Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Defend the Country? - Not From MY Back Yard!

The increasing furor about military recruiters contacting high school students is really getting on my nerves. More and more parents are up in arms, frightened and angry because military recruiters have set up a table at Career Day, or called their child, or sent them an information packet. They are trying to block recruiters’ access to the schools. They are trying to change the law on releasing student information from an “opt-out” policy to an “opt-in” system. They really appear to want to keep their children from even seeing a soldier, much less talking to one.

Of course, it isn’t that they don’t like us. A spokesman for the National PTA said "We don't have anything against what the military is trying to do. We're just concerned about student privacy." The principal of Louisville's Eastern High says "Certainly we want to support military, but we don't want to be part of the recruitment effort." The sentiment is nearly universal - "We support the soldiers, but we don't want them to contact our children."

Other people are upset about who the recruiters try hardest to contact. Ann Kutay, from a parents' group in Seattle worries "...kids who may not be doing as well in school are targeted by a military recruiter, who tells them they can be a helicopter pilot.” Dustin Washington, a Seattle community activist, believes recruiters target students with lower incomes and minorities.

I understand your fears. I’m a parent of two teen-aged boys – prime targets for military recruiters. I don't want them to join up, and I've told them so. But when you say that you don’t want recruiters talking to your kids, that hurts me. It sounds a lot like someone saying, “Thanks for volunteering to defend my country and protect me from my enemies – I’ll leave your pay on the nightstand, and don’t call me at home, I don’t want my wife to find out.” It sounds like you think my chosen career is “beneath” your children.

It also sounds like you want something for nothing. Nobody likes war, soldiers least of all – we’re the ones who get shot at. But we’re by far the richest country in the world. Without a strong military to defend us, someone will be more than happy to take those riches. And without new recruits every year, we don’t have a military at all. You’re not willing to even let your child HEAR about joining the military, but you expect your neighbors to let theirs join up, so you can continue to live your peaceful life, undisturbed by the sacrifices that keep this nation alive. Or not your neighbors, but those lesser-privileged children down the street, or across town, where the other-colored people live.

That part of the accusation is true, of course. Naturally Recruiters seem to target lower-income and minority teens – those are the ones who are likely to join. People selling second mortgages call home-owners; people selling car insurance look for people who drive; and people who sell careers that don’t require college look for people who can’t afford college, or who won’t succeed there. Who’s to blame for that? The Recruiter? Better look again. Believe me, if a rich kid, or a child on an athletic scholarship, or even an MIT graduate wants to join up, we’ve got room for them…but strangely, not very many of them do. At least when that underprivileged youth joins up, he has a good chance to succeed on his own merits, no matter what color his skin is. Can the civilian world make that same claim?

Oh, and by the way, you’ve had 16, 17, even 18 years to raise your child right, teach them that war is bad, teach them that the military is bad, teach them that they’re too good to defend their country. Are you afraid that a Recruiter can reverse all that in a one-hour conversation? Well, if he can, then maybe he’s saying something YOU should hear, too. An honest Recruiter will be happy to talk to both of you – and if you’re listening, then a dishonest Recruiter (yes, I admit we have some) will have to stay honest around your child. Remember I said I don't want my boys to join? I didn't opt them out of the list the Recruiters will see - and if my sons make informed decisions to join up, I'll try to talk them out of it. If I fail, then I'll worry about them, and lie awake nights wondering if they're safe...and support their decision proudly.

So, all you parents who want to keep Recruiters completely out of your schools and away from your children – you have my utmost contempt. And you have made it quite obvious that I and every other member of the Armed Forces has yours.

Quotes and other information are from the following sources:

Washington Post

Louisville Courier-Journal

ABC News Nightline