America’s Child Soldiers: JROTC and the Militarizing of America

Yves here. While itmay seem far afield of normal NC fare, I thought this post on the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corp was worth highlighting for several reasons. One is, as you’ll see, the way that the well-funded armed services are managing to suck funds out of already-struggling inner city school budgets. Second is that this blog is really about fostering critical thinking, and the sort of “education” provided in the JROTC is indoctrination, its polar opposite. Third, sadly, is that for many young Americans, military service is a better career option than what the job market has on offer. I wish the author Ann Jones hadn’t overegged the pudding by playing up the “child soldiers” claim; American children are not sent into combat. The facts she has unearthed are troubling enough on their own.

By Ann Jones, the author of a new book,They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars — the Untold Story, a Dispatch Books project in cooperation with Haymarket Books. She has reported from Afghanistan since 2002, and has also two books about the impact of war on civilians: Kabul in Winter and War Is Not Over When It’s Over. Her website is Originally posted at TomDispatch

Congress surely meant to do the right thing when, in the fall of 2008, it passed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA). The law was designed to protect kids worldwide from being forced to fight the wars of Big Men. From then on, any country that coerced children into becoming soldiers was supposed to lose all U.S. military aid.

It turned out, however, that Congress — in its rare moment of concern for the next generation — had it all wrong. In its greater wisdom, the White House found countries like Chad and Yemen so vital to the national interest of the United States that it preferred to overlook what happened to the children in their midst.

As required by CSPA, this year the State Department once again listed 10 countries that use child soldiers: Burma (Myanmar), the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  Seven of them were scheduled to receive millions of dollars in U.S. military aid as well as what’s called “U.S. Foreign Military Financing.”  That’s a shell game aimed at supporting the Pentagon and American weapons makers by handing millions of taxpayer dollars over to such dodgy “allies,” who must then turn around and buy “services” from the Pentagon or “materiel” from the usual merchants of death. You know the crowd: Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman, and so on.

Here was a chance for Washington to teach a set of countries to cherish their young people, not lead them to the slaughter. But in October, as it has done every year since CSPA became law, the White House again granted whole or partial “waivers” to five countries on the State Department’s “do not aid” list: Chad, South Sudan, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia.

Too bad for the young — and the future — of those countries.  But look at it this way: Why should Washington help the children of Sudan or Yemen escape war when it spares no expense right here at home to press our own impressionable, idealistic, ambitious American kids into military “service”?

It should be no secret that the United States has the biggest, most efficiently organized, most effective system for recruiting child soldiers in the world.  With uncharacteristic modesty, however, the Pentagon doesn’t call it that.  Its term is “youth development program.” 

Pushed by multiple high-powered, highly paid public relations and advertising firms under contract to the Department of Defense, the program is a many splendored thing. Its major public face is the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps or JROTC. 

What makes this child-soldier recruiting program so striking is that the Pentagon carries it out in plain sight in hundreds and hundreds of private, military, and public high schools across the U.S.

Unlike the notorious West African warlords Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor (both brought before international tribunals on charges of war crimes), the Pentagon doesn’t actually kidnap children and drag them bodily into battle.  It seeks instead to make its young “cadets” what John Stuart Mill once termed “willing slaves,” so taken in by the master’s script that they accept their parts with a gusto that passes for personal choice. To that end, JROTC works on their not-yet-fully-developed minds, instilling what the program’s textbooks call “patriotism” and “leadership,” as well as a reflexive attention to authoritarian commands.

The scheme is much more sophisticated — so much more “civilized” — than any ever devised in Liberia or Sierra Leone, and it works.  The result is the same, however: kids get swept into soldiering, a job they will not be free to leave, and in the course of which they may be forced to commit spirit-breaking atrocities. When they start to complain or crack under pressure, in the U.S. as in West Africa, out come the drugs.

The JROTC program, still spreading in high schools across the country, costs U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.  It has cost some unknown number of taxpayers their children.

The Acne and Braces Brigades

I first stumbled upon JROTC kids a few years ago at a Veterans Day parade in Boston. Before it got underway, I wandered among the uniformed groups taking their places along the Boston Common. There were some old geezers sporting the banners of their American Legion posts, a few high school bands, and some sharp young men in smart dress uniforms: greater Boston’s military recruiters.

Then there were the kids.  The acne and braces brigades, 14- and 15-year-olds in military uniforms carrying rifles against their shoulders.  Some of the girl groups sported snazzy white gloves.

Far too many such groups, with far too many underage children, stretched the length of Boston Common.  They represented all branches of the military and many different local communities, though almost all of them were brown or black in hue: African Americans, Hispanics, the children of immigrants from Vietnam and other points South. Just last month in New York City, I watched similarly color-coded JROTC squads march up Fifth Avenue on Veterans’ Day.  One thing JROTC is not is a rainbow coalition.

In Boston, I asked a 14-year-old boy why he had joined JROTC.  He wore a junior Army uniform and toted a rifle nearly as big as himself. He said, “My dad, he left us, and my mom, she works two jobs, and when she gets home, well, she’s not big on structure. But they told us at school you gotta have a lot of structure if you want to get somewhere.  So I guess you could say I joined up for that.”

A group of girls, all Army JROTC members, told me they took classes with the boys but had their own all-girl (all-black) drill team that competed against others as far away as New Jersey. They showed me their medals and invited me to their high school to see their trophies.  They, too, were 14 or 15. They jumped up and down like the enthusiastic young teens they were as we talked. One said, “I never got no prizes before.”

Their excitement took me back. When I was their age, growing up in the Midwest, I rose before daybreak to march around a football field and practice close formation maneuvers in the dark before the school day began.  Nothing would have kept me from that “structure,” that “drill,” that “team,” but I was in a marching band and the weapon I carried was a clarinet.  JROTC has entrapped that eternal youthful yearning to be part of something bigger and more important than one’s own pitiful, neglected, acne-spattered self. JROTC captures youthful idealism and ambition, twists it, trains it, arms it, and sets it on the path to war.

A Little History

The U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps was conceived as part of the National Defense Act of 1916 in the midst of World War I. In the aftermath of that war, however, only six high schools took up the military’s offer of equipment and instructors. A senior version of ROTC, was made compulsory on many state college and university campuses, despite the then-controversial question of whether the government could compel students to take military training.

By 1961, ROTC had become an optional program, popular at some schools, but unwelcome on others.  It soon disappeared altogether from the campuses of many elite colleges and progressive state universities, pushed out by protest against the war in Vietnam and pulled out by the Pentagon, which insisted on maintaining discriminatory policies (especially regarding sexual preference and gender) outlawed in university codes of conduct. When it gave up “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011 and offered a menu of substantial research grants for such institutions, elite universities like Harvard and Yale welcomed the military back with unbecoming deference.

During ROTC’s exile from such institutions, however, it put down roots on college campuses in states that made no fuss about discrimination, while the Pentagon expanded its recruitment program in high schools. Almost half a century after Army JROTC was established, the Reserve Officers Training Corps Vitalization Act of 1964 opened such junior training to all branches of the military. What’s more, the number of JROTC units nationwide, previously capped at 1,200, climbed rapidly until 2001, when the very idea of imposing limits on the program disappeared.

The reason was clear enough. In 1973, the Nixon administration discarded the draft in favor of a standing professional “all-volunteer” army.  But where were those professionals to be found?  And how exactly were they to be persuaded to “volunteer”? Since World War II, ROTC programs at institutions of higher education had provided about 60% of commissioned officers. But an army needs foot soldiers.

Officially, the Pentagon claims that JROTC is not a recruiting program. Privately, it never considered it to be anything else. Army JROTC now describes itself as having “evolved from a source of enlisted recruits and officer candidates to a citizenship program devoted to the moral, physical, and educational uplift of American youth.” Yet former Defense Secretary William Cohen, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in 2000, named JROTC “one of the best recruiting devices that we could have.” 

With that unacknowledged mission in hand, the Pentagon pushed for a goal first advanced in 1991 by Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: the establishment of 3,500 JROTC units to “uplift” students in high schools nationwide.  The plan was to expand into “educationally and economically deprived areas.”  The shoddy schools of the inner cities, the rust belt, the deep South, and Texas became rich hunting grounds.  By the start of 2013, the Army alone was recycling 4,000 retired officers to run its programs in 1,731 high schools. All together, Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine JROTC units now flourish in 3,402 high schools nationwide — 65% of them in the South — with a total enrollment of 557,129 kids.

Getting With the Program

Here’s how the program works. The Department of Defense spends several hundred million dollars — $365 million in 2013 — to provide uniforms, Pentagon-approved textbooks, and equipment to JROTC, as well as part of the instructors’ salaries.  Those instructors, assigned by the military (not the schools), are retired officers. They continue to collect federal retirement pay, even though the schools are required to cover their salaries at levels they would receive on active duty.  The military then reimburses the school for about half of that hefty pay, but the school is still out a bundle.

Ten years ago, the American Friends Service Committee found that the true cost of JROTC programs to local school districts was “often much higher — in some cases more than double — the cost claimed by the Department of Defense.”  In 2004, local school districts were shelling out “more than $222 million in personnel costs alone.”

Several principals who spoke to me about the program praised the Pentagon for subsidizing the school budget, but in this matter they evidently don’t grasp their own school finances. The fact is that public schools offering JROTC programs actually subsidize the Pentagon’s recruitment drive. In fact, a JROTC class costs schools (and taxpayers) significantly more than would a regular physical education or American history course — for both of which it is often considered a suitable substitute.

Local schools have no control over the Pentagon’s prescribed JROTC curricula, which are inherently biased toward militarism. Many school systems simply adopt JROTC programs without so much as a peek at what the students will be taught. The American Friends Service Committee, Veterans for Peace, and other civic groups have compiled evidence that these classes are not only more costly than regular school courses, but also inferior in quality.

What else but inferior quality might be expected from self-serving textbooks written by competing branches of the military and used by retired military men with no teaching qualifications or experience?  For one thing, neither the texts nor the instructors teach the sort of critical thinking central to the best school curricula today. Instead, they inculcate obedience to authority, inspire fear of “enemies,” and advance the primacy of military might in American foreign policy.

Civic groups have raised a number of other objections to JROTC, ranging from discriminatory practices — against gays, immigrants, and Muslims, for example — to dangerous ones, such as bringing guns into schools (of all places).  Some units even set up shooting ranges where automatic rifles and live ammunition are used.  JROTC embellishes the dangerous mystique of such weapons, making them objects to covet, embrace, and jump at the chance to use.

In its own defense, the program publicizes a selling point widely accepted across the United States: that it provides “structure,” keeps kids from dropping out of school, and turns boys (and now girls) of “troubled” background into “men” who, without JROTC to save them (and the rest of us from them), would become junkies or criminals or worse. Colin Powell, the first ROTC grad ever to rise to the military’s top job, peddled just this line in his memoir My American Journey. “Inner-city kids,” he wrote, “many from broken homes, [find] stability and role models in Junior ROTC.”

No evidence exists to prove these claims, however, apart from student testimonials like that offered by the 14-year-old who told me he joined up for “structure.”  That kids (and their parents) fall for this sales pitch is a measure of their own limited options. The great majority of students find better, more life-affirming “structure” in school itself through academic courses, sports, choirs, bands, science or language clubs, internships — you name it — in schools where such opportunities exist.  Yet it is precisely in schools with such programs that administrators, teachers, parents, and kids working together are most likely to succeed in keeping JROTC out.  It is left to the “economically and educationally deprived” school systems targeted by the Pentagon to cut such “frills” and blow their budgets on a colonel or two who can offer students in need of “stability and role models” a promising, though perhaps very short, future as soldiers.

School Days

In one such Boston inner city school, predominantly black, I sat in on JROTC classes where kids watched endless films of soldiers on parade, then had a go at it themselves in the school gym, rifles in hand.  (I have to admit that they could march far better than squads of the Afghan National Army, which I’ve also observed, but is that something to be proud of?) Since those classes often seemed to consist of hanging out, students had lots of time to chat with the Army recruiter whose desk was conveniently located in the JROTC classroom.

They chatted with me, too.  A 16-year-old African American girl, who was first in her class and had already signed up for the Army, told me she would make the military her career.  Her instructor — a white colonel she regarded as the father she never had at home — had led the class to believe that “our war” would go on for a very long time, or as he put it, “until we’ve killed every last Muslim on Earth.” She wanted to help save America by devoting her life to that “big job ahead.”

Stunned, I blurted out, “But what about Malcolm X?”  He grew up in Boston and a boulevard not far from the school was named in his honor. “Wasn’t he a Muslim?” I asked.

“Oh no, ma’am,” she said.  “Malcolm X was an American.”

A senior boy, who had also signed up with the recruiter, wanted to escape the violence of city streets.  He joined up shortly after one of his best friends, caught in the crossfire of somebody else’s fight, was killed in a convenience store just down the block from the school.  He told me, “I’ve got no future here.  I might as well be in Afghanistan.”  He thought his chances of survival would be better there, but he worried about the fact that he had to finish high school before reporting for “duty.”  He said, “I just hope I can make it to the war.”

What kind of school system gives boys and girls such “choices”?  What kind of country?

What goes on in schools in your town?  Isn’t it time you found out?

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  1. George Hier

    Getting mighty sick and tired of the culture war postings on here. I came to Naked Capitalism for the insightful economic discussion, and the common ground of finding and rooting out corruption. Now it seems like every other post is some guest writer preaching about how I’m not a real person if I don’t act exactly like them in every single way.

    You’re going the way of DailyKos, and that is not a compliment.

    1. Skippy

      Ahem – “Fearless commentary on finance, economics, politics, and power”

      skippy… what part of the last 40ish years did – you – miss?

      1. DakotabornKansan

        As Lincoln once said, “I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”

        “A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, and fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” – Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

    2. archer

      Rather hard to take anyone seriously who mistakes NC for the Great Orange Satan, unless you are such a superficial reader you didn’t get past the color scheme. And Yves did state how this post relates to economics issues, but it looks like you are too deeply invested in cultural warfare to see that.

      1. AbyNormal

        “A critic is someone who never actually goes to the battle, yet who afterwards comes out shooting the wounded”
        (moons ago, someone spit in Georgies porgie)

    3. YankeeFrank

      Oh George. If there is a post you don’t care for, then don’t read it. Its pretty simple. That, and you are an incredibly callous and callow individual if this piece fostered no other reaction than the trite comment you’ve just offered. These are children, being indoctrinated into war and killing from a very young age, because their society, the richest the world has ever known, has utterly let them down and ignored them. And all you can offer in reaction is whiny demands that NC toe the vague line in your head. Not to mention that the fact that you don’t see how this piece IS about capitalism and economics just shows how little you understand those things.

      1. PopeRatzo

        I coach martial arts & tai chi clubs in a few Chicago Public Schools, and I have not seen the kind of war indoctrination in the ROTC programs on those campuses described in this article. In fact, the programs I’ve seen have been pretty effective in helping students whose prospects were pretty dim. The lessons learned are not so much about war and nationalism as they are about self-reliance, cooperation and looking out for the people around you. Respecting yourself and other people. Many of the kids would have otherwise looked for twisted substitutes for such things in street gangs. Unlike the gangs, I have seen no glorification of war in the ROTC program.

        For the kids who are at risk, these ROTC programs represent an intervention, a chance. Over the past five years, a lot more of the ROTC participants have decided to go to college than to enlist in the military.

        Many times, the adult officers in those programs have asked me to conduct programs in martial arts training, and have embraced the notion that the reason you learn martial arts is not to fight, but to learn to NOT fight. That there is a moral code in training that involves looking out for people who are weak and protecting them, looking out for the people around you and forming a moral code based on honesty. Those adults have been some of the best people I’ve encountered in the schools, and care at least as much about the welfare of the young people as any of the teachers.

        I’m as big a lefty as anyone here, but I think there’s more to ROTC programs that is presented in this article.

        1. RepubAnon

          Agreed – programs such as this need to be monitored, but I’d like to see more JROTC and ROTC programs. It helps keep the armed forces tied to the civilian population.

          What we don’t need is a military that gets so isolated from the civilian population that they start becoming vulnerable to coup plotters.

          1. OIFVet

            Bullshyte, if you want to keep the military and the civilians connected then the universal draft is the only way to go. As things stand now something like 1-2% of the civilians know anyone who serves or has served. Talking about a chasm… And it does not help that there is a rather significant minority amongst the professional military for whom “civilian” is a four letter word, a slur, and expression of contempt all rolled into one. The exact opposite of hooah. Yet you think that creating more of them will magically connect the civilian and military world. Not gonna happen. JROTC should not exist, and the military must be kept out of our middle and high schools. The benefits that PopeRatzo mentioned can and and should be achieved by myriad other academic and extracurricular activities. While I am no economic expert, the fiscal multiplier of investment in education is bound to be an order of magnitude greater that the fiscal multiplier of training cannon fodder.

            1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

              I left the US in 2005 after W was re-appointed. From the outside it’s very clear to see the normalization in America of Permanent War. NORAD gives Santa a fighter escort for the first time this year…and JROTC gives everyone a Head Start in believing War is Always The Answer. Disgusting. Kucinich proposed a Department of Peace, sounds like the right idea to me

    4. vlade

      I will disagree.

      While I agree that guest posts quality varies a lot (especially when someone presents an opinion as a fact with questionable evidence etc – not talking about this particular article, although I do have problems with it), and while I do have my disagreements with Yves, she is more willing (and does) than anyone else (well, anyone who’s read widely anyways) in the blogosphere to question both sides mercilessly – the exact opposite of your “If I don’t act exactly…”. You can see it even here, with clearly stating that the overegging it by an unjustifiable claim may harm the cause.

    5. Banger

      It’s all connected. You cannot talk about finance without dealing with economics, you cannot talk about economics without talking about politics since markets are established by political structures you cannot talk about politics without talking about culture that’s the idea here. I would extend it to this: you cannot talk about culture without talking about philosophy, particular moral philosophy and you cannot talk about those without going even deeper into the soul.

      My point is that we are or at least we must move away from the narrow confines that make things perhpaps more comfortable but, also, more opaque. Unlike Daily Kos this place is not a Democratic Party operation but one that invites a variety of viewpoints. If you go “off the reservation” at DKOS they just throw you out.

    6. John_de_Vashon

      “I came to Naked Capitalism for the insightful economic discussion…”

      Read: “I came to Naked Capitalism to read exactly what I want to read about only those things I’m interested in”.

      Oh wells. Too bad, so sad. Sorry not sorry.

    7. sleepy

      George, I doubt if there are many posters here who agree with every thread, post, or comment.

      So what? Unlike you, very few of them take an article they dislike and puff it up to the stature of some site-defining statement.

      Beyond that, do you have any critique of the article itself? You disagree with it, why?

    8. NotTimothyGeithner

      Since military spending is such an important aspect of our economic situation, the means by which the Pentagon interacts with young people is of utmost importance to economics discussions.

      To think otherwise is to not think.

    9. susan the other

      You can look at it this way: everything is a financial analysis in the US. Certainly the military and the MIC are at the very center of our economy and the financial system is so entwined with the military, and has been since WW1, that a comment about one is also a comment about the other. Resorting to recruiting younger and younger GIs is disconcerting as much for the immorality of our military as our finance industry. If we had no wars where would that leave our economy? Maybe with a gigantic merchant marine to enforce the TPP? For reasons we are left to guess, the US has chosen to become the police of the world. Costing us trillions every year.

    10. Ishmael

      Personally, I believe everyone should have to do a year or two in JROTC. Similar type training takes place in countries like Sweden, Switzerland and Israel as well as a number of others. Much of this training will empower people into their lives. I had JROTC as well as ROTC (in fact at the end of Vietnam I won a 4 year Army ROTC scholarship which paid full cost almost any place you wanted to go to school and their were a 100,000 candidates for 1,000 scholarships). Now in my JROTC training I had martial arts, scuba diving, shooting and fencing as well as even some ball room dancing (and there was also the potential for flight training). In my ROTC training I also learned a number of things. I had no commitment to the military until I started my 3rd year. I ended it after 2 years.

      A little background, my father was an Airborne Major who was practically in every jump in WW2 and also fought in Korea. I grew up hunting and fishing in what most people would call the rural southwest. I always thought I would be a military officer but for various reasons (the major reason being as my father says – I have no respect for authority) changed my career thinking half way through University. I am the only person in my direct family that ever got a university degree.

      I will have to tell you many times, even though I have done well in my life, I have thought maybe I should have stuck with it. Would have lived many interesting places (I have lived on four continents in my career), good pay, some interesting work and excellent retirement. Also the military is one of the few places where you can still get graduate school paid for. Okay the negatives, you could be killed or badly injured but that is true with some other careers. Secondly, I believe the military is far larger than it should ever been allowed to grow and has been a major negative on the position of the country and as my wife says, if I had gone into the military I would be an even bigger hard ass than I am already.

      The saddest part is that there are so few opportunities in this country any more that the military is one of the few careers left. Now the good news is if you go through JROTC and ROTC at least you would be an officer!

      With all of that said, the training given in JROTC would be good for most people. If you are that easily swayed by a few courses then you have other problems besides ROTC.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Why not just have non-military organizations? We could just pay teachers, engineers, and scientists to do things other than go on parades.

        We could fund schools, or even just pay people to be students. Why do we need war at all?

        “(in fact at the end of Vietnam ”

        Oh, lucky you. I bet military service is really great if you never have to fight in an unjust war on behalf of the insane and the cruel. I would love to hear from some veterans on the subject of national military service.

        1. OIFVet

          For it, with no exemptions for mofos who “have other priorities” or anal cysts. Front line infantry for the progeny of the political and corporate “elites,” no exceptions.

          1. Wayne Reynolds

            The article did state that elite universities like Harvard and Yale welcomed the military back with unbecoming deference. I can only imagine the dilemma being faced by these elite children on where to spend the coming holiday vacation, St. Thomas, Aspen or Afghanistan?

        2. Benjamin

          Reminds me of Heinlein, a man obsessed with the supposed virtues of military service. He eventually took it to insane extremes with Starship Troopers, which presents citizenship as a privilege that can only be earned through military service, anyone who doesn’t serve is a lesser human being.

          The man was a radio operator. On a ship. In peactime. Once I learned that I simply started disgarding anything he had to say on the subject. I’m sure he had a good experience in the military, but he was never exposed to the horrors of its primary function, everything he liked was ancillary to that purpose. All the supposed good virtues of service can be instilled through other programs, preferably ones that don’t also come packaged with a stripping of individuality and blind devotion to authority.

      2. damian

        “The saddest part is that there are so few opportunities in this country any more that the military is one of the few careers left.”

        The Hitler Youth Organization was effective for the same reasons – destroy economic opportunity – recruit them when their young and stupid – then when they loose their legs say your sorry – very effective holistic – end to end – system for control and cheap expendable labor !

        1. Benjamin

          My nephew is joining the Marines. He claims to have a plan, first to get some kind of technical job (he wants to repair tanks far from the frontlines) and then take advantage of the program where the military pays for him to go to school. I’m very dubious things will work out as he wants them too, but I hope they do. I certainly hope he never gets anywhere near combat, given the levels of suicide, depression and general ‘brokenness’ among veterans these days. But even if everything does go as he plans I think the mere experience of bootcamp will change him, and not for the better. I’ve seen what the USMC does to people and I don’t think highly of it.

          But at least he’s 18. The notion of putting these programs in schools and suckering in kids even younger is disgusting.

    11. Ragtag Media

      I Agree George.
      There was very little “economics” and all to much ” culture war” propaganda in this piece.
      For example:
      “Civic groups have raised a number of other objections to JROTC, ranging from discriminatory practices — against gays, immigrants, and Muslims, for example — to dangerous ones, such as bringing guns into schools (of all places). Some units even set up shooting ranges where automatic rifles and live ammunition are used. JROTC embellishes the dangerous mystique of such weapons, making them objects to covet, embrace, and jump at the chance to use.”

      That paragraph has a heck of a lot more to do with ginning social angst than simply explaining how JROTC causes economic blight on society.

      Here is an economic lesson:
      I was in a JROTC program for a couple years in school. The Money that was used to pay for the program came from Washington, was spent in our local community, and provided a service for kids who did not fit in with the Thug Gangs but wanted to join a group that had discipline and allowed for them a way to give back if the chance arrised for all they/Myself felt this great nation provided.

      That’s all, no jingoism, just kids wanting to give back.
      Kind of an anamoly in todays culture of Me,Me,Me, i would say.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        It looks like you did not read the piece carefully or in full.

        It makes clear that the schools are actually net LOSERS, the programs cost far more than normal programs to administer, even with the Department of Defense subsidy. So this is not “money coming into the community,” it’s a drain on your community.

        Second, the point made about objections to discriminatory practices is a minor point. The author’s big objection is military recruiting/training of kids so young they can hardly make informed consent. This BTW is considered a human rights violation by the UN.

        Third, “kids wanting to give back” can give in a lot of other ways, like reading to blind people or feeding the homeless. You post a false dichotomy, that this is the only option to avoid joining a gang or to provide community service.

        1. SeanFitch

          Yves, I understand what you are saying about false dichotomy but your suggestions seem ludicrous. Have you ever lived in a blighted area? Have you ever lived in Section 8? Have you ever lived in areas of racial/sectarian tension (blacks/latinos/white/asian or, in my case, catholics/protesants). I understand how things look from afar, but understanding how people act and what they value in these communities might be important in the equation.

          Go up to some kid off the street, lets say Tennyson in Hayward, CA – holla! – and tell them your suggestions along with gangs and JROC. Then ask which is the best way to get out of there and to help your family? You might be surprised.

          The problem with this damn article is you got some white women from Wisconsin making logical choices of teenagers seem suspect. A boy has no structure at home and wants to find it. Chose JROTC instead of a gang. That seems pretty logical. Another kid sees his life expectancy and ability to stay out of jail as better in Afghanistan than in the hood. Isn’t that correct? Thank you Wisconsin white women for making these young people seem ignorant by juxtaposing a silly answer regarding history with a logical argument. This just seems icky and under-handed.

          I think a more interesting take away from the article would be a suggestion that the ‘structure’ assertion be studied between extracurricular activities, including JROC, An exhaustive quantitative and qualitative analysis on results would be very helpful, instead of a definitive statement regarding the value of certain programs based upon an author’s beliefs. “The great majority of students find better, more life-affirming “structure” in school itself through academic courses, sports, choirs, bands, science or language clubs, internships — you name it — in schools where such opportunities exist.”

          I love Naked Capitalism, but this article just rubbed me the wrong way. I guess it is cause I have alot of friends in jail for stupid ass shit they did young. I think JROC is a viable option and to compare it to child soldiers in conflict zones is just plain stupid.

          1. Yves Smith Post author


            You are being had.

            First, the schools are net LOSERS in this deal, so the money going to JROTC is as the expense of funding for other programs that could keep kids off the street after school and give them some adult supervision and role models.

            Second, this isn’t the military being charitable and interested in kids’ welfare, this is about recruiting kids who are way way way too young to make informed career choices. The military is desperate for cannon fodder. How many tours of active duty are soldiers being asked to do? It’s well beyond anything considered acceptable in the past. The level of trauma these soldiers are experiencing is horrific: record levels of suicides, high levels of other psychological disorders, unprecedented levels of losses of limbs, and more and more cancers (due to the use of depleted uranium).

    12. Lambert Strether

      Readers, and George Hier: Yves is a finance wonk, and posts plenty of finance wonk-ish posts.

      However, when commentary like 401(k) Plan Abuses Finally Coming to Light garners only 17 (seventeen) comments, or a post with real reportage like Whistleblower Describes How Private Equity Firms Flagrantly Violate SEC Broker-Dealer Requirements garners 11 (eleven), the message from readers, from the data, seems to be “Move along, please, move along. There’s no story here.”

      I should say that I can’t imagine that financial posts will go away, because, after all, “Follow the money!” But still…

      Readers, thoughts?

      1. Ferrous Male

        When the subject matter gets wonky, I wouldn’t expect a high response rate (how many readers know and understand the institutions of finance like you or Yves?). Nevertheless, posts like the two you referenced are valued; there are precious few quality sites on the web that cover this material in the manner and quality that NC does (“child solidiers” notwithstanding).

      2. redleg

        There’s only so much to say about the broken record that is the endemic system of fraud, abuse, and corruption of markets/politics. Gresham’s Law applies, and the perps have won.

    13. jrs

      It’s odd to see U.S. militarism framed as a culture war issue. Guns (yes inluding the push to control them!), gays, religion, abortion etc. are culture war issues, regardless of which side one takes. Militarism is the very basis of the country.

      Common ground to fight corruption? That would be nice. I’m not sure where this common ground to actually fight corruption politically and not just complain about it is going to come from. Got any plans to achieve it? Mass protests?

    14. accidentalfission

      That corruption you’re looking for is deeply rooted in the military-industrial complex just as Eisenhower warned. I saw it first hand at USAFA and on active duty after graduating. Not in the officer corps mind you, in the world of “defense contractors.”

      You do know that the U.S. spends more on weapons and surveillance systems than the rest of the world combined don’t you? And that’s without accounting for “black” programs.

  2. vlade

    Stopping brainwashing is important. But then, this is hardly the only brainwashing of suspectibles going on, and I’m not even entirely persuaded that it’s the most dangerous one. But calling it out is better than not, though naming them “child soldiers” is just dumb (I can just see “hey, she’s an idiot leftie who calls kids playing soldiers ‘child soldiers’, we should just ignore her” mental processes kicking off). I’d expect it persuades few – it will confirm what some people think (but those don’t need persuading in the first place), and will turn away some of the marginals who might be by making outrageous claims that are just a nonsense (assuming they would change their mind anyway, as facts that get in the way of ideology are pretty much always ignored).

    1. Eureka Springs

      So, Assimilating, structuring thought, in military uniform with a gun for the sole purpose of enlisting those who want to murder or play a supporting role to that deadly end is somehow not a child soldier?

      Perhaps those who disagree should define soldier for the rest of us. I think even under the narrowest of definitions it is clear the purpose is to assimilate/mold an active duty soldier out of these children.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        I think the purpose is for defense contractors to hide behind children, not to raise soldiers. The bad economy does that.

      2. vlade

        Soldier=someone who’s actually being exposed to danger, and can be ordered (under threat of punishment) to expose him/herself to a danger.

        When I last looked, US army still had age enlistment requirement of 17 (with parental consent) or 18 (w/o). If you show me that US fields someone younger than 18 in Iraq/Afghanistan etc. then we can talk about child soldiers, and I’ll happily support any action against it. I don’t know about private contractors as I don’t know about employment law in the US, but I’m fairly sure that a security contractor in the UK would not be allowed to employ anyone below 18 (in an exposed area) based on safety rules.

        If we classify all kids with guns as soldiers, then that’s been around (and not only in the US) for ages, fairly in the open, so you’d have been incensed slightly longer than just now reading someone telling you that there are “child soldiers”.

        The same goes for “enlist when you’re older” propaganda – that’s been around at least since WW2, and when you look at Hollywood and large part of what goes into the print (looking at popularity of Clancy’s fantasy novels) happily supported by the establishment.

        That is actually something that I object to (brainwashing), but it still doesn’t make them child soldiers.

  3. Jon Paul

    Did JROTC change? I graduated HS in 1982, having taken 3 years of JROTC. While it probably did do something to make the military seem an option for my future, I hardly feel that it was the U.S. version of the HJ. I should note that I enlisted for 4 years after HS, but it wasn’t because of indoctrination, it was because Reagan had slashed student aid and the army had money for college.

    What did we learn? Ok, there’s the proper way to wear a uniform (boring), orienteering (map reading – no gps back then, and a truly useful skill that )

    1. Jon Paul

      Sorry, wish we could edit posts for a short period. Anyway, the map reading turned out to be very helpful. Marksmanship training was helpful too (we had very nice pellet rifles, nothing auto). We learned to march – I think the usefulness of drill has long passed it’s usefulness.

      The colonel who ran our dept was a good man, a good person, and had served his country as a career. I never felt an ounce of pressure to join the military – it was always more along the line of – in case we ever need you, you’ll already have some basics.

      1. rusti

        I’d be curious to see a rebuttal to this piece. JROTC always seemed fairly benign to me as well (I graduated about 10 years ago).

        The lack of accountability to schools, discriminatory practices and questionable curriculum certainly should be addressed, but the shock value of the quotes doesn’t strike me too much. I could easily gather quotes from similarly ignorant people here in Scandinavia.

        It seems to me like just one symptom of a much larger problem, which is that there really aren’t many good extra-curricular alternatives for American kids to get involved with which makes the JROTC / Military an appealing alternative. Kids can learn useful skills and life lessons from these programs, just as they can from sports, but we grossly under-allocate resources for higher minded pursuits.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          “JROTC always seemed fairly benign to me ”

          So are the Mormon Scouts. Full disclaimer: I never did an Eagle Scout Project. I was really just friends with the would-be Eagle Scouts in my troop, and despite a marine being scoutmaster, we never did manage to learn how to march or wear uniforms properly. It was really cool when he took us off roading in the HumVee. There were five Eagle Scouts.

          Back to my point, is the friendly colonel altering reports to help a defense contractor? I don’t know, do you. We should have a healthy skepticism, and JROTC is dedicated to putting a friendly face and diffusing that skepticism. I know Colonel X therefore I’m going to trust all these other guys.

    2. Banger

      Yes, I would have thought the same thing. But everything today is on a higher level of intensity because kids are more distracted. There was a very heavy focus on militarizing our society after 9/11 and this is a vestige of all that. I’m not sure how sustainable it is.

  4. DakotabornKansan

    The above is another illustration of our nation’s sad history.

    Richard Slotkin has written about military conflict and the “democratization” of American citizenship.

    World War I required a large army. Slotkin argues that this forced the federal government to incorporate recent immigrant and non-white minority populations into the nation’s military forces. A new social bargain promised to reward loyal military service with new forms of national inclusion. National leaders were forced to look at how all men are created equal in a way that had never existed before. This bargain was a great success. Blacks, Jews, Italians, and Irish enlisted in disproportionate numbers.

    However, the Army demanded strict racial separation in France. Its “Secret Information Concerning Black American Troops” said the French must understand that displays of interracial friendship were deeply offensive to Americans. Such friendships would lead to intolerable pretensions to equality, which would pose a danger to civil peace when the troops came home to America.”

    It contributed to significant racist backlash in America. Race rioting and lynching, often with Black veterans among the targets, followed the conclusion of the war.

    Congress identified many immigrants as from races incapable of full Americanization. It banned further immigration. Thus signaling acceptance of ethnic discrimination.

    These same efforts happened again during World War II, when the federal government once again rallied the nation to the war effort. Hollywood and the Office of War Information made movies films that portrayed America’s military units as cohesive social worlds in which racial integration appeared self-evident, which was especially radical since actually existing military units were still segregated along racial lines.

    Who’s joining the now volunteer US military? Poor and minorities are targeted once again.

    This study looked at the history of participation of the three largest racial and ethnic groups in the military — whites, blacks and Latinos — and examined ethnicity, immigrant generation and socioeconomic status in relation to military service. It concluded that significant disparities exist only by socioeconomic status, finding “the all-volunteer force continues to see overrepresentation of the working and middle classes, with fewer incentives for upper class participation.”

    The military is also recruiting individuals with less education. A report by the National Priorities Project found slightly more than 70 percent of recruits joining the Army had a high school diploma, nearly 20 percentage points lower than the Army’s goal of at least 90 percent. Thus, confirming that lower standards were necessary to meet high recruiting goals for our ongoing military conflicts.

    Witness today how our government actually treats these returning veterans. Once again, broken promises to veterans.

    Indeed, what kind of school system gives boys and girls such “choices”? What kind of country?

  5. Bridget

    “I first stumbled upon JROTC kids a few years ago at a Veterans Day parade in Boston. ”

    I don’t know what rock Ms. Jones was hiding under before the fateful day in Boston when she discovered JROTC, but they have been in high schools all over the country for, like, many decades.

  6. Uggabugga States of America

    Child soldiers, that’s not just a cheap shot by Ann Jones. It’s the Human Rights Committee that frames the problem of America’s adolescent recruits as illegal child soldiers. They look at it in the context of a state that blows off its educational responsibilities under UDHR Article 26(2), and uses deadly weapons as factional totems and ubiquitous symbols of authority. The Committee’s conclusions are binding on all levels of government, so it’s official.

    Any kid under 21 that goes into the US military winds up just as brutalized as an LRA tyke with a chopper. I’ve seen it time after time. The world-standard response is rehabilitation camps for the victims. Instead the US government arms them and hires them as cops to keep you in line.

  7. Jill

    There is, again, a public/private partnership working against these kids. In the early 2000s Choicepoint collected about 800 individual data points on every student. I do not know precisely how much data is collected now, but it stands to reason– much more and much more intrusive. Recruiters use that data in appalling ways. In my city, a young woman was told she would not be a burden on her single mother if she joined the military. They knew she had a single female parent and they understood how to manipulate her psychologically with that information.

    Further, ROTC and members of the the Israeli Defense Force worked on a joint exercise about 2 years ago. What the hell is that? I don’t think that is legal.

    In my experience, it is poor and extremely vulnerable young people who are preyed on by recruiters/ROTC for cannon fodder. In the wealthy suburbs of Detroit, it is the NSA doing the recruiting. This is economics-austerity and wealth inequality in action.

  8. Jim Haygood

    ‘the sort of “education” provided in the JROTC is indoctrination, its polar opposite.’

    Substitute ‘public schools’ for ‘JROTC,’ and it becomes clear why U.S. defense spending of nearly 5% of GDP is not even up for debate (as shown by the latest budget deal, which exempts the global military empire from sequesters).

    Government schools never train students to question government priorities. USA No. 1!!!

  9. redleg

    Back when I was in ROTC (while simultaneously in the Army Reserves) and afterwards as an Army Officer, the JROTC program frustrated me to no end. They had their field camp at the same place Guard/Reserve trained and were always in the way. Their uniforms were identical except for insignia (or identical with the actual ROTC insignia), which caused confusion as a bonus to being in the way when training areas overlapped. Those kids put themselves into dangerous training situations because they didn’t understand what went on in those training areas. While they never wandered off into impact areas i was running, they did once wander in front of my howitzers during a life-fire exercise.
    I didn’t see a benefit to that program then (pre-2001) and I can’t see one now.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      JROTC serves as a smokescreen for military waste. On one hand, many soldiers experience pretty effective use of the money they see, but much of the money is grabbed by various hands before it reaches the base.

      When people start to raise questions, defense contractors and officers in line for sweet jobs drag out some kids who are just learning good ole’ fashioned know how and self respect to wage an emotional argument.

      There may have been a time when the idea was for JROTC to teach certain skills, but like veterans at political events, its a stunt to discredit voices demanding contract accountability. In that sense, it serves its purpose.

  10. Antifa

    The problem is that the entire program is a lie. The lie is that JROTC is not a recruiting tool, when it is admitted to be the best one the Pentagon has. The military does JROTC to recruit young bodies and minds to march into its war machine. It does this to recruit soldiers.

    They do not teach these children that a soldier is a murderer, someone who kills people wholesale and blows things up. A person who will obediently drop nuclear weapons on cities if told. These kids don’t see blood, dead bodies, or get any exposure at all to war, and war is the business of a soldier. Not marching.

    How do you get a person to murder complete strangers and drop nuclear weapons on cities? How do you take a youth and turn them into that? You teach them that it’s okay, it’s the way the world works, and that it’s a noble and courageous and worshipful occupation that everyone in their society will look up to them for following. All lies. Nothing like that happens to soldiers in the real world.

    It takes only the briefest exposure to actual war, the actual business of soldiering, to realize that it’s just stupidity, just a meatgrinder for bodies and brains, and that you’re on the menu.

    If you live through it, you come home to a military that wants as little to do with you and your problems as possible, a military that does not honor its promises or pensions or benefits.

  11. Uggabugga 3rd-world Army Tricks

    It’s telling how fast the computer-generated DoD personas jumped on this. This is a touchy issue for the war machine because it runs afoul of law – not toilet-paper US law, but the customary and conventional international law that militaristic states can’t worm out of.

    When the US government ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, they did it fingers-crossed, with an illegal mess of incompatible reservations. One was,

    “…the United States reserves the right, in exceptional circumstances, to treat juveniles as adults, notwithstanding paragraphs 2(b) and 3 of Article 10 and paragraph 4 of Article 14. The United States further reserves to these provisions with respect to individuals who volunteer for military service prior to age 18.”

    The government also reserved its divine right to churn out war propaganda, illegal under Article 20, make sure the little tykes will want to kill the wogs.

    For the US government it’s crucial to indoctrinate kids and suck them into the killing machine before they get any inkling of their rights and freedoms as soldiers.

    And you’ve heard all the holy-roly jesus crap justifying US avoidance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Want to know the real sticking point?

    Article 38, clause 3: “States Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years, States Parties shall endeavour to give priority to those who are oldest.”

    Your government is nothing but a big meat grinder.

  12. Ishmael

    Let me add one thing. I do not know if it was ROTC or being around my father, but at an early age I learned “Just following orders” will not keep you from being hanged for war crimes (even though my father told me during WW 2 during airborne drops no prisoners were ever taken – kind of hard to drag around prisoners when you are behind enemy lines for several days). It seems that far more of America should also be taught that lesson and we should live by it.

  13. bh2

    If you don’t want military recruiting to be a primary activity of government, then it will be necessary to change foreign policy to eliminate obligations to intervene in the affairs of other nations which are an inevitable necessity of “internationalism”.

    May I remind you that every modern military adventure of size until the Bush forays into the Middle East have been initiated by progressive politicians? Namely Wilson in WWI, FDR in WWII, Truman in Korea, and Johnson in Viet Nam. And then there was that original Roosevelt, founder of the “Progressive Party”, who hotly promoted war with Spain and went to the fight to carry it out personally.

    These men were truly blood brothers — and all “progressives”.

    It is therefore logically and morally inconsistent that progressives should complain at all about high costs of blood and treasure (and our habitually militarized society) for perpetual war which an interventionist foreign policy demands.

  14. Sagebrush

    “What kind of country?”
    The kind where to insure the success of the 1% agendas everyone else is expendable, especially the young. Truth is, the elite have been putting the youth of America through military meat-grinders for 60 years with no declarations of war from Congress. Sacrifices have to be made to keep the military industrial complex running at a rate that keeps the elite satisfied.

  15. Pete

    Approximately 1/3rd of all people sleeping under American bridges are U.S. war vets. I’m guessing this little factoid isn’t on the recruiting pamphlets. These folks are discarded like trash when they return. I’m sure they’re thankful for the “structure”…. wake up at freezing o’clock, organize cardboard box home, oil prosthetics before dumpster diving…..

    I’m guessing 365 million could provide plenty of structured, productive (non-militarized) activities for young people. How about learning how to take care of a garden? We also accept our systemic poverty environment and its biproducts as a given (and readily accept it)- when it is artificially created by the same people who benefit from permanent aggressive war.

  16. Michelle LaRowe

    Please don’t apologize for posting this on NC, it is absolutely appropriate. This is a poverty issue which is deeply connected to the use of taxpayer dollars toward the exploitation of children who come from a population with very few options.

  17. Ferrous Male

    My biggest beef with this article is the hearsay claim that one colonel is teaching all of his cadets that the war will continue until all muslims have been exterminated. (To me) it reeks of fabrication – an outlandshish assertion that has no evidence to support it (the colonel is not named, nor is the school that hosts his JROTC program). The second problem I have is the claim that there is no evidence to support the notion that JROTC produces no positive benefits. This is an easy claim to make when you don’t bother to look; the author could have easily sought out former cadets.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      She has an entire book on this subject and the article is only an overview. And TomDispatch posts tend to this chatty style. And as an author, books carry a ton more liability to the writer than articles, blog posts, or opinion pieces. So if this is in the book, it’s survived legal review by her publisher, a not-trivial step.

  18. Hey little girl, I've got a K-9 in my windowless van

    Poor kids would be better off trusting dinky-waving priests than these different kinds of military recruiters. With a priest molesting you, you might get raped behind the altar, but at least you won’t get your arms and legs blown off. And priest don’t get bonuses for ruining kids’ lives, like army recruiters do. Face it, Army recruiters are specialized professional child molesters.

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