|MAP Member Opinion "Peace"|
This Time, Leave the Children Behind
Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of New York has announced that he will introduce legislation to re-activate universal military service under the Selective Service Act ("Rangel calls for mandatory military service", CNN, 12/30/02). He also has authored a piece that appeared in the New York Times (12/31/02). It's an odd move for someone who has criticized the Bush Administration and fellow members of Congress of being too quick to go to war on Iraq, and who voted against the October resolution ceding Congress' war-making powers to the President. His reasoning: let moms and dads who are hesitantly for, or quietly against, the war know that it could be their son or daughter who will be sent to kill or die in a conflict where the case for national security is weak (to say the least),and the dutiful march toward war will turn into a frantic backpedaling from war's destructive brink. He may be right. It's a bold, if desperate, gambit.
The problem is that there's no reason for the hawks to dive after this quarry. Military recruiters have exceeded their enlistment goals for the past two years, and Congress has just passed a bill that will leave no child unrecruited.
The "No Child Left Behind Act"that was passed in 2002 carries a provision deep within its 670 pages that requires all public secondary schools to give military recruiters not only access to their facilities, but contact information for every student. If schools refuse, then their federal funding will be forfeited!
While students retain their right to withhold their records individually, some school officials are turning over student directories to recruiters without telling anyone. Other schools, more respectful of their students' rights, have begun to inform students of their right to withhold their records. Yet, those students who miss this information, or who do not recognize the value of their right to privacy, or who are too distracted (as high school students often are) to make a formal request that their rights be respected, will be vulnerable to immediate and aggressive, personal recruitment through mailings, phone calls, and personal visits. Military recruiters have made it clear that they can hardly wait to avail themselves of these new opportunities and to inundate high school students with relentless recruitment. A Nov/ Dec 2002 Mother Jones article quotes Major Johannes Paraan, head of US Army recruiting for Vermont and northeastern New York, as saying, "The only thing that will get us to stop contacting the family is if they call their congressman. Or maybe if the kid died, we'll take them off our list." So, why would hawks dive after the draft, which will frighten middle- and upper class moms and dads, when squadrons of army recruiters have unlimited access to the nations' poorest high school students? Military recruiters are not dumb enough to waste the time and energy to go after swifter, better-armed prey. Suburban kids with college prospects are going to be safe. It's the poor, the immigrant, and the kid of color with no interest in or chance of attending college who will be promised upward mobility: the chance to fly airplanes, competitive computer and technical skills, money for collegein exchange for their lives and obedience. Its the kids who have little to lose (except their lives) who will be targeted. And, who will protect them? The Congressional representatives who passed this insidious legislation? The media, who have so far failed to report it and its implications? The more callous attitudes are likely to be: these kids are a burden, anyway, good for nothing. Let them have the chance to serve their country, instead of being a drain on it.
But neither this Act, nor the war its so obviously in place to facilitate, are about serving the country.
Make no mistake: The Leave No Child Behind Act is designed to facilitate the recruitment ofcannon fodder for a war on Iraq that, given the spuriousness of the BushAdministration's case for self-defense, the vast majority of Americans would not want themselves, or their children to fight. Instead, so goes the reasoning, we will leave it to poor kids with no other prospects than the "patriotic" but empty promises of military recruiters to fight this useless, immoral war.
Rangel's bill of universal military service, if he in fact brings it forward, is an attempt to force Americans at home and in Congress to face head-on the heavy toll that war will take on the U.S. economy and U.S. youth. This reckoningwith the true nature of warfare,its cold, merciless slaughter of the young, regardless of wealth or class,would then help Americans to see through the "inevitability" of war with Iraq, and demand the use all available peaceful means by which to disarm Saddam and secure Iraqi human rights. Given the underhanded success of the Leave No Child Unrecruited Act, Rangel's effort, though noble, is likely to be unsuccessful, and we cannot depend on it.
If we have any decency or sense of fair-play, we will not let this back-door Act, and the new soldiers that it will create, enable America to ignore the inevitable impact that a war will have on the American youth who will fight in it. We must right now publicly demand that the President and Congress repeal this Act, or at the very least, those aspects hidden in the Act that deal with recruiting. We Americans must do it now. And, with all due to respect to Cong. Rangel,we must do it ourselves.
In the meantime, you teachers and principals out there, our country often relies on you more than is right, given the responsibilities you already bear. The government found a way to force you to turn over your students records to recruiters, upon the threat of pulling your funding. For the sake of those students, counsel them to hold fast to their right to privacy and peace. For now, the Constitution still protects them.
Surely this is one instance when it's best to leave the children behind.
Friends for a Non-Violent World