An Army of None

If counter-recruiters succeed and enlistees flee, a draft could be next.

Military recruiters aren't getting much love these days.

"They're talking 'bout us lying, but look at this," complained Army Staff Sergeant Blanco (he declined to give his first name), holding up one of the flyers a group of anarchists was distributing Wednesday outside the Armed Forces Recruiting Center in Brooklyn. "It says we work on commission and get paid more the more recruits we sign up. If that was true, I'd be driving a Lexus. We'd set up a tent and be out here 24-7."

Billed on NYC Indymedia—as a chance to "strike at the Achilles heal of the war machine!"—the small street demo drew far more cops than anarchists. But for the Army and Marine recruiters milling outside their empty offices on Flatbush Avenue, it was yet another hurdle in a job that's getting tougher by the day.

Well-defended: A recruiting station in Flatbush, Brooklyn, got ready for the anarchists.
photo: Fred Askew
Well-defended: A recruiting station in Flatbush, Brooklyn, got ready for the anarchists.

From San Francisco, where voters just passed a measure aimed at kicking recruiters out of public schools and off college campuses, to East Harlem, where about 75 people gathered on Monday to protest the opening of a new recruiting office on East 103rd Street, recruiters are finding themselves in the crosshairs of the anti-war movement.

Buoyed by falling enlistment rates, peace activists of all stripes now see draining the supply of new soldiers as a more hands on way to stop the war in Iraq.

"It's better than marching around in circles," said Brian, a dumpster-diving squatter from Brooklyn as he pressed leaflets and pamphlets on high school kids and other passersby in hopes of dissuading any potential new GIs.

In the past year, Army enlistment has fallen off target by more than 6,600 soldiers, the biggest shortfall since 1979. Recruiting for the National Guard and Army Reserves has been worse.

Among African Americans, Army enlistment has dropped by 40 percent since 2000, a fact not lost on the recruiters posted in Flatbush. "We don't have the revolving door any more," said Army staff sergeant Arrindell, a Brooklyn native who also declined to give his first name. "Before a lot of people were walking in. Now you really have to go out and hustle."

Arrindell shrugged. "Nobody in New York has anything good to say about the war," he said.

"If we continue at this pace, guess what's next: a draft," an African American sergeant sitting at the desk next to him chimed in. "What are we going to do then as a country—are people going to Canada? Then you've actually forced the government to do that, because you've stopped the people who want to voluntarily serve by giving them a lot of flak for it. What kind of democracy would we have then?"

Talk of crisis within the ranks only heartened the anarchists demonstrating outside. "Bring it on—I would love a draft," said Wesley Everett, a 31-year-old from Queens who helped organize the protest. "It would expose how pathetic their war agenda really is.

"People sign up for two years' service but they can be called up for eight under the stop-loss program—so that already is a draft. Poverty is a draft," he continued, echoing a complaint by Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel, who has advocated reinstating a universal draft as a means to check the Bush Administration's militarism.

As Rangel and others have argued, the U.S. would be out of Iraq already—or might never have gone in—if children of the middle and privileged classes were forced to serve.


Of course, the thought that the military could be backed into a corner like this has alarmed war supporters, who have echoed President Bush's charge that the anti-war movement is helping the enemy.

On Tuesday, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly went so far as to suggest that al Qaeda should bomb San Francisco for its relatively mild ballot proposition urging educators at public schools to discourage recruitment and provide students with info on scholarships and alternatives to the military instead.

Counter-recruitment protests have become a flashpoint in the debate over the war in Iraq, and right now the protest crowd has the momentum.

"In the past year, there's been an explosion in this kind of work across the country," says Steve Theberge, a youth organizer with the War Resisters League. "A lot of people felt really powerless after the last election. But this is something people can grab on to. You can see concrete results, and there's real power in not feeding the war machine. For a high school student to say no to the military and speak out against recruiters at their school—or an entire community to say no to recruitment—that's very empowering."

On Thursday, students were out picketing and protesting at high schools and colleges across the country as part of a nationwide "Not Your Soldier" day of action called by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition Actions were slated in more than 30 towns and cities, including Hicksville, Long Island, where high school students staged a lunchtime walkout to demand and end to military recruitment on campus, and Washington, D.C., where area students planned to besiege Pentagon employees at rush-hour with the demand of "Stop the Assault on Youth!"

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