We Have Come for Your Children: Public Education and the Military

After the attacks on September 11, 2001, a rash of new laws were rammed through Congress and signed by George W. Bush.  The vast majority of Americans, caught up in the “with us or against us” propaganda of both corporate parties, raised no protest.  Perhaps the most underhanded of these laws came not in an “anti-terrorist” bill, but in that bugaboo of public education:  No Child Left Behind.  With NCLB, the right of parents to protect their children from military recruiters’ stalking was undermined to an unconscionable degree.  NCLB was over 700 pages long, but the worst part of a horrible bill took up fewer than four paragraphs.  These four short paragraphs threatened secondary schools with the loss of federal funds unless they made their students fodder for military recruiters.

“[T]he No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, which amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by requiring high schools that receive federal funds to provide certain student contact information to military recruiters upon request and to allow recruiters to have the same access to students as employers and colleges.”

My brother and I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s.  Our father, like most of the men in our family, had been to war.  He did not want that for his boy.  He especially did not want his boy in the U.S. Marine Corps, which he considered the unintelligent cannon fodder of the U.S. military.  They were stupid grunts, the guys sent in to die before the “important” troops were deployed, in our dad’s eyes.  If his son had to go in the military, he wanted it to be the U.S. Air Force, whom he considered to be the brightest branch of the military–and the safest.  My brother would not have it, though.  He wanted to be a Marine.  He had spoken with the local recruiter, who had filled his head with tales of honor and adventure.  My dad let this recruiter know that his son was a minor, and the recruiter was to stay the hell away.  Back then, that held weight.  NCLB made it much harder for parents to take that stand.

In 2001, Bush pushed through the educational bill that would lay waste to the public education system.  That was atrocious enough, but it was not the most appalling part of the law.  Those four paragraphs of Section 9528 were paired with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2002 to essentially make our nation’s high school students the cannon fodder of tomorrow–in many cases, whether their parents liked it or not.

Fast forward about 20 years from the time my dad was telling recruiters that they would not, under any circumstance, contact his minor child.  The year was 2006.  NCLB had been the law of the land for a few months shy of five years.  I took my 14-year-old daughter to register for her freshman year at Tucson High Magnet School.  As per NCLB, my daughter was automatically fair game for military recruiters.  The public school, by law, was required to provide names, phone numbers, and addresses of all students to military recruiters, unless their parents opted out.  If parents do not pay close attention, they may well miss this chance to opt out, since it is only offered once and is offered at the same time that the parents are filling out piles of school registration forms.  It also must be renewed each year.  If you opt out your child’s freshman year, but forget her sophomore year, she is one again open to the predatory stalking of military recruiters.  Fortunately, I knew the law, so I was hyper-vigilant when handed the registration packet to fill out.

So, I had opted out of the military trying to use my daughter as an instrument of war, right?  They would not be able to contact my daughter and try to make her the tool of imperialism.  They would not be able to try to convince her she was joining up to fight for our “freedom”, when she was really being asked to help the capitalist overlords conquer markets and take resources.  They would not be able to get her killed, so that the wealthy and powerful could increase their wealth and power.  You’d think so, but not so fast…

Another part of NCLB and Republican-led school “reform” was the introduction of ridiculous numbers of standardized tests.  Constant testing for kids, which was of little to no educational value.  By the time students are in high school, they have begun to view these tests as almost monthly occurrences.  They don’t think twice about them.  This is something that the military uses to its advantage.  The kids were offered the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).  It was referred to only by its acronym, and they were told it would test to see what kinds of jobs they might be suited for.  They were told they would get to miss class to take it.  They were not told that they did not have to take it.  They were not told that it was not given for educational purposes at all, but was being given by the military.  As parents, we were not only denied the chance to consent or not consent to our children taking the ASVAB, we weren’t even told that they were taking the ASVAB.  In short, my signature denying military recruiters access to my child was ignored.

As part of the testing process, students were instructed to include their names and mailing addresses.  This was the very information to which I had legally denied the military access.  They had slithered their way around the legal protection, and conned my minor child into giving it to them anyway.  Just like an Internet-based pedophile, they had found their in by convincing the child that her parents wouldn’t mind; they were really her friends.  Just keep it their little secret.  Shortly after my daughter took this test, the letters from the recruiters started arriving at the house.  It was only then that I learned how they had slimed their way into our lives.

In our case, things worked out.  My husband and I had raised our daughter to know that the military is not there to protect her.  Despite what members of the armed services may personally think, they are not fighting in wars to protect freedom at home.  I have no doubt that they honestly believe they’re doing the righteous thing, but they are fighting and killing in service of the politicians and the CEOs.  However, I have no doubt that this little scenario is played out again and again.  I have no doubt that these slimeballs convince kids that the military will get them an education, will allow them to travel, will get them out into the world.  They just don’t tell them that it might also leave them dead.  Or mentally ill.  Or homeless.  Or poisoned by their own government.  And forgotten by those who owe them.

Picking Your Battles: Feminism and Militarism

This piece was originally posted on Righteous Anger.

I’ve discussed the doctrine of “choice” that runs through liberal feminism and libertarian feminism in previous posts.  It’s the pervading philosophy that the goal of feminism is to give women choices.  That’s a philosophy with which I agree wholeheartedly.  However, it comes as part-and-parcel of the philosophy of ethical relativism, which says that those choices cannot be judged or condemned.  That is definitely not a philosophy with which I agree.  While my past discussions of the choice issue has revolved around sex work, the issue is also crucial to the discussion of militarism and its relationship to liberal feminism.

Traditional Leftist movements have had at their heart an aversion to militarism.  After all, wars are seen as the tools of the oppressors; they are little more than the capitalists of one nation-state fighting the capitalists of an opposing nation-state over resources.  It is the poor and the oppressed who end up fighting and dying for the gains of the capitalist.  For all the claims of women’s more peaceful nature, feminists have tended to avoid involvement in peace movements.  In fact, they have often fought not against the glorification of war, but in favor of women’s greater involvement in war.  This exposes the greatest failing of liberal feminism:  its belief that the traditional ways of men are the better ways, and women should strive to equality in those ways.  I would argue that, in many cases, we need to fight to abolish the traditional ways of men, not join with them on equal footing.

It has become the habit of the liberal feminist to exalt the female soldier and to worry herself with the rights of women in the military.  She will concern herself with whether women are allowed to go to combat.  She will worry over whether women face sexual discrimination and harassment within the ranks.  She will praise the woman who shows valor at war.  She will exalt the women who justify American military and interventionist tendencies.  Women like Secretaries of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeline Albright will be held up as models of feminist achievement.  Ignored will be Clinton’s support of the invasion of Iraq, which has led to the deaths of over 114,000 Iraqi civilians.  Ignored will be Albright’s justification of the sanction-caused deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children as “worth it”.  How on earth could a feminist, a person who believes in the equality of human beings, care more about one’s career advancement than about the lives of living, breathing human beings?

Women and their children suffer inordinate amounts of abuse from war.  While men are always at risk of death, women are far more likely to suffer the additional assaults of rape during war time.  It has been used as a weapon of war probably for as long as war has existed.  In some cases, it has been the explicit policy of the war-makers.

The sexual abuse of women in war is nothing new. Rape has long been tolerated as one of the spoils of war, an inevitable feature of military conflict like pillage and looting. What is new about the situation in Bosnia is the attention it is receiving – and the recognition that it is being used as a deliberate military tactic to speed up the process of ‘ethnic cleansing’.

And, of course, the women suffer long after the rape and the war are over.  The Asian (mostly Korean) women forced or tricked into sexual slavery to service the Japanese military during the second world war still fight for justice.  Muslim women in the former Yugoslavia were forcibly impregnated by their rapists, and often cast out by their religious families. These horrors of war are as old as war itself, and ought to be enough to turn all feminists against war.

The involvement of women in war-making has done nothing to eliminate this.  In fact, it has made new victims.  The women soldiers become victims of their supposed comrades, as rape is rampant in the U.S. military.  Instead of protecting these female soldiers, officials label them “crazy” or even bring them up on charges of adultery, if the victims or their attackers happen to be married.  Other women engage in the sexual humiliation of male prisoners of war, as the horrific pictures of Abu Ghraib proved. The horrors of sexual abuse in war has not been abated, despite record numbers of women serving in the armed forces.

Women in the military have also done nothing to eliminate the other horrors of war.  There are still children killed.  There are still lives destroyed.  There are still enduring repercussions that come from the destruction done by war.  It’s not just the immediate effects of the bombing and the shooting.  The destruction of water and waste facilities can lead to untold deaths for years after the last shot is fired.  The effects of nuclear and biological weapons poison the environment for decades after their deployment.  Men, women, and children of all ages stay trapped in those poisonous environments.

Wars and military interventions can lead to unforeseen consequences that have even worse effects for women.  The women of Iran after the Islamic Revolution and the women of Afghanistan after the rise of the Taliban are testaments to that.  U.S. and British meddling in the affairs of other countries led directly to both situations.  And women paid the price.

Wars are not fought to protect our “freedom”.  None of the targets of U.S. invasions or proxy wars over the past 70 years have posed a threat to American freedom.  Korea?  Vietnam? Nicaragua? Grenada?  Panama?  Iraq?  Afghanistan?  Not one damned one of them.  What threats the U.S. has faced can inevitably be traced back to previous invasions and periods of meddling in the business of other countries.  This constant use of the military to enforce the interests of capitalists is what truly threatens the safety and freedom of Americans.  Feminists need to recognize that supporting war does not help women.  It does not help women in the military, it does not protect female civilians at home in the U.S., and it certainly does not help women in the countries that are invaded and bombed.  It’s time for feminists to take a stand against militarism and for peace.