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A Needless Apology

This column was written by Sam Graham-Felsen.

It's "insulting," says President Bush, that Sen. John Kerry would insinuate that our troops are "stupid."

Clearly Kerry — an actual war hero who has actually been shot in a real, live, actual war — doesn't think troops are stupid.

And Kerry, who just issued a needless apology, would never admit this — because he'd inevitably be called "anti-troop" again, mostly by people who have never served, and the mainstream media would lend credence to these idiots — but there actually was some truth in his misstatement.

No, the troops are not stupid, but let's state the obvious: A great many of them join the military because college isn't an option.

The military recruiters know this. That's why they specifically target inner-city and rural schools, and stay away from places like Phillips Andover, where you can go to Yale even if you get crappy grades — where you never have to make a choice to potentially sacrifice your life for financial reasons.

The military hones in on places like McDonough High in Pomfret, Maryland:

...a working-class public school where recruiters chaperone dances, students in a junior ROTC class learn drills from a retired sergeant major in uniform, and every prospect gets called at least six times by the Army alone...

Meanwhile, at McLean High, a more affluent public school 37 miles away in Virginia, there is no military chaperoning and no ROTC class. Recruiters adhere to a strict quota of visits, lining up behind dozens of colleges. In the guidance office, military brochures are dwarfed by college pennants. Posters promote life amid ivy-covered walls, not in the cockpits of fighter jets....

Students from McDonough are as much as six times more likely than those from McLean to join the military, a disparity that is replicated elsewhere. [Source: Boston Globe]

This strategy is explicitly stated in the US Army Recruiting Command handbook.

As Karen Houppert noted in a Nation article on military recruiting, the handbook advises: "For some it is clear that college is not an option, at least for now. Let them know that the Army can fulfill their college aspirations later on."

As for those who have made it into college, recruiters are urged to focus on freshmen. Why?

"...[B]ecause they will have the highest dropout rate. They often lack both the direction and funds to fully pursue their education."

So, let me ask this: if the military relies so heavily on those who cannot afford college, is it a simple coincidence that the Republican-controlled Congress passed the largest cuts ever in student aid this year?

By Sam Graham-Felsen
Reprinted with permission from The Nation

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