Manufacturing Conscription

f all the slogans used to stifle opposition to America’s aggressive foreign
policy, the most infamous is “Support Our Troops.” After dispatching its
massive force across the Atlantic, the U.S. public relations industry threw
this phrase into the public forum. A scheme undoubtedly contrived for the
effect it would have, the public began probing itself for those who did
not support the troops. 

The intended effect of suppression took root and all discussion about U.S.
war policy was off the table. A national discussion about the composition,
effectiveness, or readiness of America’s Armed Forces was, therefore, absent.
It was a three-pronged plot to asphyxiate opposition, divert people’s attention,
and drum up support for the war. Accordingly, those who feared being accused
of not supporting the troops became subservient to an empty slogan. 

The population became immersed in a squabbling match, which continues today.
Jingoists came out of the woodwork and slapped magnetic ribbons on their
vehicles with the empty, suppressive slogan to show their devotion to keeping
their mouths shut about their nation going to war. 

It was an ingenious plan with impeccable timing. However, out of all the
consequences—intended or unintended—from this ruse, one of the most disastrous
has been the suppression of a national discussion about the reality of
the U.S. “all-volunteer” fighting force. 

Undoubtedly there are many patriotic individuals who seek to genuinely
defend the United States. Hence, they choose to join the Armed Services.
However, not all of the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces are enlisted
by choice. Though the media figureheads would have people believe otherwise,
with their talking-points about the “all-volunteer” fighting force, many
people do not join the Armed Services because they want to, they join because
they have to. 

The priorities in the New American Century are obvious; the swelling poverty
rate says it all. The proportion of “Americans who are living in severe
poverty has reached a 32-year high,” as “millions of working Americans
are falling closer to the poverty line.” Moreover, “the number of severely
poor Americans” has grown more than “26 percent” since 2000. 

If all this was not enough, the Center for Disease Control recently released
a report titled “Early Release of Estimates from the National Health Interview
Survey, January-September 2006.” It concluded that at the time of the interview
nearly 45 million people of all ages were uninsured, 31 million had been
uninsured for more than a year, and 55 million had been uninsured for at
least part of the prior year. 

In February the New York Times reported, “The most recent test results
from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as
the national report card,” showed “that American 12th graders are…performing
worse in reading” than they have in the past ten years. Moreover, “performance
in reading has been distressingly flat since 2002 and only about 35 percent
of 12th graders are proficient in reading.” Hence, “a majority of the country’s
12th graders have trouble understanding what they read fully enough to
make inferences, draw conclusions and see connections between what they
read and their own ex- periences.” 

According to the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, which
is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, approximately “1 in
3 high school students in the Class of 2006 [did] not graduate.” In California
alone, the “graduation rate dropped to [a] 10-year low…as a third of the
Class of 2006 left without a diploma,” according to Department of Education
numbers. If this was not enough, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
publication, Technology Review, recently reported that a study conducted
by Michigan State University political scientist Jon D. Miller found that
“216 million Americans are scientifically illiterate.” 

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002, emphasizes “testing
rather than education.” Educators around the country have been persistent
in pointing out that the Act’s concentration on standardized assessment
is part of the problem in the plight of the public school education system,
the dumbing-down of new generations of Americans, and dwindling graduation
rates. Yet, the current Administration claims it to be a policy for the
improvement thereof. 

Young, poorly educated Americans (by way of legislation), with or without
high school diplomas, are facing an unforgiving, technology-based society
and have very limited options and/or no direction. Enlistment appears to
be the best option. In other words, they are forced to volunteer for the
“all-volunteer” fighting force, as it provides relief from the despair
and uncertainty they face. The “modest but steady wages, the guaranteed
housing allowance, the solid retirement plan and the health benefits of
the Armed Forces” is appealing when the rest of society is moving “in the
opposite direction.” 

The Armed Forces is comprised of many individuals “who commonly join up
to advance themselves” in light of the dismal alternatives presented to
them. These alternatives include: “difficult job searches, little or no
job security, regular pilfering of retirement funds by company executives
and their accountants, privatized medical care, bad public elementary education,
and expensive higher education.” 

Knowing this, divisions of recruiters are dispatched by every branch of
the Armed Forces to scour the country in search of those looking to escape
the depressing alternatives before them. At malls, sporting events, community
gatherings, residences, and public schools, recruiters disseminate their
message of the “benefits” of “volunteering.” Additionally, millions are
spent on a public relations campaign and creative ways to lure people,
especially youth, into signing up. Pro-war films, commercials, decorated
T-shirts, toys, video games, and Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps
are used to make enlistment appealing and life in the Armed Forces a place
where one can be all one can be, as a substitute for a world where one
seems like nothing. 

Facing blocked avenues and having a “deep pessimism about the future,”
individuals are forced to turn towards the offered benefits and “financial
security” of the Armed Forces. Hence the use of “creative ways” to draw
in, even re-draw, recruits amid a war that is “stretching ranks to their
limits” and pushing the U.S. towards imperial collapse. 

The surge of desperation, degradation, and economic hardship endemic in
American society goes unreported in the media. In addition, the Armed Services’
desperate need of more recruits for a quagmire with no end in sight is
cloaked through creative tactics of appeal. These factors combined allow
for the façade of an “all-volunteer” fighting force. Politicians, jingoists,
and media figures exploit this to, in the words of the president, “catapult
the propaganda” that the U.S. fighting force is saturated with genuine
volunteers who had plenty of other choices in life; that they gave up their
pursuit of the American Dream to protect the American Dream. The offensive,
political, and fabricated use of the death of the professional football
player turned soldier, Pat Tillman, was the most blatant case for the exploitation
of this myth. 

Though there are those who are driven by “patriotism, sense of mission,
camaraderie, pride and ‘adventure’,” many individuals do not join the American
fighting force to actually fight, or even with a desire to go to war. They
join because of the socialistic nature of the institution. While the Armed
Forces are having trouble reaching recruitment quotas amid an un-winnable
war, they are managing “retention…at record levels.” People already in
the Armed Services have a firm understanding that “a civilian world that
seem[s] ever more unwelcoming and unreliable” awaits them and that the
“military cocoon” is just the opposite. 

If the U.S. is going to continue to assert that it has an “all-volunteer”
fighting force, then Americans need to realize that the more desperation
there is at home, the more citizens will join. The more citizens that join,
the bigger fighting force the U.S. has. The bigger fighting force the U.S.
has, the more subject it is to misuse by an establishment with imperial

The more one buys into a narrow, sacrosanct, empty phrase like Support
Our Troops, the more one sanctions the current environment of national
plight in the U.S. and aids the perpetuation of the status quo. It only
serves America’s move towards hegemonic breakdown. Supporting the right
to life, security, and peace for all in the war-ravaged countries of Iraq
and Afghanistan, even around the world, is what matters. 



George Aleman III is an MA student in history. He is also a writer, activist,
and musician.