Military Recruiting Ad Tells More by What It Doesn’t Say

Sometimes the truth hides right out in the open and all it needs is someone to point it out. In this case, the observant one is Matthew Yglesias:

I went to see Fast Food Nation and before the film there was a long ad for for the Army National Guard, detailing not only the sort of benefits you can obtain through volunteering, but also the sort of exciting missions the Guard undertakes. Except, of course, they didn’t mention anything about Iraq where tens of thousands of Guard soldiers are deployed. There was, instead, a vague mention of “overseas deployment.” Nothing unusual about this, of course. If you watch a lot of male-oriented television programming you’ll see lots of military recruitment ads of various sorts and they never mention that the modal outcome for a member of the US military these days is to be sent to fight in Iraq.

It is however, unusual in historical terms. If you look at recruiting posters from World War Ⅰ or World War Ⅱ [and Yglesias shows some examples] the situation was quite different.

It’s not merely that these posters didn’t obscure the fact that a war was going on. Rather, the fact of the war was the key selling point of the recruitment drives. Which makes sense. Leaving your home and family to go do an arduous job isn’t an obviously appealing thing to do. You get money, to be sure, but patriotic appeals are a key part of getting people to volunteer. The war, in these terms, is a reason to sign up — your country needs you to fight its enemies.

We have to assume that the Army’s marketing people know what they’re doing these days. And their professional judgment is that the Iraq War isn’t like that. Their view is that “the war in Iraq is a vital and necessary cause that you should do your part for” won’t be compelling to people. The best way to get them to sign up isn’t quite to try and dupe them (everyone knows there’s a war on) but certainly is to try and keep the war hidden and downplayed.

What’s more, everyone takes this for granted. Nobody expects the Army to run ads saying “sign up and fight the Islamofascists in Iraq.” I don’t, however, think we’ve really thought the implications of this through. Lots of people are still opposed to a rapid withdrawal from Iraq. But does anyone think Iraq is a cause worth dying for at this point? Does anyone deny that a straightforward recruiting pitch wouldn’t work? But staying in Iraq, obviously, means having people die for this mission. For a mission nobody really believes in anymore.

One of the sneaky ways military recruiters are operating these days is to collect data about high school students by distributing in public schools questionnaires disguised as “career placement” tests, and then to target their recruitment efforts based on the data collected.

Scott Horton at tells what happened when they tried to pull this stunt at Pepperell High School in Lindale, Georgia.

With bulletins and a handful of homemade flyers, two teens have struck a blow against the American Warfare State, Lindale, Georgia Division.

On a Friday afternoon , 17-year-old high school seniors Robert Day and Samuel Parker decided to act after Day overheard some teachers at Pepperell High School saying that first thing morning the school’s juniors would be made to take the ASVAB military aptitude test.

As a senior, he would not be made to take the test, but Day confronted the high school principal, Phil Ray, in defense of students younger than himself, and was told that the test was mandated by federal law. Day says he already believed that to be false, since he remembered the test being given only to the kids actually trying to join the military the year before. Regardless, the principal dismissed his objections. The juniors who were to be tested for their military “aptitude” were not to be told before .

…Day and Parker decided they would do what they could to “warn” the juniors themselves. They talked to a few kids at the end of school , and over sent out more than 20 messages to MySpace bulletin boards discouraging cooperation. Arriving early morning, Day and Parker picked out spots soon to be populated with kids waiting for the bell to ring, and with the help of some others who quickly volunteered, rapidly distributed their 200 homemade fliers to some and also spoke to many others, encouraging all to refuse to report to the cafeteria or to sabotage the test — either by ripping it up or filling in false information.

…Parker says that he, Day and their volunteers made sure every junior who may not have wanted to take the test had a chance to hear them explain its purpose and to understand that it was not mandatory.

They estimate that about half of the school’s juniors refused to even leave their regular classes to report to the testing site in the school’s cafeteria. Some of the teachers, apparently learning about this at the last minute like most everyone else, and confused as to the nature of the proceedings, insisted that their students at least go to the cafeteria even if they did not mean to cooperate with the military. Once they were there, the kids were informed that anyone who showed up in the cafeteria would be made to take the test.

The old lunch room Catch-22.

Some of the students decided to deliberately fill in faulty information.… ¶ The soldiers told the students that if anyone ripped up their test, then all the tests, including those belonging to the one-third or so of the kids who actually wanted to take it and receive their scores, would be thrown out. This bit of blackmail apparently worked on the kids who had reluctantly taken it, as no one physically destroyed their tests. Day and Parker estimate that less than a third of Pepperell’s juniors went along with their government’s scheme.

All in all, Parker and Day said they were pleasantly surprised by the help and encouragement of kids who they thought would not have cared at all.

We could all learn from their example.