Thursday, May 15, 2008


Jim Lobe Inter Press Service Pressed by the demands of the "global war on terrorism", the United States is violating an international protocol that forbids the recruitment of children under the age of 18 for military service, according to a new report released by a major civil rights group that charged that recruitment practices target children as young as 11 years old.

The 46-page report, "Soldiers of Misfortune", which was prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union for submission to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, also found that the U.S. military disproportionately targets poor and minority public school students.

Military recruiters, according to the report, use "exaggerated promises of financial rewards for enlistment, [which] undermines the voluntariness of their enlistment." In some cases documented by the report, recruiters used coercion, deception, and even sexual abuse in order to gain recruits. Perpetrators of such practices are only very rarely punished, the report found. . .

The increased aggressiveness of military recruiters is due in major part, according to the report, to the increased pressure to meet enlistment quotas caused by ongoing U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to which nearly 200,000 soldiers and marines are currently deployed. . .

The Protocol, which is attached to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is designed to protect the rights of children under 18 who may be recruited by the military and deployed to war. Among other provisions, the Protocol sets an absolute minimum age for recruitment of 16 and requires that all recruitment activities directed at children under 18 be carried out with the consent of the child's parents or guardian, that any such recruitment be genuinely volunteer, and the military fully inform the child of the duties involved in military service and require reliable proof of age before enlistment.

While the United States is one of only two countries -- the other being Somalia -- to have never ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the U.S. Senate ratified the Protocol in 2002, making it binding under U.S., as well as international, law. Unlike most other industrialized countries that set their minimum recruitment age at 18, the Senate decided on 17 as the absolute minimum for the United States.

Sam Smith, 1996 - The Pentagon has greatly expanded JROTC programs. In 1995, the American Friends Service Committee found retired military personnel teaching approximately 310,000 students, ages 14 and up, in about 2200 high schools (with another 700 on the docket). As the AFSC pointed out:

Public schooling strives to promote respect for other cultures, critical thinking and basic academic skills in a safe environment. In contrast, JROTC introduces guns into the schools, promotes authoritarian values, uses rote learning methods, and consigns much student time to learning drill, military history and protocol, which have little relevance outside the military.

It pays off, though, for the Pentagon. Although the JROTC denies it is engaged in recruiting, 45% of all cadets completing the program sign up, mostly as enlisted personnel. AFSC also found that JROTC programs are more often found in schools with a high proportion of non-white students -- now providing 54% of all cadets -- and in non-affluent schools.

And what are these cadets being taught? Says the report:

A comparison of the JROTC curriculum and two widely used civilian high school civics and history textbooks demonstrates that the JROTC curriculum falls well below accepted pedagogical standards. Units on citizenship and history are strikingly different from standard civil texts on these subjects.

For example, . . . the JROTC text portrays citizenship as being primarily achieved through military service, provides only a short discussion of civil rights; and downplays the importance of civilian control of the military. . . .

In comparison to the civilian history text, historical events in the JROTC curriculum are distorted . . History is described as a linear series of accomplishments by soldiers, while the progress engendered by regular citizens is marginalized. America's wars are treated as having been inevitable.

While it claims to provide leadership training with broad relevance, in fact the JROTC curriculum defines leadership as respect for constituted authority and the chain of command, rather than as critical thinking and democratic consensus-building . . . Finally, the text encourages the reader to rely uncritically on the military as a source of self-esteem and guidance.

Further, at a time that schools are trying desperately to discourage violence, the JROTC is teaching students how to kill more effectively. It is also teaching them -- in a text that addresses the "Indian menace" that "Fortunately the government policy of pushing the Indians farther West, then wiping them out, was carried out successfully. "

And just where did the idea come from for the expansion of military indoctrination in our high schools? From none other than that very media model of a major modern general: Colin Powell.

Following the LA uprising in 1992, writes Steven Stycos in the Providence Phoenix, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "proposed a massive expansion of the program. Powell urged the new units be targeted to inner-city youth as an alternative to drug use and gang membership." In New England the number of students involved nearly tripled.

Was Powell seeking citizen officers to balance the academy-trained military? Absolutely not. The JROTC students are grunt-fodder. Besides, while referring to ROTC as "vital to democracy," Powell closed 62 college-based ROTC units during this same period. The inevitable result was that the proportion of academy-trained officers rose and the role of the citizen-officer diminished.


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