Rick Jahnkow’s column on the critical importance of counter-recruitment campaigns to the long-term success of the anti-war movement is a worthy New Year’s resolution and mission statement for peace activists in 2006. As he states, “…counter-recruitment organizing is the most practical way to tangibly affect current U.S. foreign policy.” Hindering the government’s ability to wage war, inciting a cultural shift away from militarism, and providing alternatives to military service to the community are a triangle of potential prizes that counter-recruitment campaigns offer.
The importance of reforming the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and putting an end to the rampant physical and sexual assault of women soldiers by their own troops are other important goals of counter-recruitment campaigns, and cannot be emphasized enough. Counter-recruitment campaigns offer opportunities to stand in solidarity with the feminist, GLBT, and youth movements. Counter-recruitment campaigns are multigenerational and can attract high school/college students and their influential Flower Power parents.
As the author notes, sooner or later the Iraq war will come to an end, and we are likely to see a kind of “Iraq syndrome” as the aroused public consciousness acts as a brake on the runaway train of American foreign policy. But a return to the covert policies of the Reagon/Bush/Clinton era isn’t much of a victory either. And as Jahnkow also points out, “Iraq syndrome” is not guaranteed. A new terrorist attack on American soil could see renewed public support for costly military interventions.
Jahnkow argues (and Howard Zinn before him) that a true victory for the anti-war movement will only come when we put an end to all wars. To do this, our tactics must go beyond symbolic protesting, and they must address strategic, long-term political and cultural goals. Towards this end, I propose two refinements to the national counter-recruitment campaign:
1) An increased emphasis on protesting Junior ROTC, ROTC, and other military programs institutionalized in our high schools and colleges. For example, at my school the University of Iowa, hundreds of students are enrolled in ROTC programs and have a presence on campus everyday. In contrast, military recruiters looking for enlistees are ‘outsiders’ and have much less of an influence, as they are only on campus a few times a year. We will be more successful at curing the cultural cancer of militarism if we focus on removing the tumor of ROTC from our schools, instead of treating the symptoms of an occasional heart-ache inducing recruiter visit.
At the high school level, counter-recruitment campaigns are best left to students and their parents. However, initiatives like the Campus Antiwar Network’s “Adopt a High School” program are crucial to jump-starting the high school movement in some areas, and similar mentoring programs should be rolled out nationwide to connect younger activists with more experienced role-models.
Attacking class-based systems like J-ROTC and ROTC, which train some to become officers so they can order others to fight and die, may also have additional benefits for transplanting a culture of peace into the organs of the mainstream.
2) An anti-war movement that balances polite civil discourse with serious political disruption. A counter-recruitment protest or alternative-presence educational on Career Day are two good direct actions, but a nuanced approach that mixes traditional tactics with more disruptive ones like trespassing on National Guard sites or blocking ROTC offices from opening provide everyday opportunities for the kinds of accelerated resistance that is now needed.
How a proactive peace movement can organize to end all wars is an exciting new discussion that all activists should now take up and contribute to. Let’s stay mobilized through the midterm elections, indeed, through the next presidential elections, and work on crafting and implementing our own agendas.
David Goodner is a 25 year old International Studies major at the University of Iowa and a copy editor and reporter for College Not Combat, the national newspaper of the Campus Antiwar Network. He may be reached at [email protected] or 319-339-4821.