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April 07, 2007

Modern Day Indentured Servitude

Shailja brought up an issue when she commented on my post about redeploying injured servicemen and women:

Well, as we all know, military recruitment is at an all-time low. The army is beating the bushes for bodies to throw into the Gulf. There have been several articles exposing how army recruiters are signing up kids who don't meet physical and health requirements, telling them to lie about conditions that would disqualify them, encouraging them to throw away their meds.....

Once they've gone to all that trouble to capture them, you don't think they're gonna relinquish them to a few itty-bitty injuries, do you?

The closest analogy I can think of to military service is indentured, or bonded, labor. Which, as I'm hardly the first to point out, is actually modern-day slavery. Slaves don't get to quit when they get injured either.

This is one of those class issues that is impossibly complex. I remember back in 2003 or so I went to a gala for Youth Speaks. As is the custom, they had invited community folks at the last minute to fill up still-empty seats.

I was sitting with a friend during their program when one of the instructors talked about a client of the org, a kid who had just signed up in the army and was going to Iraq. The instructor asked for a hand for the kid and the applause was sparse and extremely unenthusiastic.

I looked around and the audience members who were refusing to clap were mostly white men, middle aged or so, and dressed and held like people of means. I.e.: middle, upper-middle, and upper class. It was really a toss-up whether or not they understood how much their liberal anti-war stance was in tension with the number of opportunities available to low-income teens to rise in the world--or merely to become self-sufficient.

I saw all this, but I also was uncomfortable making a public show of support for a kid who chose to go abroad and kill civilians. Later, during our event post-mortem, my friend, who is from a working class background, thought that I should be more supportive. On his side, he was only thinking about the individual kid and how the kid's best option--in the absence of any colleges beating down his door with full-ride scholarships--might well be the military.

I pointed out that all the upper-middle class protesting in the world wasn't going to do any good if the working class were willing to fight the wars. The "protest class" always gets ignored until they start taking the military class's dinner away. It's easy for someone from privilege, like me, to assign sacrifice to someone from no privilege. But the fact remains that, for this war to end, someone is going to have to sacrifice the advantages the military offers. And, as unfair as it is, that someone will never be me.

So the way the situation is worsening, and the way the Bush administration keeps making politically suicidal decisions about military personnel benefits and treatment, basically they've rendered this impossibly complex issue much less complex, or impossible. For those who have a chance to think about it, the military is no longer an attractive or beneficial option: a near certainty of being deployed to Iraq, a near-certainty of sustaining severe injury and/or severe mental health issues if deployed to Iraq, a very high incidence of rape and sexual harrassment for servicewomen, a near certainty of being redeployed beyond one's term of service, a strong possibility of being redeployed even if injured, a serious reduction of benefits and pay while in service and almost no benefits or healthcare for veterans ... seriously, what the hell does Bush think is going to attract people to sign up?

And now they're recruiting prisoners? That'll make the military more popular.

Of course, recruits and potential recruits are still the losers. Potential recruits are losing possibly their only "way out" of poverty into a skills-building job. And recruits ... well gods help 'em. Maybe after the next election we can do something about what's happening to the military. But for now, two more years of Hell awaits servicemen and women, and maybe a lifetime of Hell afterwards, for their traumatized selves, and for their families, who are at a radically increased risk of domestic abuse.

I'm not (entirely) ashamed to admit that in the past I've accepted the fact that the security we enjoy at home and abroad is owing to the power of our military. But we crossed the line into unacceptable territory years ago. When even our own soldiers are getting no real benefits from being proxy bullies and thugs, even conservative hawks have to admit it's time to dial down the war machine a little bit.

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Comments

Most recruits these days are upper middle class white kids.

A paid contract != "slavery."

Recruiting is not at an all time low. Most branches and units are at 100% and more.

The purpose of the military is not to "go abroad and kill civilians." If it was, we'd start stateside with leftist agitators.

It used to be standard practice to recruit criminals. And the definition they're using now is, "An occasional bust for booze or dope," not "grand theft, rape or arson."

My military benefits have increased substantially under Bush, as opposed to the 8 years I spent without a commander in chief, from 1993-2001. I have been deployed less by Bush than during the 90s. The US has been involved in less national wars since Bush got elected. I still have friends fighting in Bosnia, for which I'm still not quite clear on the US interests thereof. Nor Somalia, Haiti, nor a variety of missile attacks on Iraq.

I suppose I'm biased, being one of those "losers," who got a journeyman's cert, a bachelor's degree and a lucrative job writing technical articles and fiction about military matters from my military experience. Unlike my best friend from high school, who went to broadcast school, became a traveling recording engineer and is now doing 20 years for growing marijuana. At least he's not a loser in the military, though.

I'm not going to bother explaining the logistics of recovery and deployment. You're all far smarter than us soldiers, you can figure it out.

you write technical articles? so they don't mind about the grammar and spelling?

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