How to Build the Counter-Recruitment Movement in the US
By Ty Moore, Socialist Alternative (CWI) United StatesOver the past year, the Pentagon has dramatically stepped up its recruitment efforts as Bush’s debacle in Iraq drags on. In response, there has been a small explosion of counter-military recruitment campaigns in high schools and colleges across the country. In many areas, these youthful and combative campaigns are emerging as the cutting edge of the anti-war movement, and could grow dramatically over the coming year.
The potential strength and mass appeal of the counter-recruitment movement flows from the growing public opposition to the war. This mood is particularly strong among working class youth, who are unwilling to fight and die for a war they increasingly see as futile and wrong. Already, despite the still small size of the actual movement, this anti-war mood is placing serious strains on military recruitment efforts.
An Army of None
Traditionally a primary target of recruiters, “black volunteers have fallen 41% – from 23.5% of recruits in fiscal 2000 down steadily to 13.9% ” in 2005 (North County Times, 3/4/05). The Army National Guard and Reserve, which make up 45% of the troops in Iraq, have not hit their recruitment targets since October. Halfway through their recruitment year, the Reserve is 10% behind its goal and the Guard is 24% behind. The active Army began missing its targets in February, and by March it was 32% behind!
This is despite adding over 2,500 recruiters to the Guard, Reserve, and Army this year alone. The Army also increased its promise of college money from $50,000 to $70,000 (though few soldiers ever end up receiving this!), while the Guard and Reserve doubled their signing bonus, now offering $15,000 for six-year commitments.
These offers, alongside financial incentives for agreeing to high-risk positions and early deployment, will amount to over $1 billion spent this year to entice new recruits into the Army. This cynical resort to bribery of working class youth – this poverty draft! – underscores how shallow the support for the war actually is. Where are the tens of millions of right-wing patriots that Bush claims his mandate from, if the Army can’t even meet its target of recruiting 80,000 “volunteers” by September?
Against this background the potential exists for a powerful national movement of young people, organized in their schools and communities, explaining the real interests being served by the war, and taking bold action to kick recruiters out of their schools.
However, achieving this will mean activists adopting the most effective methods of struggle, and demands that can appeal to wide layers of working-class youth, bringing them into organized activity.
Will There Be a Draft?
The deep crisis facing US imperialism in Iraq and the growing problem of serious military overstretch has fueled widespread speculation that Bush will be forced to re-introduce a draft in order to crush the Iraqi insurgency. Socialist Alternative completely opposes a draft, which would forcibly send millions of working-class youth to be used as cannon fodder in a war for oil and empire.
However, in our view, Bush will not lightly decide on such a course. The ruling establishment has learned at least some lessons from their experience in Vietnam. Most military brass and the leadership of both the Republican and Democratic parties recognize that at this stage, reinstating the draft is politically impossible.
Given the fresh memory of Vietnam and the broad anti-war mood today, any attempt to force young people into the battlefields of Iraq would be met with explosive opposition, including uprisings and riots in many inner cities. Conscription would also introduce massive demoralization into the army, that could rapidly recreate the kind of military meltdown last seen in Vietnam.
But we should not lose sight of the fact that there already is a draft. The government carries out a racist poverty draft aimed at people of color and poor youth. On top of this, the Pentagon has instituted a “back door draft” through mandatory call-ups of hundreds of thousands of national guards and reservists, and through their “stop loss” policies.
We urgently need to build a movement to counter this draft by campaigning for money for jobs and education, not war, and calling for the troops to be brought home now. Building a powerful anti-war movement today is the best way to prevent the draft from being reinstated in the future.
However, many of the anti-war groups, basing themselves on the idea that a draft is imminent, concentrate on urging youth to build conscientious objector files. Unfortunately, this strategy leads youth down the path of individual moral opposition, rather than public opposition through education and mass action that are most effective in stopping the war or preventing attempts to impose a draft.
Of course any soldier or youth seeking conscientious objector status deserves full support for their personal stand against the war. However, the key question young anti-war activists must grapple with is how broad sections of working-class youth can be mobilized into a powerful movement capable of challenging the policies of the US ruling class.
The politics of pacifism – the ideological basis for most conscientious objector campaigns – appeals to smaller, more middle-class layers of youth. Most young people are not pacifists, but they do oppose the Iraq war. They do oppose cuts in education, economic inequality, racism, and other by-products of Bush’s big business agenda. Working-class youth are less likely to respond to appeals for individual moral piousness than to a movement that links their outrage at the horrors in Iraq to the daily class problems they face, and a program for mass action to challenge both.
Mass Action is Key
For this reason, the counter-recruitment movement should combine anti-war agitation and campaigns against the poverty draft with class demands, such as funding for education and good paying jobs, and access to college. Highlighting the military’s racist recruiting practices and the social problems faced by youth of color is particularly important.
In the early stages of building campaigns in schools the main tasks are to establish the right to table and to public activities at the school, educate students about their right to withdraw from the Delayed Enlistment Program, and campaign to force the school to stop giving students contact information to the military.
We should advocate tactics and methods of struggle that involve the broadest possible number of youth, and that educate young people about the power of collective action. Student walk-outs, mass demonstrations and direct actions, systematic anti-war agitation, big teach-ins, and the need for an ongoing, organized presence in every school are the central ideas we must put forward.
The growing presence of military recruiters in our schools provides an ongoing and clear target for anti-war activism. We should not wait for the tame lobbying efforts at the federal or local level to stop recruiters from spreading their misinformation and bribing youth into the war machine.
Every time recruiters dare to step foot in our schools, we should organize counter-recruitment tables and protests demanding that they leave. The aim is to create an overwhelming unwelcome, to prevent recruiters from conducting business as usual, and to convince them that their continued presence in our schools will achieve nothing.
As the movement develops, national days of action and student strikes need to be organized, calling for an end to the occupation, full funding for education, and an end to military recruitment in our schools. Such a mass movement of young people could help spark broader movements of the US working class, which in the final analysis is the key to defeating US imperialism.