A word about our army

April 16, 2007 | By | 22 Replies More

From Alec Baldwin at Huffpo: 

Let’s chat about how the Army exploits economically deprived minorities and offers them careers in the military. Cash, clothes, a car. (Don’t hold your breath for that armor plating, though.) Some of these men have criminal records, which the Army, in order to meet recruitment numbers, has chosen to increasingly overlook. The Army is pitched as a chance to start your life over. To do something meaningful. To be somebody. To be a part of something where guns and aggression and codes of honor are taken out of the illegal gang arena and shifted over to “serving the American people.”

Don’t get me wrong. We need an army. Sometimes, we need to fight to uphold what we believe . . .

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Category: Military, Politics, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (22)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    Unless there is a draft, nobody is forced to take a job in the military. Moreover, even with a draft, people whose conscience or physical limitations prevent them from working in the military don't have to do so. Hence, military *hiring practices* are no more exploitive than are those of any other organization. We might equally speak of Dow or IBM "exploiting" economically deprived (i.e., debt-laden) college grads or mortgage-laden adults with children to support. The argument just doesn't fly.

    Likewise, what is wrong with hiring people with criminal records? Ex-cons probably don't have many employment options, so what is wrong with offering them a place to start to rebuild their lives?

    Likewise, what is wrong with hiring minorities and giving them good-paying jobs? Or hiring relatively unskilled people and teaching them a trade? Or hiring people who didn't do so well in school and helping them develop discipline in their lives? Or hiring smart kids from poor families who can't afford college? Is the military "exploiting" them, too?

    And what about the people who genuinely want to serve their country, or those who enjoy the military camaraderie, or those who come from military families?

    In sum, I don't buy the argument that the military, when it *hires* people, is exploiting them. It simply puts out job offers, just like any other organization, and some people accept those offers for whatever personal reasons they have.

    Where the military DOES exploit people is when it sends them to die defending the lies of an incompetent and dishonest president. It exploits them when it forces them back into service after they have fully completed their duty. It exploits them when it refuses to give them health care benefits for injuries they sustain during their service. It exploits them when it keeps them, for no good reason, in the crossfire of a bloody civil war. It exploits them when it uses bait-and-switch sales tactics: attracting them to the military with stories of honor and valor, then treating them like garbage after they enlist.

    By no means should we overlook the fact that the military does exploit people, but to criticize relatively benign military *hiring* practices while military *employment* practices are so appalling is simply absurd.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    The reason this piece caught my eye is that I see it as several parts of the same scheme. We dangle huge bonuses in front of people who have no other way of making that kind of lump sum, and then we throw them into the cross-fire of that civil war the U.S. unleashed.

    I was also intrigued by the notion that displays of masculinity and honor one would find among gangs on the street are harnessed, allegedly for some higher good (at least that's what the military recruiter tells them), then the President throws them into the cross-fire of that civil war the Bush unleashed.

  3. Erika Price says:

    Maybe we just have a problem of semantics? "Exploiting" comes on a little strong, but how about "taking advantage of" the fact that many of these people feel they have very little choice but to enlist for the sake of their futures? "Taking advantage of" a pool of people with low income, and little to zero upward mobility? That seems like a fair description of the situation to me anyway, but that doesn't differ much from exploitation.

  4. Ben says:

    Grumpy, what I find appalling is that the U.S. military uses so much propaganda in it's hiring tactics. Have you even seen an army commercial where somebody was dragging their own limbs away from a roadside bomb?

    I agree with you that other organizations use equally appalling hiring and propaganda. This does not make it okay, in my opinion. Think of it as a Wal-Mart coming into your town and taking all the jobs, and later you find out that the Wal-Mart employees are being killed at a rate of 3 per day. The Wal Mart (army) recruiters monopolize and prey on the disadvantaged. I consider the alaskan crab fishing industry in the same "boat" in that they are taking advantage of desperate people by offering high wages in exchange for possible death. Diamond mines, gold mines, silver mines, asbestos workers, sweatshops, high timber, these are all examples of exploitation. The army exploits and kills young naive, innocent children.

  5. grumpypilgrim says:

    Sorry, but I'm not buying ANY of these arguments.

    As regards dangling huge bonuses in front of people who have no other way of making that kind of money, what is the problem? You call this "exploitation," but none of you explains why. Sorry, but except for the Paris Hiltons of this world, we ALL trade our lives for money in one way or another. And, as a result of this trade, we all take risks — and some people die every day because of it. Some die in Iraq, because they took the risk of being soldiers. Here at home, some die in traffic accidents on their way to or from their jobs, because they took the risk of working outside their homes. Some die in mine accidents. Some die of cancer from handling toxic chemicals. Some die from equipment failures, or get electrocuted while hooking up a cable television customer, or suffocate in farm silos, or stabbed while driving their cabs, or hijacked while piloting a commercial jet, or shot while trying to arrest a drug dealer. Some even get killed while doing work we would not consider very hazardous, like the college students and professors who got massacred today at Virginia Tech. Erich rides his bicycle to his job at a law office: he could be hit and killed by a car on his commute. Are all of these people being "exploited?" If you are going to say that minorities or ex-cons are being "exploited" because the military offers them good-paying jobs, then you are going to have to conclude that everyone else who works for a living is also being "exploited," and exactly how are you going to support THAT argument?

    As regards throwing American troops into the cross-fire: people who join the military today know full well where they will be going and what risks they are taking, so they have, to a very great extent, assumed the risk for whatever happens to them. If they don't want to expose themselves to the civil war mess in Iraq, then they don't have to: they can simply not enlist. No one is "throwing them into the cross-fire" against their will.

    As regards the gang connection, again, I don't see a problem. Baldwin says, "The Army is pitched as a chance to start your life over. To do something meaningful. To be somebody. To be a part of something where guns and aggression and codes of honor are taken out of the illegal gang arena and shifted over to “serving the American people.” If young men and women see military service as an opportunity to start their lives over, to perhaps get themselves out of a neighborhood with gang activity and give themselves a chance to contribute, when maybe they see no other way out, then what is the problem? (I will, for now, ignore the likelihood that Bush's domestic policies may have exacerbated the gang problem, perhaps causing more people to see the military as their only way out of neighborhood problems, because that would be a different issue from the one we are discussing.)

    In sum, I do not think Baldwin's complaint is defensible. People get paid to be soldiers, just like people get paid to be coal miners, hazardous waste handlers, police officers and all sorts of other things. How is this exploitation? We're not talking about sailors getting shanghaied, we're talking about people who take these jobs of their own free will, presumably because they choose to do the jobs in exchange for the pay. Welcome to the cold, cruel world. Just because some people have the misfortune of being born in places where they have few career options, this *by itself* does not make it "exploitation" to offer them jobs that might be hazardous or that other people who have more options might not take.

    Bottom line: serving in Iraq is not the only hazardous job in America. We all encounter risks of one sort or another, and we all accept these risks when we choose to do the jobs we do.

  6. Erika Price says:

    What about when recruits join based on lies of college benefits, and lies of the length term of their stay? Oft-cited numbers claim that only about 30-40% of recruits promised college money actually get that cash at the end of their military experience. Now, I must conceed I've had trouble tracking this figure down to its roots- I just couldn't find the actual, empiricle figures on this. However, if they do hold any water, then many recruits have joined for false promises and deceit, and that has to qualify as "taking advantage of someone", or exploiting them.

  7. Ben says:

    What I am saying is that people aren't choosing some of these jobs in the traditional sense. The army recruiters swoop in from out of town, offering decent wages to impoverished people. The only drawbacks, death, maiming, certainty of emotional stress, separation from loved ones, etc. Granted it is still capitalism, but capitalism in its worst light. It reminds me of loan sharks in 3rd world countries who are still practicing legalized slavery. They go around looking for families in debt, then offer to buy their children's labor, in exchange for forgiving the debt. The child must work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for no pay until age 30 or so. Uncle Sam my ass.

  8. Ben says:

    I find it somewhat ironic (hypocritical) that Grumpy turns the cold shoulder in this situation, but not in the religious debate. For example…

    "Just because some people have the misfortune of being born in places where they have few career options, this *by itself* does not make it “exploitation” to offer them jobs that might be hazardous or that other people who have more options might not take."

    Lets check the irony meter… "Just because some people have the misfortune of being born in places where they have few theistic options, this *by itself* does not make it “exploitation” to offer them Fundamentalism that might be hazardous or that other people who have more options might not take."

  9. Vicki Baker says:

    I'm with Ben on this one. Grumpy's characterization of the military as just another hazardous occupation does not pass my sniff test.

    First of all, it's based on a pretty blase acceptance of the "savage inequalities" (Johnathan Kozol's term) in our educational system that makes the military seem like a good option or the only way to get money for college.

    Also consider:

    1.What other job involves such a drastic surrender of civil liberties? Soldiers do not have the same rights to freedom of speech, assembly, etc. as civilians.

    2. If I find out that a company I have contracted with is doing something I consider immoral or not in the best interest of my country, I can walk away from the contract. I may be penalized financially but I won't be locked up, as a deserter from the military would be.

    3. Other jobs may be hazardous, but comparing them to front-line combat duty is just hyperbole. Also, in no other job is the taking of innocent life seen as an acceptable, if regrettable, part of the job. For many soldiers killing, rather than danger per se, is the most stressful part of service. In any modern war, killing of non-combatants is pretty much unavoidable.

    4. No other employer has such unprecedented access to our nation's teenagers. The US govt. considers that every child attending public school has checked "yes" to receive recruitment offers via every available channel – mail, email, at school sports games, in the school cafeteria, in the classroom via Channel One, administration of the military aptitude test in school – you name it. Increasingly, recruiters want to make the "first contact" with potential recruits in 10th or 11th grade, not just high school seniors. School districts like my own who have attempted to make the system "opt int" have been threatened with removal of federal funding.

    The abstract arguments Grumpy puts forth obscure the fact that if we oppose the present war, we should be doing everything we can to promote counter-recruitment and support AWOL military and "deserters." Anything less would be hypocritical.

    Today is tax day, a good day to read your Thoreau.

  10. grumpypilgrim says:

    Hang on there, Ben. You shouldn't call anyone a hypocrite when you have no data to support your assertion. That last paragraph of yours (the "irony meter") is *your* choice of words, not mine. Indeed, there is a good argument that parents who force religion onto their little children are practicing a form of child abuse. By contrast, people who enlist for military service are considered adults in our society, with all the rights and responsibilities which that status conveys. They are enlisting to be SOLDIERS for a government that has been occupying a hostile country for the past FIVE YEARS. To say they are being "exploited" is to say they are completely ignorant of that mess. Furthermore, anyone who is mentally and physically fit enough to be in the military is capable of doing many jobs, but presumably they choose military service because they are attracted by higher pay, among other things.

    This is why I reject your analogy between military recruiters and third-world loan sharks. I know nothing about the latter group, but I suspect they are preying on people who truly have no other options. Unless you have proof to the contrary, I don't see how that is true for anyone going into military service.

    The truth is, Ben, that many fine people join the U.S. military knowing full well they might go to Iraq. They join anyway. Are you suggesting that these so-called "exploited" people are unaware of the carnage happening in Iraq and are somehow surprised to discover that America is sending troops there?

    I see you have also conveniently ignored the fact that virtually all jobs have risks and hazards, that there is often a premium given to people who are willing to take greater risks. Military service is just one of many such jobs, making your assertion of "exploitation" just as invalid for soldiers as it is for all the other jobs in which people take greater risks in exchange for higher pay. Sorry, Ben, but the exploitation of soldiers doesn't happen in the local recruiting office, it happens in the Oval Office.

  11. Ben says:

    Okay, I take back the hypocrite thing. I was just trying to make a point, and you know how much I enjoy rhetoric. Actually, I find it quite a refreshing change to disagree with you on something. I would concede that on some levels, both of us are right, in terms of whether what the military does could be considered exploitation.

  12. Ben says:

    Please read this aritcle at your leisure Grumpy. It seems there may be a larger issue here which you may agree with, that we should not be sending our poor, wretched, hudding, uneducated, immigrants, felons, mentally ill, and blue-collar masses to war to protect our white-collar priviledged asses.

    http://www.dissidentvoice.org/May05/Thompson0512….

  13. Ben says:

    "High school teachers, counselors, students, and parents everywhere should know about Santiago's case. Think you're signing up for four years, or eight years? Think again. Santiago was 19 when he entered the military. When his new discharge date rolls around, he'll be 54—if the military

    doesn't extend it again.

    Thanks to a provision in the No Child Left Behind legislation, military recruiters have easy access to high school students these days. In Portland, where I teach, the school board in 1995 banned organizations that discriminate based on race, sex, or sexual orientation—including the U.S. military—from recruiting in the schools. NCLB over-turned that ban, requiring that recruiters have "the same access to secondary school students as is provided generally to post-secondary educational institutions or to prospective employers of those students." The law also requires high schools to provide the military access to students' names, addresses, and telephone numbers—unless a parent or student contacts the school to deny permission to release this information."

    http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/19_03/re

  14. grumpypilgrim says:

    Sorry, Ben, but that article (in dissidentvoice.org) is mostly nonsense. At best, it is hardly unbiased. Nowhere does it substantiate its claim that "Much of what recruiters promise is based on exaggeration, half-truths and outright lies." Moreover, the statistics it gives about college enrollment and graduation rates for veterans fails to consider the reasons why those people fail to attend or graduate from college. Money isn't the only reason, Ben, that people don't attend or graduate from college, especially if the military truly is composed of people with few career prospects, who might lack either the intelligence or the discipline that college requires.

    But my favorite quote is this one, "…recruiters prey upon youth not only by promising them money for education, but also by chumming up with them. Recruiters purchase prom tickets from students, chaperone dances, invite students to workout sessions, play simulated war games and take them out to dinner to lure them in." Hey, Ben, I've had recruiters from Fortune 100 companies use some of these tactics on me — does that mean these companies were "preying upon" me and that I was exploited, too?

    Face it, Ben, the military is just like any other employer: it is trying to hire the best people it can and pay them as little as possible. And, like all employers, it uses recruiting methods designed to reach and persuade the people who are most likely to take the jobs that are available.

    BTW, you still haven't answered my question: how is the military any different from any other employer in "exploiting" potential new hires?

  15. Erika Price says:

    I think companies certainly exploit people and take advantage of them as well, but I don't see how that proves that the military doesn't do the same. Companies certainly cut health care policies, expect weekend hours out of the blue, cut vacation time, expect relocation, use rather deceitful recruiting practices, and so forth. One could interpret any of those actions as exploitation, to an extent, to the same extent that the military exploits people. But the military doesn't exist as a free-floating, amoral company out to simply generate revenue. The military exists as a governmental institution, one that does provide jobs, but only as a function of its serving its supposed duty of protecting the nation and its people (whether it actually achieves that end we'll ignore for our purposes). If the military exists, at least in theory, with the good of the nation's citizens in mind, it shouldn't engage in practices that deceive or "exploit" its employees- especially since the consequences for crossing the military far surpass those of the average job, where you can merely get fired. Holding the military up against a nongovernment-run company doesn't make for a fully congruent comparison.

  16. grumpypilgrim says:

    As regards Vicki's points:

    1. Soldiers do, indeed, give up many rights that civilians enjoy, but this is no secret.

    2. Soldiers are, indeed, subject to penalties for breaching their enlistment contracts, but this is no secret, either. If someone is morally opposed to killing other humans, then they should not join the military.

    3. Being a soldier is one of the oldest professions in human history, so the duties of the job are no secret to anyone. Moreover, most people in the military do not have "front line" jobs. Believe it or not, the military's non-combat staff dwarfs its combat staff: according to this website (http://www.military-sf.com/Logistics.htm), "for every fighter there are five to twenty rear echelon non-combatants that support him." Cooks, finance clerks, lawyers, chaplains, doctors, dentists, mechanics…the list goes on and on and on.

    4. Teenagers likely get more career pressure from their parents than from any military recruiter. Indeed, most of the teens I've known are HIGHLY suspicious of adults telling them how to live their lives. Moreover, teens are bombarded with advertising appeals from the time they are little children, so what evidence do you have that they suddenly become gullible idiots when they approach age eighteen? As regards the access that military recruiters have to high school kids: that is only one piece of a very big picture — a picture you conveniently ignore. College recruiters have virtually as much access to high school students as do military recruiters — does this prove that college recruiters are also "exploiting" teenagers?

    Finally, I do not see what is "abstract" about my argument. The military offers teenagers one of an almost uncountable number of career opportunities that teenagers have. Like college recruiters (and other job recruiters), military recruiters target teenagers who are most likely to respond to the career opportunities they have. Like college recruiters, they target a particular segment of the high school class, they offer money and other perks, and they omit negative information. None of these practices is considered "exploitation" when college recruiters do it to star students or star athletes, so why does it become "exploitation" when it is done to other students by military recruiters? This is not an "abstract argument," it is a perfectly legitimate question concerning a practice that occurs routinely at every high school in America.

  17. Ben says:

    Yes, these are high school kids. The military is funded by the United States government. Recruiters are given special access to speak and interact with the high school children. (By the way, these are minors, they are NOT considered adults, although you seem to think so?)

    "The Marines have extraordinary access to students in Weight Training, offering a "Marine Challenge" curriculum where students do 13 pull-ups and bench press half their weight 13 times. Recruiters yell at students and give them orders. One student described being in the weight room, "doing a normal workout and all of a sudden three recruiters were at my side counting my reps. I was like, 'WHOAAH!!'"

    http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/19_03/re

  18. Vicki Baker says:

    Grumpy writes: "Teenagers likely get more career pressure from their parents than from any military recruiter. "

    I'm not talking about those kids who are lucky enough to get career pressure from their parents. I'm talking about what used to be called "at-risk youth" in a kinder, gentler time.

    "College recruiters have virtually as much access to high school students as do military recruiters" You think that college recruiters have as much presence in low-income schools? Do you realize how much federal financial aid for college has been gutted? How programs that target first-generation college-bound high-schoolers have been slashed?

    Considering that anti-military groups have had to sue to get the right to present counter-recruitment info on school campuses, your vision of a level playing field is a bit skewed. (http://www.afsc.org/youthmil/militarism-in-schools/equal-access.htm)

    The idea that boundless opportunities are open to all US high school students regardless of income level, ethnicity, and the sorry excuse for education provided in most inner city schools is, I'm afraid, a wishful fantasy.

  19. grumpypilgrim says:

    Vicki writes: "I’m talking about what used to be called 'at-risk youth.'"

    Just so we can be sure we are talking about the same thing, please define what you mean by "at-risk youth."

  20. Vicki Baker says:

    I mean kids who don't have a lot of positive adult involvement in their lives, who may have received a sub-standard education and don't have a lot of options at graduation.

    Or maybe the autistic kid who was recruited to be a cavalry scout might fit the definition:

    "When Jared first started talking about joining the Army, I thought, 'Well, that isn't going to happen,' " said Paul Guinther, Jared's father. "I told my wife not to worry about it. They're not going to take anybody in the service who's autistic."

    But they did. Last month, Jared came home with papers showing that he not only had enlisted, but also had signed up for the Army's most dangerous job: cavalry scout. He is scheduled to leave for basic training Aug. 16….

    A family in Ohio reported that its mentally ill son was signed up, despite rules banning such enlistments and the fact that records about his illness were readily available.

    In Houston, a recruiter warned a potential enlistee that if he backed out of a meeting he would be arrested.

    And in Colorado, a high school student working undercover told recruiters he had dropped out and had a drug problem. The recruiter told the boy to fake a diploma and buy a product to help him beat a drug test.

    http://blumenauer.house.gov/Issues/Issue.aspx?Iss

  21. Erich Vieth says:

    Now the army is luring in new recruits with $20,000 bonuses. Is this bringing in the brightest and the best? http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/arti

  22. The Iraq war is happening, because the military takes advantage of thousands of young susceptible kids. They'd never manage to lure that many adults like Grumpy into the army with promises of better opportunities in their future life or with prospects of glory and honor, not even with the claim that their country needs them there to fight terrorism, but they succeed with many of the kids, because they are young, they are naive and obviously their parents are too stupid to care for them properly. How can this be right?

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