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Friday, May 23, 2003

More ROT[C] at the BBC

Note: Joanne Jacobs has a post on this as well.

While poking around the BBC, I came upon this story which is on military programs in secondary schools. The article is titled "The price of an army education," but apparently on TV it was called "America's School Kid Soldiers". That's what it's called on the comments page (of which very much more anon). Both pages have a photo of kids (that is to say, teenagers) on parade, with a caption reading, "Is this just a scheme to recruit for a life in the services?"

Bias? What bias?

Here are the salient points in the article:

1) New legislation "demands increased access to high schools for military recruiters".

[er, shouldn't military recruiters have finished high school already?]

and "asks" schools to provide student info to military recruiters. Schools who do not cooperate may lose federal education funds.

[Note: federal funds.]

2) A black mother sends her two daughters to a military academy. She thinks this will help them get an education they might not get otherwise. Her kids like their school, but one says that not all the pupils there are keen to join the military on graduation.

3) A Quaker woman doesn't like the whole thing, says "they're training young people saying the military way of life is the right one."

"It's giving hope to a lot of people that frankly don't have a lot of other options in our society."

[And apparently this is a bad thing, at least to the Quaker lady.]

4) Another school, this one mostly Hispanic, has recently cut its mob violence way back. Within the school is a military academy. No explanation is given for commenting on the mob violence in connection with the military academy. Do the cadets run out and shoot anybody who threatens violence?

In this school, the students can have their college tuitions (note, college) paid for, but they have to join the army, the Reserves, or the National Guard.

5) Back to the first school:

Bronzeville student Elizabeth Stewart had signed up for the army - but did not understand the extent of her commitment.

Her college bills were paid by the military. But now she and her mother are faced with the realities of National Guard service - she could be sent to the Middle East.

"My daughter is just like all the other kids whose parents couldn't afford to pay for college," says Karon Stewart.

"If I had had money for her to go to college she probably wouldn't have joined the National Guard, so that's a burden I bear."

There's a picture of Elizabeth captioned: "Elizabeth Stewart is paying the ultimate price for education." Elizabeth is one of the two daughters mentioned in item 2); her twin Erin is her school's top pupil and the batallion commander, according to the article.

OK, so what it seems we have here is that some high schools have Junior ROTC programs. Some people think this is a good way for the kids to get an education; others are concerned that this is recruiting for the "military way of life". (Horror!)

I'll point out that the woman with the two daughters---who thinks this is a good idea---is black; while the protesting Quaker is white.

Before we go on, here is the text of the new education law in HTML and pdf formats. To save you the trouble, this is the section on military recruiting. (By the way, this is an enormous bill, which nicely illustrates the old adage about sausages and the law. I'm guessing the military recruitment requirements are far from the most worrying thing in it. Like, for example, the entire issue of federal meddling in education, while piously insisting that they're not meddling.)

The law does indeed require schools to provide student information to military recruiters on the request of the recruiter, but it also mandates that such information be given to university recruiters. The second clause says that students or their parents can refuse to have this information given out, and it requires schools to tell them that. This Fox News story seems to be scandalized that some school districts are actually complying with this provision in the law.

Note that this law, despite its position at the head of the BBC story, has virtually nothing to do with the schools mentioned, which already have military programs. It would be strange indeed if schools with military programs would try to prevent the military from recruiting their students (which was why the clause was inserted into the education legislation in the first place). So why's it there in a story about schools which already have military programs? Why, to direct your attention to the approaching tidal wave of fascism.

Now, on to the BBC comments. These are more balanced than in the Jessica Lynch story, with a higher percentage of people---even Britons---saying it sounds like a good idea to them. But here are some juicy ones:

There is only one word for what was shown on tonight's programme and what is happening in the world today - obscene! What we saw here were the results of a social, political, economic and cultural deficit. Is this the bankruptcy of civilisation?
Stephen Vaughan, Ireland

Terrifying - Not satisfied with this current war, W Bush is creating a perennial army for the future. If this was filmed in Iraq or China or Korea we would be worried, this is the future of democracy - we should be worried. The only way you can get a free education is to sign up for the latest American action.
Trevor H, UK

"...a perennial army for the future." Why should the US need an army in the future, huh? Huh? Only to wage war. After all, you don't need to even have an army if you don't plan on fighting someone. Terrifying, indeed! Good for you, Trevor H, you have uncovered Bush's horrendous plan to extend the US military into the future! Someone alert the media!

This programme further demonstrates the American mentality and fixation with war as a concept. These ideas are forced upon the American people by the current Administration to further its own right-wing agenda. Any dissent from the established view is quickly denounced (or simply unreported in the American news media) and labelled unpatriotic.
Nick, England

The "American mentality and fixation with war as a concept". I cannot conceptualize what that may mean. Oh, wait, yes I can. It means that when these idiots watch a nervous kid parading around with a flag, praying he won't trip over his own shoelaces and drop it, they see the Hitler Youth, crazed and foaming and ready to die for the Fatherland.

They also---and I keep meaning to point this out---don't understand that these ideas are not forced on the American people by the current Administration, that programs like this have been around for decades, through both Republican and Democratic administrations. This is a common trope in the foreign press: they either believe that dumb Bush and his cadre of evil geniuses has forced their will upon the people, or that the percentage of American people who are stupid, violent hicks have gotten temporary control of the country, wresting it from its rightful owners, the level-headed and caring liberals.

To continue:

Yes you can have the education if you are from the disadvantaged group you can go to college like the rich children but by the way you make not make it there because you may be killed as part of the National Guard and the time that these youngsters will owe to their country who have given this wondderful opportunity! It screams at me saying it is a cheap way to get cannon fodder, and may a good way to cut down crime. I thought these days had gone!
Jan Brinkley, UK

Perhaps Ms. Brinkley should've gone to a military school; they might have taught her how to write without gibbering.

And now, straight from Conspiracy Theory Central:

This programme provides evidence that the war on Iraq was premeditated. Mr Bush had already planned to boost the number of members to his military by using these school kid soldiers. To send someone into schools from the military to speak to 14 year olds about becoming cadets is sickening. I would not allow my child into any school that allows this to happen. But the schools have their hands tied due to the politics implicated within this Bush system.
James & Nancy Corrigan, England

I found this cynical exploitation of poor children, sickening for a supposedly free and democratic country. Not only the coercion to join the military, but also the indoctrination and propaganda that seems to pass for lessons. My first thought was to send a copy of this program to Downing street, for Mr Blair to see what our allies are up to. I then realised this may not be such a good thing, as it would probably give him ideas.
Angela Peacock, UK

The online article had no information about "the indoctrination and propaganda that seems to pass for lessons". Maybe they meant the flag-folding.

Well, my first thought is that whoever makes adult diapers (or "nappies") in the UK really needs to buy advertising time on the BBC, since its audience is continually pissing themselves over the latest American threat to Civilization. But I'm guessing the Beeb does not sell advertising time in the UK, so I advise them to go after the Guardian's readership instead---same people.

The day after my stepfather graduated from high school, his father took him to town, saying they were going to have a special celebratory beer down to the Stag Bar. Oh, sure, Dad wasn't of legal age yet, but everybody knew everybody else in town, and as long as it was only one quiet beer, then nobody said anything.

On the way home, Grandpa pulled up to an unmarked, nondescript building, saying he had something to do. He told Dad to come in with him. Inside, Grandpa gave his name to the man behind the desk, and two big guys came up and handcuffed Dad before he knew what was going on. My Grandpa said, "Son, I'm so sorry, but your Mama and me can't afford to feed you no more, so we've sold you to the Navy." Then Grandpa turned and walked out the door, trying not to hear his son's cries of "Daddy! Come back, Daddy! I'll get a job! I won't cause no---"

It was thirty years before Dad saw his parents again---thirty years chained to an oar in the Empire's largest trireme, where he saw men die around him as---

Er, wait. Wrong story. No, what really happened is that Dad didn't know what to do with himself after high school, so he joined the Navy, possibly because his older brother had. This was also true of my father and most of my uncles, some great uncles, several second cousins, and so forth. A few others were drafted, and some joined other services to keep from being drafted into the Army.

Doing a stint in the service was so ubiquitous, in my circle, that I thought it was required---just one of those life stages everyone goes through. You go to school, graduate, get a job, get married and have kids, and then your life is over. If you're a man, after high school graduation you go into the service and get a tattoo.

But to read that story, and those comments (not to mention other stories in other venues), you'd think the Poor were having to sell their children to the rapacious maw of the military just so the children could have a hot meal (this was some idiot's direct quote) every few days for the rest of their short and miserable lives.

Somehow I have a hard time worrying about this terrible burden on the poor and downtrodden in our society, when virtually every flippin' one of my male relatives did the same thing.

Now, those who worry that recruits might join up without realizing they may be killed at least have a valid point, though I should hope that anyone who's smart enough to graduate from high school is smart enough to realize this.

But most of the commenters seem instead to be wringing their hands over the implications for the "militarization" of our "so-called democracy". My grandfather and stepfather and father and uncles and brother and second-cousins were not turned into killer droids. They do not goose-step around the house shouting "Sieg Heil!" They do not swallow everything the government says unquestioningly, nor did all of them particularly enjoy military life, and only a few stayed in longer than a few years. (Somehow, every single one of them was allowed to leave!)

Last but not least, here is a local teacher weighing in:

As a teacher in a Houston public school, I've had ROTC students in my class. I don't see any evidence of indoctrination other than, perhaps, some better discipline, particularly on the days they wear their uniforms. What I think it does, however, is allow the military men to identify certain characteristics that are prized by the military: patriotism and its underlying single-minded willingness to subjugate oneself to authority.

Most of the ROTC students aren't the smartest in school, and without the military option, they'd likely languish in minimum-wage jobs in the city slums. Those that join have a chance to at least travel and perhaps see that Houston isn't the only possible state of existence. Overall, the results are probably slightly more positive than negative, but the motivation is suspect.
Donald Johnson, United States (Texas)

The part about subjugating oneself to authority has got to be one of the stupidest things I've read lately, which is a high achievment. After that, I must question the truth of his statement that the ROTC students would wind up in minimum wage jobs if they weren't in the military. When reading all of these comments, remember that the O in ROTC stands for Officer; the poor Little Brown People in these programs are being trained to be officers. Heaven forfend that the LBP acquire some self-respect, that they build a good foundation for their civilian lives, or (horror!) become admired leaders.

We can't showcase our own exquisite pity for them if they won't stay in their place, dammit!

So, well done, BBC! Rarely have I seen such a fine of selective reporting and innuendo combined to turn a benign molehill into a malignant mountain.