funcionan como ejemplos no significativos pero si justificadores de la agenda de la clase dirigente. Hay otros que reconocen que hay que hacer cambios para que se logre algún avance en lo que respecta a justicia social y democracia. Estos de origen mexicano se conocen como chicanos y chicanas.

La imagen colonialista del «buen salvaje» (el indio Tonto de la serie «El Llanero Solitario») es quizás la que mejor encaja en figuras representativas de la vida política usamericana como Alberto González (Fiscal General) y militar como Ricardo Sánchez (Teniente General y Jefe Máximo de Operaciones en Iraq entre el 03-04). Los dos son hispanos, a los dos el establishment los presenta como modelos, paradigmas, ejemplos. Sin embargo son todo lo contrario. ¿Por qué?

J. M. Son todo lo contrario para nosotros que queremos promover una sociedad más justa, no para unos «elegidos» sino para todos. Para otros, Gonzáles, Sánchez y Rice son modelos positivos. Sobre este tema hay que regresar a los estudios clásicos del colonialismo (Memmi, Fanon) que explican como el colonialismo fabrica ?unos individuos ejemplares? sacados del grupo oprimido para demostrar las buenas intenciones de sus amos. De verdad Bush ha sido brillante en su cooptación de una política basada en «la raza» y la demanda por los grupos minoritarios de que haya más gente de color en el gobierno. Los casos de González y Sánchez son fascinantes, no solo porque los dos han subido a rangos altos del gobierno de Bush, pero también porque sus familias empezaron como campesinos en los campos del sur de Texas. Ahora bien el choque se hace evidente cuando sabemos que los dos han apoyado las prácticas más reaccionarias y más crueles de Bush y los suyos, la tortura, los ataques contra la protección de los derechos constitucionales, etc. Para mi el hecho de que Sánchez autorizó el uso de perros contra los prisioneros iraquíes (igual como lo hicieron los españoles contra los antiguos mexicanos en el siglo 16) es un dato impresionantemente repugnante.

E. M. La sociedad americana en su conjunto es una gran maquinaria de adoctrinamiento. Uno de los más promocionados dogmas en la actualidad es la “lucha contra el terrorismo” y la defensa de la «patria». ¿Qué papel ha jugado y lo sigue haciendo la prensa corporativa en el alistamiento de jóvenes para la guerra de las corporaciones?

J. M. Los medios juegan un papel importante en la militarización de la cultura-Hollywood de este país. La presencia de los militares en todos los eventos deportivos, los juegos electrónicos (el más popular actualmente fue diseñado por el Ejército), etc., todo contribuye a una inclinación pro-militar entre los jóvenes y mucho más a partir del 11 de septiembre 2001. En términos del reclutamiento más abierto, el Pentágono tiene un presupuesto de billones de dólares para la propaganda y estrategias complejas para infiltrar el ambiente escolar empezando con los jóvenes de 8 a 18 años.

E. M. Explícanos la diferencia semántica y socio-antropológica de los términos latino, hispano, chicano e «hispanic».

J. M. «Latino» es un término genérico que se usa para poder incluir a todos los grupos en EEUU de origen latinoamericano desde los México-americanos con orígenes en el suroeste del país, empezando desde los que llegaron en siglos anteriores hasta los inmigrantes más recientes. «Hispanic» es otro término genérico inventado por el gobierno federal en los años 70s y promulgado por las corporaciones a través del los 80 hasta hoy. De ahí que ha tenido significados negativos para mucha gente porque se asocia con posiciones políticas conservadoras. «Hispano» es el termino preferido por los inmigrantes recientes de habla española y no conlleva ninguna de las connotaciones de «Hispanic.» «Chicano» nació en los años 60s como producto del Movimiento Chicano, una insurgencia en pro de los derechos civiles y un internacionalismo en solidaridad con los movimientos anticoloniales en Cuba, Vietnam, Puerto Rico y otros lugares. Actualmente conlleva connotaciones de una política militante y progresista (con la excepción de algunos grupos xicanos (con ’x’) que promueven una especie de nacionalismo estrecho basado en las identidades indígenas).

E. M. ¿Cuáles son los síndromes psico-traumáticos para un veterano de origen hispano de Iraq o, bajo tu experiencia, de Vietnam, a diferencia de los que puede sufrir un anglo?

J. M. Los efectos psicológicos impactan a cualquier veterano según su red de apoyo, o sea, los recursos que le son disponibles según su clase económica. Los veteranos de la guerra de Vietnam que viven en las calles de las grandes ciudades, por ejemplo, son de todos los grupos étnicos. Hasta cierto punto los estudios sugieren que los veteranos hispanos de Vietnam sufrieron menos que los anglos por la mayor contención y fuerza de lazos familiares y comunitarios que existe en nuestra cultura. Se me hace que vamos a ver los mismos fenómenos con los jóvenes que regresarán de Iraq y Afganistán.

E. M. ¿Aun sobreviviendo a la guerra y superando el síndrome de stress postraumático, haberse enlistado te abre oportunidades de futuro si eres latino o aun un blanco pobre?

J. M. En algunos casos sí. El servicio militar ha servido a los hispanos de EEUU como vía hacia la clase media, desde que los primeros mexicanos se alistaron después de la conquista del Suroeste en 1848. Esto pasó sobre todo después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial. La ausencia de opciones, hace que el servicio militar sea una de las pocas puertas abiertas para una comunidad que está considerada por la clase gobernante como mano de obra barata. Para muchos veteranos, sin embargo, las oportunidades no se incrementan después del servicio y para muchos disminuyen. Muchos de los hombres que viven en las calles de EEUU sin domicilio son veteranos de guerra.

E. M. Si desde el año 1991 más de 11 mil veteranos de la Guerra del Golfo han muerto de enfermedades desconocidas o poco claras (uranio empobrecido) y más de 160 mil sufren postrados o en forma crónica, como ves tú la repercusión que tendrá en la sociedad usamericana en general y en las comunidades latinas en particular el retorno de los veteranos de esta guerra?

J. M. Ya estamos viendo el impacto de la guerra con los veteranos, física y psicológicamente enfermos, los muchos que han perdido un brazo o una pierna, los que están llenos de resentimiento y odio y los que ya se han suicidado. Para las comunidades latinas es una trágica pérdida de talento, que necesitamos tanto o más que otras comunidades más privilegiadas. En cuanto a los efectos a largo plazo del uranio empobrecido y las vacunas experimentales vamos a ver consecuencias similares a las que vimos después de Vietnam, así como las enfermedades causadas por armas químicas como el Agente Naranja.

E. M. En el caso del alistamiento de la mujer latina, existen tres niveles de subestimación y racismo por parte de la sociedad militar dominante usamericana. A los factores de inmigrante y latina se le agrega el factor de género. ¿Qué es lo que sufre una mujer latina con el alistamiento militar? Tomemos como ejemplo una mujer boricua y una mexicana pobre.

J. M. Primeramente hay que reconocer que todas las mujeres experimentan altos grados de acoso y hostigamiento en las fuerzas armadas estadounidenses. Los estudios recientes indican que más de un 80% de las mujeres han recibido comentarios insultantes y hasta actos de violación. Ahora bien, la mujer de color siempre es más vulnerable a este tipo de conducta. En cuanto a las razones por las cuales las mujeres latinas se enrolan son las mismas razones que dan los hombres, aunque a veces la mujer está buscando salida a una situación doméstica negativa. Las boricuas tanto como las mexicanas se alistan por razones económicas, con la diferencia de que algunas boricuas de la Isla heredan las tradiciones anticolonialistas, de modo que su presencia en las fuerzas armadas de EEUU es dolorosamente irónica. Por otro lado, una mexicana pobre está más vulnerable a las ideologías de Horatio Alger y del nacionalismo ciego.

E. M. ¿El deseo de ser reconocido, deseado y necesitado por la "cultura hegemónica del poder" es mas fuerte en las mujeres latinas que en los hombres?

J. M. En mi experiencia no es así. Todos los jóvenes a los que les falta una conciencia crítica frente a los mitos dominantes van a querer asimilarse. De hecho, los hombres muchas veces son más agresivos en su patriotismo a-crítico, por ejemplo del colonizado que se identifica con el colonizador.

E. M. ¿No te parece que hay mucha hipocresía en el movimiento anti-guerra usamericano? Ahora que están cayendo «sus muchachos» es que quieren que la guerra se termine. ¿Qué diferencias, a tu criterio, existen entre este movimiento anti-guerra y el de Vietnam?

J. M. El movimiento anti-guerra en EEUU está compuesto de muchos sectores distintos. Algunos sectores son pacifistas con orígenes en las iglesias norteamericanas, otros son liberales o socialistas de tipo anti-imperialista, otros incluso son conservadores pero pro-aislamiento en la política extranjera. No veo ninguna hipocresía en estos sectores. De hecho, estos grupos formaban un movimiento anti-guerra impresionante antes de la invasión de Irak. El problema es que para la gran mayoría de la gente esta guerra es distante precisamente porque «sus muchachos» no están afectados, sino los muchachos y las muchachas de la clase media baja o trabajadora. La gran diferencia entre hoy y la guerra de Vietnam es el hecho de que actualmente no tenemos la conscripción o el servicio militar obligatorio. La «draft» siempre es capaz de movilizar millones de jóvenes que se ven amenazados por las guerras imperialistas.

E. M. ¿Por qué el movimiento anti-guerra usamericano no hace mas hincapié en reforzar el concepto de Fuerzas Patriotas, Guerreros Heroicos y Pueblo Mártir a todos los iraquíes que dan sus vidas en defensa de su país, de su cultura, soberanía y libertad?

J. M. Sería difícil reforzar este tipo de solidaridad puesto que en EEUU no sabemos los detalles de la resistencia iraquí. Suponemos que hay un sector de la resistencia que sea socialista y secular, pero ¿quiénes son? Los medios en EEUU no dicen ni una palabra sobre ellos, pero hablan constantemente sobre los islamistas fundamentalistas, los restos del Partido Baath, etc. Mientras que durante la guerra de EEUU en Vietnam era bastante fácil promover la solidaridad con el campesino vietnamita. Ahora la complejidad de la situación en Irak hace esto más problemático.

E. M. El «núcleo duro» de la oligarquía yanqui (las 500 familias) está librando dos encarnizadas guerras en la actualidad, una tiene un frente externo, en Iraq y la otra uno interno, contra las minorías, los inmigrantes y los pobres en general que viven en Usamérica. ¿Qué papel juegan los jóvenes latinos en estas guerras?

J. M. Claro, la oligarquía en EEUU no funciona de manera monolítica. Por ejemplo, en el caso de los inmigrantes hay nativistas racistas tipo Ku Klux Klan, por ejemplo, los llamados Minutemen (cazadores de inmigrantes ilegales en la frontera Mexico-EEUU), apoyados por intelectuales conservadores de alto rango como Samuel Huntington de la Universidad de Harvard, que dicen que el inmigrante hispano es la amenaza más grave a la cultura, las tradiciones y la identidad usamericanos. Ahora bien, hay otro sector más corporativo representado por Bush y los suyos que se dan cuenta que el inmigrante es una necesidad económica que hay que manejarlo para poder explotarlo mejor. Actualmente, los jóvenes hispanos forman la vanguardia de la resistencia a las nuevas olas anti-inmigrantes y el resurgimiento del racismo. Sobre las guerras imperialistas la comunidad hispana todavía no ha dicho lo suficiente. Históricamente, nuestra comunidad siempre ha llegado tarde a una política internacionalista a causa del miedo creado por las presiones racistas (ejemplo, la guerra usamericana en Vietnam).

E. M. La política fascista de Bush tiene una gran resistencia por parte de grupos de jóvenes latinos. ¿Cómo son reprimidos estos grupos? J. M. Desafortunadamente no existe hoy en día un movimiento coordinado de jóvenes latinos y latinas aunque en todas las regiones del país hay grupitos de activistas que siguen agendas locales como reacción defensiva a los efectos de la política reaccionaria de Bush y Cia. Estos grupos se forman alrededor de cuestiones de la oportunidad educativa, la migración, la solidaridad con los Zapatistas y con Venezuela, etc. Sin embargo faltan, tanto una resistencia coherente a Bush, como líderes hispanos a nivel nacional que no estén comprados por el sistema.

E. M. Para la sociedad usamericana en general y posiblemente para los jóvenes en particular y más especialmente para los jóvenes latinos, es muy difícil «ver», interpretar la sociedad en términos dialécticos. Bueno, esto no es casual. El Proyecto Yano explica en sus campañas anti-reclutamiento que los ejércitos imperialistas, como el usamericano, tiene como único objetivo proteger los intereses económicos y por lo tanto políticos de la oligarquía usamericana?

J. M. En nuestras campañas tenemos que pensar estratégicamente para el largo plazo. Si queremos entrar en las escuelas públicas para debatir la propaganda de los reclutadores militares, no podemos incluir un análisis anti-imperialista en nuestra presentación o en nuestra literatura. Al hacerlo nos hacemos inútiles porque perdemos acceso a los grandes agrupamientos de jóvenes. Sin embargo, en nuestros escritos mediáticos y en los foros comunitarios sí podemos entrar más en cuestiones de este tipo, tratando de vincular la cuestión del servicio militar con la totalidad del contexto político en una era del neo-imperialismo.

E. M. La cultura retardataria del poder ha tratado de pintar una figura del chicano más folclórica que política. ¿Cómo ha sido la lucha de los chicanos contra la guerra de Vietnam y contra la de Iraq?

J. M. Los chicanos y las chicanas montaron su propio movimiento anti-guerra en el 69. Muchos fueron inspirados por el ejemplo de la Revolución Cubana, el movimiento estudiantil en México y por la lucha del pueblo vietnamita. Había importantes manifestaciones anti-guerra de chicanos y puertorriqueños durante esa época y en la más grande del 29 de agosto de 1970 en Los Angeles, California, la policía mató a tres personas incluyendo el reportero méxico-americano Rubén Salazar. Las fuerzas reaccionarias, sobre todo, durante el gobierno de Ronald Reagan han tratado de borrar esta historia y han tenido éxito. Muchos jóvenes hispanos, sobre todo los que llegaron como inmigrantes en la última década, no conocen esta herencia de militancia y resistencia. Actualmente no tenemos un movimiento hispano contra el neo-imperialismo. Sin embargo, es importante notar que algunos de los objetores de conciencia más destacados son latinos como el ex-sargento Camilo Mejía de origen nicaragüense. Mejía luchó en Irak, regresó y se negó a volver a la zona de combate. Fue sentenciado a nueve meses en la cárcel y ahora habla contra la guerra. No es nada fácil tomar una posición radical como hispano hoy en día cuando el ambiente anti-hispano y racista en EEUU está creciendo cada día más.

E. M. La doctrina del Destino Manifiesto no sólo tiene un frente imperial, más allá de las fronteras de Usamérica, sino también un frente interno que es el Destino Manifiesto de los Anglosajones, Blancos y Protestantes sobre el resto de la población. ¿Cuál es el análisis que hacen las minorías sobre este frente interno de control y dominación y si este análisis se basa en principios revolucionarios.

J. M. Claro está que el primer caso del Destino Manifiesto fue la invasión y ocupación del norte de México por parte de EEUU durante los 1840s. Así es que los ciudadanos usamericanos de ascendencia mexicana y con conciencia «chicana» sabemos muy bien que esta ideología sigue vigente a principios del siglo 21. Para darse cuenta de esto se pueden leer unos estudios recientes del Pentágono que reproducen los mismos estereotipos raciales sobre «el latino» inventados en el siglo 19. El análisis de la gran mayoría de los hispanos, sin embargo, se ubica dentro del pluralismo de la democracia liberal, es decir, dentro de la demanda por los derechos civiles, igual acceso a la educación y otros recursos, etc. Con la excepción de algunos grupos de la izquierda revolucionaria, no hay ningún análisis revolucionario por parte de los hispanos. Pero al pensar con los ojos abiertos hay que admitir que no existen las condiciones objetivas en EEUU para un movimiento revolucionario. Según le dijo el Che a un estudiante usamericano en el año 63, su libro sobre la guerra de guerrillas no fue diseñado para usarse en las Montañas Rocallosas.

E. M. ¿Cuál es tu apreciación sobre el pasado militar y la entrega patriótica de George W. Bush?

J. M. Eso es muy tragicómico y si no hubieran tantas muertes y tanto dolor de por medio, sería para desternillarse de la risa. Como todo el mundo sabe, ni Bush, ni la gente que está a su alrededor, comenzando por el vicepresidente Cheney sirvieron en el servicio militar. Debido a que todos ellos provienen de familias ricas e influyentes, con conexiones y enchufes lograron ?salvarse? de cumplir con la patria. Se escondieron los muy valientes durante su guerra de Vietnam. Lo más hipócrita de todo esto es que son estos señores los que mandan a Iraq a nuestros jóvenes para matar y morir, en una guerra que beneficia sólo a sus empresas petroleras. Tal vez Cheney, ahora, luego del día de caza de perdices y del escopetazo al amigo, haya experimentado algo de la vida militar.

¿Quién sabe? Con esta administración todo es posible.

* Productor de medios radiales alternativos en la Provincia de Ontario, Canadá.


Erasmo Magoulas

How Military Recruiters Pitch to Latinos

Jorge Mariscal -

PowerPoint Racism

In a 1958 CIA information report on revolutionary activities in Cuba, the agent in charge wrote "Che [Guevara] is fairly intellectual for a Latin." A racist assertion such as this was not uncommon in government documents. Throughout the Cold War, official bureaucratic language and content continued to be influenced by long-standing"scientific" theories about national character and racial psychology.

Those of us engaged in anti-racist activism and research are well aware that many racial stereotypes with origins in earlier centuries persist in corporate boardrooms, universities, and shop floors across America. But although we know the conservatives’ claims about "level playing fields," "the end of racism," and "post-civil rights society" are hollow rhetoric, we can still be stunned to find 19th century images and assumptions being reproduced in public spaces at the beginning of the 21st century.

As has been widely reported in the media over the last two years, the Pentagon’s interest in young Latino men and women peeked in the late 1990s when demographic indicators revealed that Latino youth would be the largest pool of military age youth in coming decades. Because Latino youth were (and continue to be) underrepresented in the military and because their educational and economic opportunities are limited compared to other groups, recruiting strategists have been busy concocting a series of well-funded "Hispanic initiatives."

For almost a decade, the Pentagon has thrown millions of dollars at Spanish-language recruitment campaigns and promoted fast-track naturalization procedures for non-citizens. Even laudable proposals that would provide provisional residency for non-citizen students so that they could attend college (the DREAM Act) have been salted with covert military options (see note below).

The Return of "Scientific" Racism

One of the founding documents of modern racism is Count Arthur de Gobineau’s The Inequality of Human Races (1853-1855). This remarkable manual of racist thinking found its most enthusiastic audience in the German Reich but also exerted its influence over all Western racisms, especially their North American mutations.

In the conclusion to his chapter on the "Inequalities of languages," Gobineau writes: "All the facts, however, mentioned in this chapter go to prove that, originally, there is a perfect correspondence between the intellectual virtues of a race and those of its native speech; that languages are, in consequence, unequal in value and significance as races are also that their qualities and merits, like a people’s blood, disappear or become absorbed, when they are swamped by too many heterogeneous elements Hence, though it is often difficult to infer at once, in a particular case, the merits of a people from those of its language, it is quite certain that in theory this can always be done."

Today, Gobineau’s name is known to only a handful of scholars. But the racist logic that informed his writings lives on deep in the structures of U.S. society.

During a 2005 training session for employees of the Department of Defense’s Joint Advertising and Marketing Research and Studies program (JAMRS), representatives of the New York-based Michael Saray Hispanic Marketing firm made a power point presentation designed to upgrade the military’s campaign to attract Latino youth.

The mission of JAMRS, according to the official website, is the following: "Our marketing communications programs help broaden people’s understanding of Military Service as a career option, while our internal government market research and study programs help bolster the effectiveness of all the Services’ recruiting and retention efforts." The presentation by the Saray group, whose clients include major corporate players such as Allstate and Geico, was designed to explain "Hispanics" to JAMRS employees in order to facilitate the military’s niche marketing efforts.

This kind of activity belies the Pentagon’s frequent contention that recruiters do not target by ethnicity. In fact, reports such as the one prepared by the CNA Corporation in 2004 reveals that the Marine Corps recruiting station in San Diego, California, collects detailed information on "economic and race/ethnic distributions in its fifteen substations and eleven contact areas." The report notes that "Hispanics" make up 31% of the population in this station area that stretches from the U.S.-Mexico border to southern Utah.

In the "Language and Cultural DNA" section of the Saray group’s presentation, we learn three important assumptions: 1) "Latinos are culturally ‘hard wired’ differently," 2) "Hispanics" are "right brain" and thus "emotional, intuitive, creative, and visionary" (unlike "left brain" groups who are "intellectual, sequential, analytical, logical"), and 3) "America’s system of education was built on a strong cultural bias toward the left hemisphere of the brain."

Citing a study by the influential Yankelovich, Inc., public opinion research firm, presenters showed audience members a typology of consumers composed of four basic types: "Fervents, Indifferents, Practicals, and Emotionals." According to the study’s authors, "Hispanics are twice as likely to be Emotionals."

Simply put, JAMRS trainees were taught "the Spanish language has not favored intellect over emotion. It’s [sic] bias or thought process has not favored the left brain over the right brain. This is a real cultural difference." Therefore, the Saray group’s advice to Pentagon ad men devising Hispanic campaigns for military recruitment is to "avoid blatant overuse of numbers. You want to reach the heart, not the left brain." To sum up, "the traditions of Hispanic culture are not necessarily in-synch with the concept of ‘mainstream society’ or the ‘American Dream.’ In general, Hispanics are right brain thinkers. The marketer must ‘acculturate’ or risk losing relevancy by continued reliance on left brain thinking."

The Fastest Growing Segment of the Population-Hispanic Right Brain Emotionals

What is not at all clear is the extent to which Pentagon officials subscribe to the Saray’s group language-based system of racial types. One can only assume that the consequences for diversifying the officer corps, to take one area where Latinos are grossly underrepresented, would be quite negative since undoubtedly no one wants "right brain" non-logical and emotional officers leading troops into battle.

A cursory examination of recent recruiting advertisements, however, suggests that the JAMRS audience, like other government and corporate policymakers, was already in tune with the contents of the Saray presentation. Ads featuring adoring Latina mothers and slogans like "¿Estás listo para lo que te espera?" ("Are you ready for wait awaits you?"-emotional and painfully ironic given the war in Iraq) have proliferated since the "war on terror" began.

As journalists Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, authors of One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century, told Amy Goodman on a recent "Democracy Now!" program, Republican planners in the 2004 election operated from a set of stereotypes similar to those promoted by the Saray and Yankelovich marketers: "George W. Bush won 40% of the Hispanic vote nationally, which is a pretty remarkable number for Republicans and they did this with a strategy that some strategists call the "I love you" strategy, where they manage to appeal to a sense of emotion, rather than issues, in the case of Latinos."

According to this racializing model, "right-brain" irrational Hispanics, unsuited for "America’s system of education," will vote their way into Karl Rove’s projected Republican majority, and for decades to come fill the ranks of the lowest echelons of the service sector, the prison system, and the combat units of America’s imperial army. Were he alive today Che Guevara, whom a CIA operative once described as "fairly intellectual for a Latin," would undoubtedly be asking progressive Latinos what they plan to do about it.

JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran and director of the Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at: He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

What Veterans See

Jorge Mariscal -

A Country in a Bubble

In August of 1945, Ralph Mariscal, Jr., a 23 year-old son of Mexican immigrants and a U.S. Marine, sat waiting off the coast of Japan with thousands of other troops. The invasion would be bloody, they had been told, but as it turned out history would take a different course. Rather than invading Japan, my father and U.S. forces landed at Sasebo among the first contingent of U.S. occupation forces. What he saw in nearby Nagasaki would stay with him forever.

Military veterans tend to view commonplace things through a different lens. Because they have seen the best and the worst of human behavior they have little patience for empty bravado and posturing. Today my father and his 80-something veteran pals refer to President Bush as "Little Napoleon." The cowboy swagger with arms swinging wide at the hips signals "chicken hawk" to them. They always get a good laugh at the commander-in-chief’s expense.

When my colleague Gus Chavez, who taught for years at SDSU, is at the San Diego airport, he watches the young Marines just out of boot camp. Most of them will wind up in Iraq. What he really sees are the injured soldiers and Marines he treated as a Navy corpsman at the Balboa Hospital throughout the early years of the U.S. war in Southeast Asia.

When Vietnam vet Charley Trujillo listens to interviews with young GIs in Iraq, he hears the voices of his comrades in arms whose only objective was to get home alive. When he listened to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation speech in which he implied the war in Iraq was simply too complex for the American public to understand, he heard the arrogant assertions of Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara, the architect of the U.S. adventure in Vietnam.

Most folks are amused when the Dodge Nitro commercial shows a car being blown a hundred feet into the air. But the veteran sees improvised explosive devices going off on Iraqi roads, their friends blown up before their eyes.

Most folks are shocked to hear a "special report" on CNN about how military recruiters distort the truth in order to meet their quotas. Veterans smile knowingly. They never met anyone in the service to whom a recruiter had not told a half-truth or an outright lie.

Most folks parrot the slogan "Support our troops." They put yellow ribbon and American flag stickers on their cars. Veterans wonder how supporting our troops can mean sending them to fight in a war with no clearly defined mission and no clearly defined exit strategy in a country that never posed a threat to the United States.

What is most striking to all veterans when they return from the combat zone is the way in which daily life appears to go on as if nothing was different. Football, malls, movies-does anyone realize that young men and women in uniform are surrounded by death and dying in a killing field faraway? Civilians see the headlines about Britney Spears’ divorce, but veterans see a country living in a bubble.

JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran and director of the Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at: He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Growing the Military

Jorge Mariscal -

In late December 2006, the Bush administration reversed its previous position and agreed to a permanent expansion of the Army and Marine Corps. In reality, the size of the two "ground services" has grown steadily since 2001 when Congress approved a temporary increase of 30,000 to the Army and authorized additional increases to the Army and Marines in 2005 and 2006. The current proposal would make these increases permanent and by 2012 achieve the objective of an active-duty Army of 542,400 and a Marine Corps of 190,000.

In their public statements, Pentagon officials claimed that finding the bodies to reach these goals would not be difficult. Increased bonuses, massive publicity campaigns, and appeals to patriotism would be enough to attract volunteers, they argued.

Lesser-known programs such as the Army GED Plus Enlistment Program in which applicants without high school diplomas are allowed to enlist while they complete a high school equivalency certificate are expected to help (interestingly, the GED Plus Enlistment Program is available only in inner city areas). The Army’s recent fudging of entrance requirements to accept an increased percentage of recruits with minor criminal records may also raise enlistment numbers.

Given the prospect of a prolonged U.S. presence in Iraq, however, the Pentagon’s optimistic predictions about increasing the size of the ground services by making minor adjustments to existing recruiting practices may not pan out. In anticipation of difficult days ahead for recruiters, no sooner had Bush announced his decision than conservative think tanks began to recycle proposals about recruiting foreigners into the U.S. military.

In a recent Boston Globe article, unidentified Army sources reported that Pentagon officials and Congress are investigating "the feasibility of going beyond U.S. borders to recruit soldiers and Marines." Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute, and Max Boot of the Council on Foreign relations cited historical precedents for using foreign troops. Since at least 2005 Boot has been recommending the establishment of "recruiting stations along the U.S.-Mexico border" as a way to solve the problems of military manpower and illegal immigration.

But the fact that several sources in the Globe article, including spokesmen for the Army and the Latino advocacy group National Council for La Raza (NCLR), expressed disagreement with proposals to recruit foreign nationals means that other more feasible options may begin to surface.

A likely scenario is that the Pentagon will focus on one specific sector of the undocumented population–foreign nationals raised and educated in the United States. According to the Urban Institute, every year approximately 60,000 undocumented immigrants or children of immigrants (who have lived in the United States five years or longer) graduate from U.S. high schools. By marketing the military to this group, problems associated with the recruitment of foreigners such as poor English language skills and low educational levels could be alleviated.

So far military recruiters have limited their efforts to the pursuit of citizens and permanent residents (green card holders). It is a little-known fact, however, that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 amended current legal statutes by allowing military service secretaries to waive citizenship and residency requirements "if such Secretary determines that the enlistment of such person is vital to the national interest" (U.S. Code Title 10, Chapter 31, §504: 2006).

Is the DREAM Act the Pentagon’s Dream Too?

If the Pentagon were to decide to exercise its new prerogative and begin to recruit undocumented youth in order to grow the Army and Marines, the most obvious selling point would be permanent residency and eventual citizenship. This in fact is one of the little-known aspects of the DREAM Act, legislation that would grant conditional residency to most undocumented high school graduates and permanent residency in exchange for the successful completion of two years of college or two years of military service.

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 10, 2006, Under Secretary of Defense David Chu said: "According to an April 2006 study from the National Immigration Law Center, there are an estimated 50,000 to 65,000 undocumented alien young adults who entered the U.S. at an early age and graduate from high school each year, many of whom are bright, energetic and potentially interested in military service…Provisions of S. 2611, such as the DREAM Act, would provide these young people the opportunity of serving the United States in uniform."

More recently, Lt. Col. Margaret Stock of the U.S. Army Reserve and a faculty member at West Point told a reporter that the DREAM Act could help recruiters meet their goals by providing a "highly qualified cohort of young people" without the unknown personal details that would accompany foreign recruits. "They are already going to come vetted by Homeland Security. They will already have graduated from high school," she said. "They are prime candidates."

The lure of citizenship is already a tool for recruiting green card holders, especially because of expedited naturalization procedures put in place for military personnel in 2002. In San Diego, for example, recruiters have told permanent residents "I can help you get citizenship" when in fact the military has no input into the final granting or denial of citizenship.
Although exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, roughly 20% of legal residents in the military who have applied for naturalization since late 2001 have been denied citizenship. This suggests that military service carries no guarantee that permanent residents will be granted the one benefit for which they probably enlisted and for which they may be forced to risk their life.

Other anecdotes recount recruiters threatening that the immigration status of recruits and their family would be affected should the recruit try to back out of an enlistment agreement. More devious recruiters have used the law requiring undocumented youth to register for Selective Service as a way to convince non-English speaking parents that there is obligatory military service in the United States.

The expansion of the recruiting pool to include the undocumented would be a Recruiting Command’s dream and may be the only way for the Pentagon to increase the size of the Army and Marines Corps. A 2006 study by the Migration Policy Institute calculated that passage of the DREAM Act "would immediately make 360,000 unauthorized high school graduates aged 18 to 24 eligible for conditional legal status [and] that about 715,000 unauthorized youth between ages 5 and 17 would become eligible sometime in the future."

Ironically, nativist and restrictionist groups as well as anti-militarism activists will oppose the recruitment of the undocumented although for completely different reasons. Organizations such as National Council for La Raza (NCLR) that oppose the recruitment of foreigners would most likely support a vehicle for recruiting undocumented graduates from U.S. high schools. In May 2006, NCLR praised the passage of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (Senate Bill 2611) that included a DREAM Act provision.

While the DREAM Act may facilitate access to college for a small percentage of these undocumented students, in many cases other factors will militate against the college option. Given the difficulty undocumented youth have in affording college tuition, the pressure on them to make financial contributions to extended families, and the tendency among many to adopt uncritical forms of patriotism based on "gratitude," military not college recruiters may be the ones who benefit the most.

As one undocumented student wrote to me:

"I was brought to America [from Mexico] when I was 12. I am 21 now and I am only going to college because in the state of Illinois I pay in-state tuition despite being illegal. I would serve in the military if I was given an opportunity to do so and DIE for America if necessary. Shouldn’t I be able to be legal?"

Military manpower needs, limited economic and educational opportunity, and the desire for social acceptance could transport immigrants and their children to the frontlines of future imperial misadventures such as the quagmire in Iraq.

JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran and director of the Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at: He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Military Recruitment and the Immigration Debate

Jorge Mariscal -

In an obscure memoir of the U.S. war in Southeast Asia, an undocumented Mexican who had enlisted in the U.S. Army with the aid of an unscrupulous recruiter, writes: “I realized that for me to live in the United States, the system was asking me to pay a high price. Now I probably would have to give my life. Was it worth it?”

During the Vietnam War period, citizens from foreign countries in the U.S. military were rare and unknown to the public. Today, although they make up only a small percentage of the overall force, they appear regularly in media stories, Pentagon publicity, and nativist rants about a Mexican invasion.

Non-citizens make up 3-5% of total military personnel. To date, they have received more than 200 medals and awards in the combat zone. More than 100 of them have received posthumous citizenship after making the ultimate sacrifice. The majority of them have roots in Mexico and Latin America.

Is the U.S. military becoming a foreign legion? Not yet, but the strain on active duty, Reserve, and National Guard personnel is becoming unbearable. General David Petraeus’s report to Congress last month — and even recent statements made by Democratic Party presidential candidates — make clear that the occupation of Iraq will last many more years. Fresh bodies will be hard to find, so there is renewed interest in a piece of legislation that could produce a bumper crop of eligible non-citizens for recruiters.

The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act has been floating around the halls of Congress for more than six years, and Draft NOtices was one of the first publications to warn about its military component. If passed, the legislation would provide a pathway to permanent residency for undocumented young people who were raised and completed high school in the United States. Those who qualify would have to complete two years of college or enlist in the military in order to earn a permanent green card.

The Latino community was quick to support the legislation because of its educational component, but for the first five years there was a deafening silence in Latino circles about the military option. This changed only recently when the Pentagon and elected officials began to openly discuss the DREAM Act as a possible fix for the military’s manpower needs.

In 2006, Bill Carr, Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy, told reporters that the DREAM legislation would help boost military recruiting. Last July, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said, "The DREAM Act would address a very serious recruitment crisis that faces our military. Under the DREAM Act, tens of thousands of well-qualified potential recruits would become eligible for military service for the first time."

Lt. Col. Margaret Stock of the U.S. Army Reserve and a faculty member at West Point who helped draft the legislation confirmed that the DREAM Act could help recruiters meet their goals by providing a "highly qualified cohort of young people." She added, “Passage of the bill could well solve the Armed Forces’ enlisted recruiting woes.”

Drawing on cultural stereotypes about “Hispanic culture,” she told the Orange County Register that “Hispanic immigrants who would be affected by this bill would be even more likely to join the military because it is considered the honorable thing to do in the Hispanic culture.” One wonders if Lt. Col. Stock is teaching her cadets such banal and reductive clichés about diverse Latino traditions.

The irony, of course, is that while the Pentagon chases young non-citizens to fill the ranks of the U.S. occupation forces, other non-citizen workers whose economic contributions to the nation are undeniable are being pursued and harassed by other agencies of the U.S. government.

As one worker told me, Latino communities are experiencing a “double deportation.” On the one hand, military recruiters are flooding high schools with Latino majorities and the Pentagon is pushing hard for passage of the DREAM Act. Many of those young people who are successfully recruited will end up in Iraq and Afghanistan. A metaphorical deportation, of course, but from the family’s point of view a painful removal of a loved one nonetheless.

At the same time, the undocumented parents and siblings of those soldiers, sailors, aviators, and Marines watch as armored vehicles carrying teams of armed officers invade their neighborhoods to conduct Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. Just this month, for example, in the working-class neighborhood of Barrio Logan in San Diego, local police surrounded a ten-block area while helicopters circled overhead and ICE agents swept through in full combat regalia. Similar actions are taking place across the country.

Some of these parents have been arrested and scheduled for deportation hearings. Remember that these are parents whose sons and daughters are fighting “for democracy” in Iraq. One such case is that of U.S. Army Private Armando Soriano, 20, who died in Iraq in 2004. This summer ICE raids swept through Houston. Armando’s father was detained and is currently threatened with deportation.

In late September, Senator Durbin agreed to drop the in-state tuition rate clause of the DREAM Act in response to pressure from restrictionist groups and to garner more Republican votes. This change would have blocked many undocumented students from taking the college option and, inadvertently or not, would have placed them on the military pathway to legalization. Despite Durbin’s concessions, the DREAM amendment was not attached to this year’s defense appropriations bill and so disappeared once again into the congressional ether for at least several more months, if not forever.

If the DREAM Act ever does resurface and is eventually approved, thousands of Latino youth who are unable to take the college option will be tempted to enlist to attain legal status. With no end in sight to the occupation of Iraq and with other wars looming in the future, they, like the undocumented Mexican soldier in Vietnam, will have to ask themselves whether or not the price is simply too high.

Information sources: Congressional Record--Senate (July 13, 2007); Ernesto Portillo, Jr., “DREAM Act better than nothing, but flawed,” Arizona Star (September 26, 2007); Vanja Petrovic, “DREAM Act blocked from defense bill,” Orange County Register (September 27, 2007).

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (

Youth Activists Demand Military-Free Schools

Jorge Mariscal -

On the weekend of July 17, over 250 activists from across the country converged on Roosevelt University in Chicago for the largest meeting ever of counter-recruitment and anti-militarism organizers.  Retirees from Florida and California, concerned parents from Ohio and Massachusetts, veterans from New Mexico and Oregon, grandmothers from Texas and North Carolina joined with youth organizations such as New York’s Ya-Yas (Youth Activists-Youth Allies) and San Diego’s Education Not Arms to consolidate a movement intent on resisting the increased militarization of U.S. public schools.

The building overlooking Lake Michigan vibrated with the positive energy of the diverse participants—people from different generations, regions, and ethnicities mixing together and exchanging stories about their struggle to demilitarize local schools.  For many senior citizens from the East Coast this was the first time they had met much less learned from Chicana high school students who live in border communities near San Diego.  For those relatively new to the counter-recruitment movement, the experience taught them more about the on-going process in which young people are increasingly subjected to military values and aggressive recruiting techniques.

Organized by the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY), an alliance of over 180 organizations, the conference included workshops and caucuses on a variety of subjects ranging from the role of class and culture in counter-recruiting, women in the military, and legislative approaches to challenging militarization.

The growth of the counter-recruitment movement benefited greatly from the Bush administration’s slide into totalitarianism.  While established organizations like Project YANO of San Diego and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Youth and Militarism program had been working for decades to demilitarize youth, the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 for the first time alerted many to the insidious nature of military recruiting in schools.  Many newcomers to the movement began with “opt-out” campaigns to protect students’ privacy and then moved on to the issue of military aptitude tests (ASVAB) that are often administered covertly in school districts nationwide.

Although some activists during the Bush years saw counter-recruitment solely as an antiwar tactic, the participants at the NNOMY conference understood that militarism is an issue that must be confronted with long-term strategies.  As many of them told me, it is less an issue of stopping current wars (although that is important) than it is of inhibiting the power of the military-corporate-educational complex with the goal of slowly transforming an interventionist and imperial foreign policy.

The symbolism of the conference location was especially important given that the Chicago public school district is the most heavily militarized district in the nation.  The current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was superintendent of the city’s schools and oversaw the expansion of JROTC and military academies.  Today, Chicago has more academies and more JROTC cadets than any other city in the country.  Under Duncan’s leadership, it will more than likely become a model for the rest of the country.

As Sam Diener reported at the NNOMY conference, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 mandates that the military work to increase the number of schools with JROTC from the current total of about 3400 schools to 3700 schools by the year 2020 (a list of schools targeted for new units will be posted shortly on the Peacework Magazine website).

The larger context is alarming.  The decades long defunding of public education, the resultant decline of K-12 systems across the country, and the growth of the charter school movement has produced a situation in which the Pentagon is free to wade into the wreckage with an offer many parents cannot refuse.  In a classic shock doctrine maneuver, the military exerts increasing influence in public schools offering desperate parents programs that will teach their sons and daughters discipline and “leadership skills.”  As Gina Perez explained at the NNOMY meeting, working class youth with limited options, many of whom are active in their community churches, believe they can “make a difference” by joining JROTC.

Despite the Pentagon’s denials, there is no question that militarized school programs operate as covert recruiting programs. Recent studies show that about 40% of all JROTC cadets end up enlisting in the military. Activists working in Georgia recently obtained school district documents that refer to the goal of creating “African American and Hispanic children soldiers.”  What the Pentagon hopes to produce, however, is not cannon fodder as an earlier Vietnam War-era analysis might suggest but rather an educated workforce able to complete the complex tasks of a well-oiled, increasingly high tech, military.

Given the difficulty recruiters have had finding enough high school graduates to fill their quotas, especially in those Latino communities that will provide the largest group of military-age youth for the foreseeable future, it makes sense that the military would attempt to create its own pipeline.  If the public schools cannot turn out enough qualified potential recruits, the Pentagon will do it.  Neoliberalism in the United States may not mean generals in the Oval Office.  But it may mean children in military uniforms marching in formation at a school near you.

The model for this aspect of the militarist agenda is the Chicago public school system where for several years minority neighborhoods have seen the increasing encroachment of the military.  Science teacher Brian Roa, who has written about the Chicago experience, described in a recent truthout article how Mayor Daley and Superintendent Duncan oversaw the expansion of military academies.  “One day the Navy occupied one floor of our school,” Roa said at the NNOMY conference, “and before we knew it they had taken over the second and then the third floor.”

At San Diego’s Mission Bay High School, funding for college preparatory courses was decreased while the principal implemented plans for a Marine Corps JROTC complete with firing range for air rifle practice.  Latino students created the Education Not Arms coalition and successfully convinced a majority on the San Diego Board of Education to ban rifle training at eleven high schools.  Similar success stories were recounted last weekend all of which suggest that not only is militarism a high priority issue for the new century but also that youth activism is alive and well.

The fact that President Obama’s daughters attend Quaker schools while his Secretary of Education oversees the expansion of military programs for working class children is one more glaring contradiction in Obamaland.  The young people who attended the NNOMY conference are aware of the contradiction and left Chicago vowing that they will not passively stand by as their schools become centers for military indoctrination.

More information on the counter-recruitment movement is available at the NNOMY website:

JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran and a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at:




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