Is an Economic Draft Already Here?
Friends Committee on National
Legislation - Washington Newsletter , February 2005
With little prospect that combat in Afghanistan
and Iraq will ebb significantly in 2005, it appears the U.S. will
have to retain some 120,000-130,000 troops in these countries
well into the year.
At the same time, the Pentagon seems headed
for turbulent times as it strives to keep the all-volunteer force
at full strength. Critics of these wars use phrases such as "over
stretched" and "breaking point" to describe the
strains on the force structure. While morale is said to be high
in active duty units, increasing numbers of press articles describe
morale declining among National Guard and Reserve units whose
tours are involuntarily extended in the war zone or who face the
prospect of being sent back on second and even third tours. Some
are refusing to go back; others-more than 5,500-are said to have
gone to Canada to escape even a first tour.
Beyond issuing "stop-loss" orders
to keep soldiers in uniform, the Army is adding personnel and
dollars to its recruiting effort. Retention rates for soldiers
already in uniform remain high-for now-but the services reserve
components are not meeting their new enlistee quotas. Complicating
everything is the five-year "temporary" increase in
active duty personnel-from 480,000 to 510,000-authorized by Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Recruiters Seek Likely Prospects
With recruiting costs rising to $15,000
per recruit, the Pentagon must employ its recruiters where they
have the best prospect for success. A February 2001 study for
the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social
Sciences reveals the recruiters' game plan. The study "suggested
that categorizing potential recruits based on their career decision-making
patterns and their parents' socioeconomic status may be useful
for targeting recruiting strategies. For example,...more financially
constrained, goal-oriented youth may respond more positively to
the educational or financial benefits available through military
This focus on financially vulnerable youth
in the "lower middle class" is a key part of recruiting
efforts today. Technology in the form of computer-assisted tracking
of teens in "financially constrained" urban areas, where
unemployment is high and opportunities for advancement is limited,
has become standard practice. But this is just the beginning:
the pursuit goes well beyond electrons and beyond local high schools.
It goes into shopping malls frequented by "financially restrained"
families, to weekend events, and even into youth "hangouts."
Focus on Low Income Neighborhoods
Traditionally, "financially constrained"
translated into minority enclaves where many regard the military
as a way to improve one's prospects honorably. But when recruiters
consciously target a neighborhood or school-or as the Boston Globe
put it, "saturates life at ...a working class public school,"-the
public issue shifts from the opportunities available to fulfill
the aspirations of teens to the fairness of a system that intentionally
exploits the economic aspirations of others.
Recruiting inducements include money for
college (up to $70,000), scholarships, job training, and some
very large-as much as $15,000-bonuses for enlisting. Once they
sign a few new enlistees, recruiters know and play on two teen
propensities to pull in more and more recruits: peer pressure
to "join the herd" by doing what their friends do, and
the inability to fully comprehend consequences in formulating
The fact that military recruiters are
an insistent economic "presence" in carefully targeted
locales gives credence to the charge that the Pentagon's tactics
for filling the forces amounts to an "economic draft."
In a free society, individuals can volunteer
to serve in the military for many reasons ranging from a sense
of duty, to patriotism, personal responsibility, or economic advancement.
But there is something quite amiss for a person to feel compelled
to "volunteer" because no other avenues for self-advancement
are apparent. Moreover, it is patently unjust to require those
who complete their term of service to remain in uniform against
their will. For these, the war becomes a modem form of potentially
lethal, involuntary servitude.
The remedy for such injustice is not a
universal draft but ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This
would allow for new budget priorities that promote equality of
opportunity for all to advance economically and socially.
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