Pat Elder: Counter-recruitment is crucial to anti-war movement


Pat Elder, a DC-based counter-recruiting organizer, published a great piece on Sunday at He calls for an increased focus on counter-recruiting in schools, as a means of materially starving the war machine, by anti-war activists nationwide.

The sentiment of this piece is right on, but I can’t help but notice that that Elder doesn’t mention widespread high-profile direct actions against military recruiters that take place outside of schools as another component of a counter-recruitment strategy. These actions are the face of counter-recruiters. They showcase their power, passion and creativity, and they should go hand-in-hand with the more mundane but vital work of challenging the recruiter presence in high schools that Elder advocates.

Counter-Recruitment Deserves Higher Priority on the Peace Agenda
by Pat Elder

The mainstream peace and justice movement is beginning to see that countering military recruitment deserves a higher priority and should be viewed in strategic, rather than tactical terms. Resisting the unprecedented and relentless militarization of American youth transcends the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countering military recruitment confronts an ugly mix of a distinctively American brand of institutionalized violence, racism, militarism, nationalism, classism, and sexism.  It gets to the root of the problem.

Confronting the work of military recruiters, particularly in the nation’s public schools will provide a catalyst for activists to shift gears from the traditional antiwar tactics of vigils, protests, sit-ins, and CD actions to the long-term strategy of opposing the militarization of youth.  The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One however, treats symptoms; the other addresses causes.

Simply put, the strategy of the counter-recruiting movement is to put the imperial armed forces of the United States into a kind of vice that squeezes new recruits from the ranks.  One end of the vice is the near universal rejection of the return of the military draft.  Remember how the House voted 402-2 against reinstating the daft back in October of 2004?  Bringing back the draft is unthinkable.  Conscription would result in demonstrations of millions that would ultimately end the war and result in a political revolution.  The crushing steel on the opposite side of the vice is the counter-recruitment movement, aided by an American public that increasingly recognizes illegal and immoral wars.

Counter recruitment activists are putting on the squeeze.  They’re doing it by learning about high school policies that favor military recruiters and they’re organizing their communities to change it.  They’re providing youth with training, employment and educational alternatives to military service.  They’re engaged with community leaders and the press in promoting a greater awareness of encroaching militarism.  And they’re being successful across the country.

The military is feeling the pressure.  The Pentagon has seriously dumbed down its enlistment qualifications and lowered its monthly quotas.  The Army is dredging the bottom of the barrel by dramatically lowering the bar for enlisting.  The percent of all Army recruits without a high school diploma has risen to 18.8%, the highest level since 1981.  The Army has also relaxed the minimum scores necessary on the standardized Armed Forces Qualification Test, (AFQT).  The percent of soldiers who have been granted waivers for alcohol or drug abuse, criminal misdemeanors, and various medical conditions has been raised from 10% to 15%.  The Army has also increased its maximum age for enlistment from 35 to 42.  The vice is turning.

Do you know the policies of your local school system regarding military recruitment?  This is how we turn the vice.  The pentagon must approach vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds and convince them it’s in their best interest to join.  It is an insidious practice and chances are you’re allowing it happen.

The military may request a list of the names, addresses and phone numbers of all the high school children in your town.  What’s your school district’s policy regarding the military recruitment “opt out” form?  Federal law says your schools are supposed to tell parents they have the right to remove their children’s names from lists being sent to the Pentagon.  What’s your high school doing?  Can students opt themselves out?  The law says they can.  Once a parent or student removes his or her name from such a list, do they have to repeat the process every year?  The law says once is sufficient.

Does your school have a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) Program?  Your local high school has probably been forced by the Federal No Child Left Behind Act to hire highly qualified teachers.  Many school districts are requiring classroom teachers to have master’s degrees after a few years of service.  Meanwhile, JROTC instructors need only a GED to teach credited courses. The stringent “No Child Left Behind” regulations exempt JROTC instructors.  There’s usually little or no curricular oversight to the program. What are they teaching?  Certainly more Clausewitz and Machiavelli than Jefferson and Thoreau!  What kind of curricular oversight does your high school exercise over this program?  If you want to stop wars, you might start asking.

Over 600,000 school children in public schools take the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test every year.  Does your school offer the test?  Why is the Pentagon testing children in the public schools?  Military recruiting manuals admit it is primarily to produce leads for recruiters.  The ASVAB is supposed to be voluntary, but many schools require all juniors and seniors to take it.  Students are forced to sign a “Student Privacy Statement,” to take the test.  This may violate your state’s laws.  One Maryland school district thought so and requires its students to have a signed permission form from their parents to take the test.   Does your school automatically forward the results from the four hour test to military recruiters?  Most do.  Some school districts have stepped in to protect student privacy and have stopped this practice.

Are military recruiters allowed to greet children as they enter the cafeteria during lunch while college recruiters are required to meet with students by appointment in the Guidance Office?  Federal law calls for military and college recruiters to have equal access to children.  Schools across the country have ordered the military to meet with students in guidance and career centers, rather than allowing recruiters to have access to the entire student body.  This is the toughest nut to crack in some districts.

Do you know if your local high school lets children out of class to shoot M-16 rifle and M-9 pistol simulators in the increasingly popular Army recruiting vans?  You should!  Are military recruiters frequenting some schools more than others due to racial and economic factors?  You ought to know.  Call your local high school principal and start asking questions.  They’re your schools and you’re paying for them, even if your children don’t attend.  The war starts in your community and it can end there too.

Pat Elder is a co-founder of the DC Antiwar Network (DAWN) and is a member of the Steering Committee of the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, (NNOMY).  Pat is currently involved in counter-recruitment projects in a dozen jurisdictions in the DC metropolitan area.  Pat’s work has prominently appeared in NSA documents tracking domestic peace groups.


6 Responses to “Pat Elder: Counter-recruitment is crucial to anti-war movement”

  1. SGT Michael Miles Says:

    I have read this article in somewhat disbelief that you frown upon the very organization that helps protect these freedoms that you exploit, example the freedom of press. If you have paid any mind most young kids these days have no plan of what they want to do as far as when they graduate high school. You think that the JROTC program is a waste but infact it turns out great individuals that show a sence of pride and discipline even when they come from a house hold that offers nothing in support of their future. For some youth the route of JROTC and possibly the Army are a positive option that could lead into a prosperous future offering a stable platform in which to grow from. Now you say that joining the Army you power a war machine. I have been enlisted for four years and have not been deployed once to fight any type of war. But while I have been in I have recieved skilled training in many skilled feilds participated in college courses that were fully paid for through Army resources. So I would say that the Army offers alot more than just running a war machine. It provides a future for those who may not of had one.

    Now I have recently become an Army Recruiter a position that is paid by your tax dollars as well as mine. Now I have a duty to perform as to give people the oppertunity to serve their country and protect the freedoms that we take for granted everyday through whatever job they may perform in the armed services. Through this I give people who may not of had a job a job. And therefore place another person into the economy so that they can pay taxes and pay themselves. Now step into my shoes for a quick second and ask yourself how would you feel if I were to put myself in a position that made it difficult and impossible for you to do your job requiring you to jump through every little hoop to accomplish a little task. Well I thank you for your time and consideration.

  2. Laura Says:

    Unfortunately, militarism as practiced in the United States today most emphatically does not protect our freedoms! In fact, it does the opposite, making us slaves to a voracious and vicious military industrial complex. More than 40 percent of the federal budget is noe expended on direct or indirect costs of militarism, including such things as payment on past and present war debts. Meanwhile, a mere 3 percent of the federal budget is spent on education, including higher education. Counter recruitment is critical to realigning our nation’s priorities. The only thing I worry about, however, is that if it succeeds, it will only cause the government to increasingly privatize the military. And then we really will be in world of hurt.

  3. Jakob Says:

    I would like to respond to the following remark from Michael Miles: “are a positive option that could lead into a prosperous future” (see his responce).

    I have lived in New Port News Virginia, which is close to Norfolk and thus has a big military population. I had taken a cheap apartment as I was there only during the week for work. Believe me the folks that were in my apartment complex were all military and all dead poor. It was just such an eye opener unbelievable how poor there folks are.

  4. Baltimore Jay Says:

    Congrats to Pat Elder for his unceasing efforts to outlaw automatic passing on of ASVAB results to the military. In the state of Maryland, it is now necesary to opt IN for this info to be forwarded to the military. This is the first state to enact this requirement.

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