Poverty and Militarism—A Deadly Combo

By Bonnie Weinstein

Vote No on V

Voters in San Francisco this November will again be asked to vote NO on war. Proposition V—to keep the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) in our schools—has been put on the ballot because in 2006 the San Francisco Board of Education voted to end the JROTC military recruitment program in San Francisco schools. While it did extend the deadline for a phase-out of the program from June 2008 to June 2009, the Board voted late this spring to end Physical Education (PE) credits for the program.

Since many students enrolled in the program to avoid regular PE classes and still earn PE credits, and, since at least 15.6 percent of students were involuntarily enrolled because there were not enough PE courses to meet their graduation requirements, the decision by the Board to end PE credits for JROTC will significantly reduce the number of students who would have enrolled in the military recruitment program in its final year.

This is what propelled supporters of JROTC to place the pro-military recruitment Proposition V on the ballot.

San Francisco says no to war and military recruitment in the schools

But San Francisco is an antiwar city. In 2004, Proposition N (U.S. Out of Iraq Now) passed with 63 percent of the vote. And in 2005, Proposition I (College Not Combat—No Military in our Schools) passed with 60 percent of the vote.

These votes gave the antiwar members of the San Francisco Board of Education the extra incentive they needed to vote to phase out the JROTC recruitment program which is operated and controlled solely by the military and which targets children as young as 14-years-old.

The outcome of this November’s vote on the Pro-JROTC-Pro-recruitment initiative, Proposition V, will have ramifications across the country and it is crucial that the antiwar movement unite to defeat it.

Poverty leaves few choices for poor youth

Escalating poverty and military presence in our schools will certainly steer students toward the military. In fact, the military now recruits 30 to 50 percent of the students that complete the JROTC program. And those who enlist outside of JROTC are propelled to join the military because of the lack of other opportunities available to them—in effect, creating an “economic draft.”

That youth today are facing severe economic hardship is undeniable. According to a September 1, 2008 New York Times article entitled, “Hard Times Hitting Students and Schools,” by Sam Dillon,

“With mortgage foreclosures throwing hundreds of families out of their homes here each month, dismayed school officials say they are feeling the upheaval: record numbers of students turning up for classes this fall are homeless or poor enough to qualify for free meals... As 50 million children return to classes across the nation, crippling increases in the price of fuel and food, coupled with the economic downturn, have left schools from California to Florida to Maine cutting costs.... And as many districts are forced to cut back, the number of poor and homeless students is rising...

“‘The big national picture is that food and fuel costs are going up and school revenues are not,’ said Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association. ‘We’re in a recession, and it’s having a dramatic impact on schools.’... Districts in Louisiana, Minnesota and elsewhere have taken a more radical measure and adopted four-day school weeks. Hundreds of districts, responding to higher food prices, are charging more for cafeteria meals... foreclosure statistics from the Metropolitan Housing Coalition in Louisville that about 10 families were evicted every day here....”

So, not only are working people suffering the loss of their jobs, benefits and homes, but they and their children have to pay more through increased taxes, pay cuts, higher school costs, higher fuel, food, housing costs—higher living costs across the board!

And if you thought your child could rise above these overwhelming obstacles through getting a college education, think again! Increased college tuition costs—textbooks in excess of $100.00 each, the need for personal laptops and scientific calculators not to speak of notebooks and other supplies, combined with the fact that student loans are no longer available to community college students who have the least money—makes the option of college virtually unattainable to most poor youth today.

Add to this the reality that the majority of our youth have only second-tier jobs and second-tier lives to look forward to. This is the first generation to believe they will neither live as long as their parents nor earn as much in their lifetimes. They see their parents struggling right now!

No wonder the slick military propaganda with its promises of high-paying career opportunities, college scholarships and instant “bonus money” appears to be a better choice to some students!

Recruiters’ lies deceive students

The proponents of Proposition V—to keep JROTC in S.F. schools—have been circulating lies that JROTC is not a military recruitment program; that it’s a youth “leadership” program; that it offers educational and job opportunities; that it doesn’t discriminate against gay youth; that it doesn’t cost the school district money; and that it steers students away from gangs and drugs, and that’s why students need this “choice” available to them at school. But nothing could be further from the truth.

JROTC is a military recruitment tool

According to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) School Recruiting Program Handbook, point 1.1, with regard to all military presence in the schools:

“...The purpose of this handbook is: assist staff and recruiters in building and maintaining an effective School Recruiting Program...and ensure an Army presence in all secondary schools. School ownership is the goal.”

Further, according to a United States Army Cadet Command Policy Memorandum from Fort Monroe, Virginia, dated March 20, 1999:

“6. JROTC SAI and AI will:

“a. Actively assist cadets who want to enlist in the military. Emphasize service in the U.S. Army (all components).

“b. Facilitate recruiter access to cadets in JROTC program and to the entire student body.

“c. Encourage College bound cadets to enroll in SROTC.

“d. Work closely with high school guidance counselors to sell the Army story. Encourage them to display RPIs and advertising material and make sure they know how to obtain information on Army opportunities, including SROTC scholarships.

“7. The intent of these partnership initiatives is to promote a synergistic effort of all Army assets, maximize recruiting efforts, exchange quality referrals, and educate all on both recruiting and ROTC programs and benefits.

U.S. chiefs-of-staff testify to the success of JROTC as a recruitment tool

In February 2000, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, the armed service chiefs-of-staff testified that 30–50 percent of graduating JROTC cadets join the military:

“General James L. Jones, then Commandant of the Marine Corps, testified that the value of the Marine JROTC program ‘is beyond contest. Fully one-third of our young men and women who join a Junior ROTC program wind up wearing the uniform of a Marine.’

“General Eric K. Shinseki, then Chief of Staff of the United States Army, testified that ‘Our indications are about 30 percent of those youngsters—we don’t recruit them, as you know. We are not permitted to do that. But by virtue of the things that they like about that experience, about 30 percent of them end up joining the Army, either enlisting or going on to ROTC and then joining the officer population.’

“General Michael E. Ryan, then Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, testified that ‘almost 50 percent of the folks that go [...] out of the Air Force Junior ROTC go into one of the Services by enlisting or going to ROTC or going to one of the academies.’

“Admiral Jay L. Johnson, then Chief of Naval Operations, testified that ‘Even if the number is only 30 percent, that is a good number. But think about what we get out of the other 70 percent. They have exposure to us. They have exposure to the military. And the challenge of the education mandate that we all share in principals and school counselors and school districts that won’t let us in, that is a powerful tool I think to educate whether or not they end up in the service. So it is a long way around saying it is well worth the investment for lots of different reasons.”

“General Colin Powell admitted in his 1995 autobiography that ‘the armed forces might get a youngster more inclined to enlist as a result of Junior ROTC,’ but added that ‘Inner-city kids, many from broken homes, found stability and role models in Junior ROTC.’ U.S. Congress found in the Recruiting, Retention, and Reservist Promotion Act of 2000 that JROTC and similar programs ‘provide significant benefits for the Armed Forces, including significant public relations benefits.’” (Source:,

That JROTC is a school recruitment tool for the military is clearly shown by the 2007 Department of Defense expenditure of $340 million for the program!

Learning to follow orders is not learning leadership skills

Pro-war recruiters claim that JROTC teaches leadership skills. But according to the American Friends Service Committee’s “Review of the JROTC Curriculum” on line at

“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, and it consistently conflates leadership and follower-ship. Finally, the text encourages the reader to rely uncritically on the military as a source of self-esteem and guidance.”

JROTC is not a road to college or job training

And while they say that JROTC provides educational and job benefits, the facts are that only 12 percent of male veterans and six percent of female veterans use skills learned in the military in their current jobs. Soldiers must make a $1,200 non-refundable deposit to be eligible for G.I. Bill-money starting the first year of service. And according to the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, “From 1986-93 the military took in $720 million more from G.I.s in non-refundable deposits than it paid out in college benefits. Only 15 percent of those who pay into the G.I. Bill graduate with four-year degrees.”(Source: Myths of Military Opportunity, “Before You Enlist,” Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors,

JROTC is no freebee!

Another claim of JROTC proponents is that it does not cost the district monies. But actually, JROTC costs the schools almost one million dollars per year in S.F. taxpayers’ monies. Taxpayers kick in another $750,000 each year through the Department of Defense subsidy. And this $1.75 million goes to a handful of high schools with JROTC programs, causing a funding inequity in the District. Funds spent on military programs deprive schools and other social programs of the public funding they need.

JROTC is not the only military presence in our schools

In addition to JROTC, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act requires that, in order for schools to receive Federal funds, the military must be allowed access to students. And while parents, and students who are 17-years-of-age and older may “opt out” of military contact by disallowing the school from releasing their names and contact information to the military, each school receiving NCLB funds must allow two representatives from each branch of the military to visit the schools on a regular basis.

This means military recruiters are allowed to dog students in school counseling offices, cafeterias, in hallways and even in classrooms.

At “Career Day” fairs at San Francisco high schools, according to NCLB rules, ten military recruiters are allowed on school grounds at one time (that’s two recruiters each from the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and Marines)—overwhelming “Career Day” events and marginalizing the colleges and universities who go there to offer students real higher education or job-training opportunities.

Military recruiters, with their access to a virtually unlimited budget, routinely send students home with shopping bags full of military-emblem-bedecked whips-and-jingles, such as notebooks, key chains, even video games, that are handed out free to attract students to them. They also invite students to join them for free pizza at restaurants off-campus, where the recruiters can collect names and contact information from those who show up whether or not they have an “opt out” form on record at their school.

They set up Humvee combat vehicles for students to climb on, target practice booths, and rock walls in schoolyards to attract students—portraying military life as an action-packed video game divorced from the real-life blood and death of war.

They hand out slick brochures that promise students they can become anything from an electrician to an electric guitar player by joining the military. (Just check out to get the full impact of their propaganda.)

Schools, jobs, housing, healthcare! Not war!

The plunging of our educational system into poverty by robbing schools to pay for wars and military recruitment programs work together to produce the cannon fodder the U.S. needs to carry out their wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their goal is to secure U.S. military hegemony in the world insuring access to the world’s most valuable resources for U.S. big business interests at any cost.

The trillions of dollars spent on the U.S. wars and occupations and military bases (over 750 of them worldwide, not counting the flying, floating and submerged bases capable of delivering nuclear warheads anywhere in the world) are taking a terrible toll on the things most important to ordinary working people like schools, jobs, housing, healthcare, natural disaster relief, roads, bridges, etc.

The costs of war effects every aspect of our social infrastructure as well as the jobs, working conditions, pay rates and benefits for working people here in this country and the world over; and it’s causing huge hardships on all the world’s children.

No to war and militarization

None of the candidates of the two war parties are addressing the issues consuming working people today—issues that doubly effect our youth who have been relegated to second-tier pay scales and second-tier lives and the militarization of their schools. The future looks anything but bright to a great majority of our children.

Bringing an end to the militarization of our schools and the militarization of our society is an imperative issue for the working class to unite around.

Of course, the main argument given to rationalize supporting the military is that every country needs a standing army. But the U.S. standing army is not of, by and for the people; it is a plundering, deadly, oppressive, torturing, murdering and totally undemocratic military consuming our youth and turning them into cannon fodder.

The JROTC program is designed to conceal this truth—to minimize the risks of war and to falsify the “benefits” of military experience as “leadership and character-building.”

That your military experience will more likely send you home in a coffin or with catastrophic mental or physical injuries than with a college degree or a good-paying career is kept hidden by military recruiters and the JROTC program. Nothing is said about the horrifying effects that so much killing and dying has on the consciences and lives of returning troops.

Only a peaceful world can offer hope to the future

The antiwar movement has a great responsibility to offer hope to our children and to all working people by organizing independent opposition to the war and championing the counter-recruitment and anti-JROTC movement and by adopting slogans such as “money for books not bombs,” “college not combat” and “fund schools not war.” The movement needs to organize students and their parents to demand that all children get the kind of education they need and deserve to live happy, productive and peaceful lives!

Such a forward-looking antiwar campaign can reach out to the most powerful forces for change—to the over 70 percent of working people who are opposed to the wars, and in solidarity with those who have the greatest interest in seeing them brought to an end, i.e., the troops themselves and the people under their gun!

An injury to one is an injury to all!

To achieve this will take the unity and mass-struggle of workers throughout the world in defense of their very lives and in defense of their common human interests for peace and justice.

The power of this unity, in turn, will lead inevitably toward the victory of the final conflict—toward the end of capitalism and its never-ending wars of conquest—and the transformation of society into a world that puts human needs before profit!