Let’s Play War: How Militarism is Marketed to Children


My friend Loretta is hopping mad about the mail that her nine year old grandson is receiving. While military recruiters cannot ‘recruit’ children under seventeen years of age, there is nothing stopping them from waging a marketing campaign to win the hearts and minds of much younger children such as Loretta’s grandson.

She tells me that he just received a mailing from the Marines labeled “Required Summer Reading” that offers him limited edition posters. As any parent well knows, anything labeled as ‘limited edition’ is irresistible to kids of that age.

Parents are becoming more aware of the presence of military recruiters in high schools because of the No Child Left Behind Act which requires schools to turn over contact information on students to the military unless the students request that their records not be shared. While this is an easy way for the military to obtain information on prospective recruits, it is only one of many ways in which the military can make a sales pitch to children.

Each branch of the military runs its own JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) programs. The Air Force alone runs 746 JROTC programs throughout the U.S. with plans start more this year. The programs enroll more than 100,000 students. According to the American Friends Service Committee, each program costs school districts an average of $76,000, effectively putting cash-strapped schools in the position of subsidizing the military. It is important to note that JROTC programs routinely bring weapons into schools (and teach children how to use them) and there are numerous reports of JROTC-related violence, including murder.

The programs claim that they are not geared towards recruiting, that their purpose is to teach leadership and discipline. But as former defense secretary William Cohen told Congress in 2000, JROTC is “one of the best recruiting devices we have.” (1)

When now Vice President Cheney served as Secretary of Defense, he summarized the purpose of the military quite accurately, “The reason to have a military is to be prepared to fight and win wars. That is our basic fundamental mission. The military is not a social welfare agency, it’s not a jobs program.” Yet recruiters and JROTC programs as well as television ads routinely hawk the educational and job benefits of joining the military.

What they do not tell prospective recruits is that 57% of military personnel receive no educational benefits and only 5% receive the maximum benefit. The military frequently boasts about the great job training it provides, but according to the Army Times, only 12% of male veterans and 6% of female veterans report using job skills learned in the military. According to the Veterans Administration, veterans earn less, make up 1/3 of homeless men and 20% of the nation’s prison population. (2)

The military’s presence in schools is not limited to high schools. The Middle School Cadet program at Lavizzo Elementary School in Chicago is one example. Youngsters wear uniforms and are taught how to carry guns, a skill distinctly at odds with the policies that virtually every school has banning weapons on school property. (3)

The Navy also offers a program geared at middle-schoolers, the Navy League Cadet Corp, designed for children ages 11-14, in addition to their Naval Sea Cadet Corp which is geared towards high schoolers. The Navy offers 300 such programs reaching 11,000 children.

Another tool the military uses is to send military recruiting trucks to visit U.S. high schools. The trucks use high tech media and eye-catching graphics to whet students interest. The Army describes its Special Operations Van this way,

“The SOF incorporates several exhibits. One can experience the excitement of flying a helicopter, test your skills and landing accuracy in the Airborne parachute simulator, or improve your driving or marksmanship (sic) in the Ground Mobility Vehicle (GMV) system.”

While the military claims that vehicles like this are for educational purposes, their own regulations indicate otherwise, stating that the vehicles are to be sent to schools that recruiters are trying to target, and that recruiters must stay with the trucks while they are open to the public. The purpose of the trucks is to “Ensure that exhibits create a favorable image of the Army and current Army enlistment opportunities.” (Section 1-5.a.) (4) (5)

The Department of Defense has been quick to understand that video games are an excellent marketing tool. On the America’s Army website, you can play all manner of war games, although as Sheldon Rampton points out in his article “War is Fun as Hell”, the games are a, “sanitized, Tom Clancy version of war.”
Not only that, but the website sexes up their offerings, providing what Rampton aptly describes as a “babes-and-bullets fantasy”, by employing a group of young attractive female gamers known as the Frag Girls to market the games. (6)

As one woman gamer describes it,

“Lord knows you wouldn’t want someone that was a real gamer and a wife and mother. What would the drooling masses have to drool over? Certainly it wouldn’t be a young attractive SINGLE female that they might think they had a chance with right?” (7)

And just to make sure there is no doubt as to what a Frag Girl is, they have their very own website which offers these illuminating definitions:

“frag /frag/ n. & v. · n. 1 number of kills. 2 a fragmentation grenade. · v. 1 to eliminate other players in multiplayer shooters (fragging).

rag·doll physics {buzzword} /ragdol fiziks/ n. 1 a program allowing videogame characters to react with realistic body and skeletal physics.

frag·doll /fragdol/ n. 1 a female gamer with the skills to dominate in multiplayer shooters. 2 a lady with the sass to use the laws of physics to her incontestable advantage.”

As concerned as many parents, schools and communities are about the impact of No Child Left Behind, the Pentagon’s recent announcement that it intends to assemble a much more comprehensive database is far more worrisome. According to the Pentagon, the database will contain some 30 million records of data about youth ages 16-25. The data kept will include name, gender, address, birthday, email address, ethnicity, phone number, education records including graduation dates, grade point averages education level and military test scores. Parents, educators and privacy rights activists have raised a number of objections to the planned database, pointing out that it violates the Privacy Act and the DoD’s own regulations about the collection of information on citizens.

Misleading advertising is always reprehensible. But when we allow our military to target children, leading them to believe that war is a game and fighting is fun, one has to wonder if the next logical step is camouflage diapers? (8)
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Notes:
(1) “Air Force Plans To Invade: 48 High Schools Set to Start AF JROTC”. Based on research by Peacework intern Jamie Munro and materials on JROTC from the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors and the American Friends Service Committee Youth and Militarism Program. Compiled by Sam Diener.

(2) “Why Question the Military’s JROTC Program?”, Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors.

(3) “The Children’s Crusade” by Jennifer Wedekind, In These Times, June 3, 2005.

(4) “US Army Makes Surprise Claim: We’re Endangering US High Schools”,
Peacework Co-Editor Sam Diener previously served on the staff of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. Bill Sweet, an AFSC and GI Rights Hotline volunteer, contributed research to this article.

(5) “Army’s New Special Operations Van Invading US Schools”, American Friends Service Committee.

(6) “War is Fun as Hell” by Sheldon Rampton, Alternet, August 2, 2005.

(7) “The Fragtastic FragDolls” by Danielle “Sachant” Vanderlip.

(8) There are several excellent organizations that offer more information about military recruiting and marketing to youngsters. They include:

American Friends Service Committee.
Center on Conscience and War (NISBCO).
Leave My Child Alone (has downloadable forms to opt out of having a child’s contact information given to the military and to opt out of the new Pentagon database).

Lucinda Marshall, @2005
Counter Currents

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