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End Racism in Military Recruitment

by Erica Zurawski and Anh Pham |
July 1, 2004
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The Pentagon spends over $2.5 billion a year to recruit low-income youth using commercials, video games, personal visits and slick brochures that promise a better future through the military. Enticed by the promise of free college, many of our youth see the military as the only path to a college education. In fact, two-thirds of all recruits get no college funding from the military. Only 15% actually graduate with a four-year degree.

To appeal to unemployed youth, the military claims to offer job training, marketable skills, adventure and travel. What they don’t say is that less than 10% of veterans have made use of skills they learned in the military for regular jobs, or that one third of homeless men in this country are military veterans. There is no emphasis on the risks of joining the military. Unlike other things that could be hazardous to your health, there is no warning label, no parental advisory label saying, “Buyer beware!”

There is also no mention of the higher risks involved for people of color, who have historically been placed on the front lines of battle. Currently, soldiers of color make up close to 40% of enlisted personnel, even though they constitute only 25% of the U.S. population. The composition of the military reflects that recruitment efforts are mainly pushed in schools that are majority Black or Latino. While African Americans make up about 12.7% of the same-age civilian population, they constitute about 22% of enlisted personnel.

Even more disturbing is that young people of color are not only more likely to serve in the military, they are also more likely to die in active duty. Currently, 10% of the 132,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq are of Latin American origin, yet Latinos account for over 20% of U.S. casualties in Iraq.

Why are people of color so disproportionately represented in the military? Carlos Montes, a member of Latinos Against the War, addresses the push to recruit Latinos into the military as racism. “Instead of recruiting Latinos for war, why don’t they target them for college recruitment? Why don’t they target them for high-tech jobs? Or why don’t they target them for admission into the Ivy League Schools? I’ve never heard of any campaign organized by governmental agencies to recruit Hispanics other than for the military,” Montes asserts.

Poor youth, especially young people of color, are being recruited based on lies and are being used to fight the wars of the rich. They are sent to kill other poor people in order to protect the U.S. empire. They often lose their lives. Meanwhile, at home, jobs are lost, families are kicked off welfare and into desperate poverty and more people of color are victims of police brutality.

We must start at home. We must educate our communities about what war does to our families here and to families just like ours in the countries the U.S. fights in. Most importantly we must speak out as a community. We must resist the militarization of our youth!