Paths of Resistance

With the second anniversary of the war in Iraq approaching, there has been increasing attention being paid to escalating violence and destruction in Iraq and the growing resistance movement among students and military members to the war. There also has been significant discussion of the overextension of the U.S military and the possibility of a draft. Although it seems unlikely that the Bush administration is going to reinstate the draft and commit political suicide right now, it is important for individuals to be aware of what is happening in Iraq and the work that is being done in the US to demilitarize our society and schools, and accelerate resistance to this war and occupation. On January 28th and 29th a variety of organizations on campus and in the community brought Kevin Ramirez from the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) (www.objector.org) to Burlington to lead two workshops on Conscientious Objection and Counter Recruitment. Between these two half-day events there were about one hundred and fifty participants, demonstrating both the concern and commitment of students and the community.

What is a conscientious objector?

The Selective Service defines a CO as an individual who is opposed to military service or wars based on morals, religion or principle. A CO is against participation and preparation for all wars. CO status, therefore, goes beyond the particular politics of Iraq or Afghanistan but is rather an absolute stand against military service and war.

This, however, does not mean that you need to identify as a pacifist to apply for CO status since it relates specifically to war, not the use of violence in interpersonal conflict or self defense. If your conscience won’t let you join or remain in the military, then you may well qualify for conscientious objector status. If this is the case it is recommended that you begin compiling a CO file now, for more information on this visit www.objector.org.

If you are a male 18 years of age or older and a US citizen, you are probably already familiar with Selective Service System (SSS) registration process. In the late 1970s, under President Carter, mandatory draft registration was resumed due to military build up globally.

The SSS’s alleged purpose is to ensure national security in the event of a massive long-term war and a subsequent need for a draft. Although conscription is unlikely, the importance of this organization should not be overlooked especially with the construction of fourteen permanent military bases in Iraq. Registration laws seem rather ambiguous but failure to register is considered a federal offense. If convicted, federal penalties include up to five years in jail and fines up to $250,000 (yet no one has actually been charged since the mid eighties).

In addition to the threat of prosecution, more subtle methods ensure that men register by disqualifying unregistered men from receiving federal and/or state financial aid, federal and/or state job training, or civil service employment. Also, in thirty -three states an unregistered male cannot obtain a driver’s license. Fortunately Vermont does not have any of these penalties. Due to the vague nature of the law and possible repercussions for not registering the CCCO encourages young men to register at eighteen but to write “I am a Conscientious Objector and I oppose all wars” in the white space since there is no formal space for claiming deferments or exemptions on registration cards.

Likelihood of a Draft? It is extremely improbable that a draft will be reinstated in the near future unless there is another major national emergency like 9/11. Though there are signs of the military being overextended, they are already utilizing many tactics to avoid the need for an overt draft. There are currently 40,000+ stop loss orders underway, with troops that have specific skills being especially vulnerable to these orders. Reservists and National Guard soldiers are increasingly being deployed. In fact, forty percent of all troops in Iraq are from reserve units or the National Guard. This is specifically affecting Vermont, which has the second-highest per-capita mobilization rate of reservists and Guard members in the country, and also has suffered the highest number of per capita casualties. It is also crucial to identify the continued “poverty draft” that provides a steady supply of ground troops by disproportionately targeting low-income youth and people of color with false promises of money, education, and job skills training. The military is increasing funding for recruitment and shifting it’s marketing schemes to focus on urban youth. Recruiters are attempting to co-opt urban youth by placing ads in well known hip-hop magazines like the Vibe and The Source and sponsoring various tours like the “Taking it to the Streets” and the “Campus Combat Tour” which includes a series of MC battles. There is also a special “Yo Soy La Army” vehicle to specifically target Latinos. The Army has also invented a videogame called “America’s Army” which is conveniently free if you simply give the military your contact information. This video game allows recruiters to monitor the games on-line and collect one’s game stats to see which player has the most “natural” potential as a soldier.

Counter Recruitment

It is rather difficult to try and compete with military recruitment but it is critical to provide young people with access to information so that they may make well informed decisions about their future. Since schools define military recruitment as a “controversial subject,” by law schools must allow for opposing viewpoints to present their side.

This means that if the school allows recruiters, they are also obligated to give community members or students equal access to discuss the realities of military service or alternatives to the military. We must remember that recruiters are essentially sales people in need of making specific quotas; this structure often causes their sales pitch to include many misleading statements and often mythical promises. For example, any recruiter would have you believe that as soon as you join the military you are written a check for $50,000 for college, however, what they do not explain is the severe restrictions imposed on actually obtaining this money. In fact, only five percent of enlistees are even eligible for this award of $50,000 through the Army or Navy College Fund. In addition, two-thirds of all recruits that are Montgomery GI Bill participants never receive any of these education benefits. Of the maximum $31,200 you can qualify for under the Montgomery GI Bill, $1200 of this is money that the soldiers actually contribute themselves.

It is important to understand that the military uses these promises of education as a recruiting tool to lure young people, but in reality most people see little to none of the money which they were originally promised. Across the country movements are growing against the presence of military recruiters on high school and college campuses. Recent and notable examples of this resistance to militarization include Seattle Central Community College where several hundred students chased recruiters off their campus as well as a similar instance at Southern Connecticut State University.

It is important to be aware and involved in what local schools are doing but also to try and help individuals that are considering enlisting understand the severity of giving the military eight years of one’s life. I also urge all of you to support military resisters and troops that may be contemplating their status as conscientious objectors. Military recruiters are not only active in high schools and community colleges, but on the UVM campus as well. This coming Tuesday, March 8th recruiters will be at the University sponsored Career Fair at the Sheraton Hotel. Those interested in doing counter recruitment tabling or holding a picket should check out Students Against War (SAW) who meet every Monday at 7pm in Living and Learning, room 315.