College military recruitment is up. The recession is to blame, but so is the lack of a palpable anti-war movement.
In 1990, television reporters came into my first grade classroom and asked me what I thought about the Gulf War. I had an automatic answer that echoed my parents’ protest generation: “War is bad. People get killed. Stop the war.” Then I told the reporter about the letter campaign we had started in my class. We were asking the first Bush to send the troops home.
I have a feeling the scene is a little different now, especially after reading this Los Angeles Times story. The article explains how the presence of the Reserve Officers Training Corps on college campuses has soared crazily over the past few years. Since 2005, their enrollment numbers have risen 27 percent. Not only that, but even students who don’t enroll are fine with their presence on campus. And why wouldn't they be? College students live in a world without an anti-war movement.
The media has long been suggesting that the recession and the rising costs of college explain the new recruiting boom; the ROTC even expanded its scholarship program to keep up with the demands of our three-pronged war effort. One 22-year-old college student in the ROTC is quoted saying, "Usually, people will ask what I'm doing after school and a lot of seniors understand the need for a job, and the fact that I have one makes them envious." Recruiting working class kids for wars is nothing new, but there’s an extra weight to the class divide when jobs are so scarce that the military recruiters are pretty much the only ones hiring teenagers.
The Times article also mentions that the ROTC has been greeted with open arms at elite schools like Stanford and Harvard because of the congressional rescinding of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which strikes me as a twisted reversal in the name of symbolism.
But there’s something less tangible to be considered here: College kids have never gotten a whiff of what anti-war sentiment looks and feels like, at least as autonomous adults. This year’s freshmen were eight years old when September 11th happened; they weren’t even in middle school when the country was monumentally pissed about the Iraq War. Their parents were most likely children when the most intense Vietnam war protests were going on. The reality is that living in a state of constant war has become normalized. There are still some vocal anti-war groups on campus and off, like CodePink (pictured above), but not enough to form a critical mass.
Perhaps leftist pacifists are quieter because they’re afraid to criticize Obama, or maybe the initial outrage has given way to financial worries, or both. But we need to revive this conversation—in order to put pressure on the government, yes, but also to show college kids that there’s an alternative to permawar.