The Friends Of Military Recruits
Wednesday - October 12, 2005
Since the beginning of America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military services have found it increasingly difficult to fill their ranks. A strong United States economy, ongoing media reports about roadside bombings that leave American troops dead and maimed, the constant overseas deployment of both regular and guard and reserve units: All have made it difficult for recruiters to meet their recruitment quotas.
They’ve responded with a $4 billion recruitment campaign and far more aggressive efforts to lure young Americans, particularly new high school graduates, into the military. Promises of job training and college financing lead the recruiters’ pitch.
But a few urge caution. The copy on the American Friends Service Committee’s National Youth and Militarism pamphlet reads: “Do you know enough to enlist? Military recruiters and ads promise job training, money for college, adventure, leadership skills and more. Before you join, take a good look at what you’re getting into.”
The Society of Friends is, of course, the Quakers. They’ve been preaching pacifism since well before the inception of the American republic. Now they’re warning American youth against recruiters hungry to fill the ranks of a war-time volunteer military.
The Friends first became active in Hawaii during World War II, helping the young Navy, Marine and Army personnel to understand their rights. They also counseled Americans of Japanese ancestry about the internment camps and relocation that wartime hysteria visited on Hawaii’s issei.
A permanent office opened in Manoa Valley in 1968. It operates with a staff of two, one of whom is Kyle Kajihiro, the AFSC’s executive director.
In describing the Friends’ military recruitment pamphlets, Kajihiro says: “We just want young men and women to have more complete and accurate information about the reality of military service. Plus we’d also like there to be some alternative, peaceful means developed for them to serve their country.”
The Friends argue that the much-advertised job training offered by the military is frequently unsuitable for civilian occupations. And the even more highly touted New GI Bill “is not as easy as it sounds.” A recruit finds out how much money he or she will receive “only after you leave the military.”
And the $50,000 frequently promised for educational expenses? According to the Friends’pamphlets, it is “offered only to those GIs who take jobs the military has a hard time filling.” Few can expect the whole wad of bills.
But one group of queries jumps off the page of the Friends’ pamphlet; “Ask yourself these questions: Am I willing to kill ... and be killed? The military prepares for war. This purpose guides everything it does. Are you willing to kill another person if ordered to do so? Would you destroy people’s homes or food? Would you risk your life in a fight for somebody else’s cause?”
Those are realistic, even brutal questions that are not often posed by military recruiters. Thus the Friends and other anti-war groups like Veterans Against the Iraq War are trying to get their literature into high school counselors’ offices.
“We want truth in advertising and less emphasis on military service,” says Kajihiro. “We are seriously concerned about the militarization of society. We want to see less reliance on the military and alternative career options that emphasize peace-making.”
Not all high school principals and counselors have responded positively to the Friends’ appeal. The No Child Left Behind Law, for example, mandates that high schools provide military recruiters with the names of students old enough to be eligible for the military. Parents may have information about their children withheld by filling out the requisite form.
“We feel the forms are difficult for parents to understand,” says Kajihiro. “We also feel that the schools should be more aggressive about informing parents of their right to withhold information about their child.”
Counseling Island youth about alternatives to military service is consistent with a laundry list of anti-war activism championed by the Hawaii’s Friends: opposition to bringing a Stryker brigade to Hawaii, protesting the continued use of Makua Valley for military training, campaigning to stop the establishment of military research at the University of Hawaii, and examining the impact of home-porting an aircraft carrier in Hawaii.
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