War Games in our Public Schools
By Bonnie Weinstein
According to a Contra Costa Times article, [“U.S. Army recruiters cause uproar at College Park High,” January 21, 2005], “U.S. Army recruiters turned College Park High School’s quad into a lunchtime shooting range Wednesday, (January 19), much to the consternation of teachers and students.”
“The marksmanship unit,” that visited the school, the article went on, “is one of several splashy military recruiting efforts, including big rigs that turn into science classrooms, portable rock walls, ‘adventure vans’ with interactive exhibits on educational aspects of military life, and humvees that visit elementary through high schools….”
This is not all that the military is doing in our schools. In a column in the January 29 San Francisco Chronicle, “New arsenal for Army recruiters,” by C.W. Nevius, that appeared a few days after the Times article, the author reported, “Although many parents are just beginning to realize it, an obscure section of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act requires that all schools receiving federal funds (virtually all public schools) provide the phone numbers and addresses of high school students to military recruiters.”
What is clear from both these articles is that the military is hard-up for recruits so their intention is to seek out new recruits on high school campuses—and it’s “no child left behind” in their pursuit. No age is too young to begin the indoctrination that war is fun, an adventure and a stepping-stone to success.
According to the Chronicle column, “The Army continues to meet its goals, but it is hard to shake the feeling that military recruiters are running as fast as they can to stay in place. The Army has added 1,000 recruiters—for a total of 7,000 across the country—and two years ago doubled its advertising spending, to $592 million. Standards for incoming recruits have been lowered for the first time since 1998, and benefits and signup bonuses have been increased…” It’s clear that money spent on these recruiting tactics are taking funds away from programs our schools really need. News reports in early February show that the Marine Corps has fallen short of its recruitment goals.
In fact, the entire U.S. defense budget has soared to nearly $754 billion—$300 billion for the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq alone. These costs have all but paralyzed federal funding to social welfare programs across the board in spite of growing needs.
Hospitals are being closed as well as schools. In some parts of the Bay Area, people have to drive 45 minutes to get to the nearest emergency hospital.
Parents, students and teachers find themselves fighting for their schools’ existence. And instead of applying new and creative ways of teaching, teachers and schools are conforming their teaching to the information asked on standardized tests. And those schools whose students fail the minimum passing test score, ultimately, will be closed. The children who go to these schools will be transferred to a school farther away from their home. The combination of war spending and federal education policies amount to a continuing and escalating campaign to end public education in the United States.
The relentless pressure of the costs of war; the closing of schools and hospitals; plant closures; job losses; must also be viewed in the context of the biggest profit-taking in history by America’s richest “Fortune 500” individuals. A cool two-thirds of them became billionaires in the last few years.
Not only have the super-rich gotten richer, but two-thirds of American businesses are currently paying no taxes. They pay nothing towards the billions of dollars being spent on war. Most of this money comes directly from the taxes paid by working people. And, overwhelmingly the ranks of the military are made up of poor, working class men and now women who feel they have no real job opportunities. The wealthy don’t make up even a tiny percent of military personnel (except for the top brass, of course.)
In San Francisco, last November, we voted by a 63 percent majority to “Bring our troops home now.” The antiwar movement in San Francisco must campaign to keep the military out of our schools. We must make it clear to all of our politicians that we want real career opportunities for our kids. We want our kids to have the best schools and the best education they can get. It is more important than ever to encourage creative thinking and to broaden our children’s horizons through education; not turn them into “lean, mean killing machines” in the service of the filthy rich.
Clearly, the poor and all working people are paying the price for a war that is making billions for corporations. While the men, women and children of Iraq die; while our sons and daughters are getting killed in greater numbers than those killed in the first two years of the Vietnam War. There is no end in sight to the costs of military spending that will be squeezed from them.
To Martin Luther King’s statement that, “the United States is the biggest purveyor of violence in the world,” we now have to add, “with the biggest war budget ever.”
Every parent, student, teacher, union member, working person, unemployed person, sick person, should demand that the military be banned from our schools; that our schools and hospitals stay open and expand; that the entire military budget go for human needs instead of war.
I think $700 billion a year might cover it. It’s more than a start. Surely we could triple or quadruple the amount if we taxed the rich.