Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Signs of the season reviewed:
Volunteer military on the ropes


Handbills are a dying political form. Outside of the decayed streets of inner cities, you'll seldom see a wall of posters advertising concerts, help wanted, garage sales, and political candidates. We like our malls, roadways and suburbs as antiseptic as possible -- no messy flapping paper.

So I was greatly surprised while delivering antiwar newspapers in a working class suburb to see the amateurish flyer above pasted along the pillars of an underpass. Sgt. Tuttle must have been at his wits end trying to make his quota of cannon fodder. The young people he is chasing are reluctant.

What is he promising?
  • Money: an enlistment bonus. You can read it on his poster. He doesn't tell you what ABC News reports: the promised $40,000 usually turns out to be around $5000 for the average recruit. Besides, the bonus is more like a loan than a bonus. If the military decides you didn't perform to expectations, you have to pay it back.
  • Counter-recruiters warn that money for college is also a fake. "Very few -- 1 in 20 -- actually qualify for as much as $70,000. Actually, the maximum you can get from the GI Bill is $36,144. In order to qualify for the extra money you have to score in the upper half of the ASVAB and be willing to sign up for very specific jobs -- jobs that are the hardest for the military to fill. ...The amount most will receive is $0 ... Sixty-five percent of all participants in the GI Bill never receive any money for college."
  • In the fine print, Sgt. Tuttle promises "training to succeed in today's highly competitive job market." Trouble is, most jobs in the military either are no use in civilian life or pay for shit. If a recruit gets trained as a Food Service Operations Specialist, maybe (s)he'll be ready to work for McDonalds.
Okay, so it is easy to take apart the lies in Sgt. Tuttle's slightly pathetic flyer. In all probability, he was assigned the job of recruiting against his own will and he's being pushed hard. The BBC watched some recruiters at work:

"Pressure is always there. It's the army, it's your mission, and they drill that into you every day," he added. ...

With less than four days to go, Sgt 1st Class Arnold still needed one more recruit to meet his goal of signing up two new soldiers.

If he fails, he will have to attend a punitive counseling session in his own time on a Saturday. If he fails often, it can hurt his chances for promotion.

Sgt. Tuttle's problem, illustrated by this flyer, is the war itself. We know we've been lied to; we know we've destroyed Iraq for no cause we can believe in; the soldiers more and more know they are being sent to die with neither reason nor popular support. A volunteer military collapses under these conditions. Nick Turse of TomDispatch recalls

In the latter half of the Vietnam War, as the breakdown was occurring, American troops began to scrawl "UUUU" on their helmet liners -- an abbreviation that stood for "the unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful." The U.S. ground forces of 2007 and beyond, fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other war du jour may increasingly resemble the collapsing military of the Vietnam War....

For the peoples of the world, a U.S. military constrained by the war's futility may be a good thing, but being in it sure will be hard on those caught in recruiters' schemes.

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