The Pentagon’s Hispanic Panic


Money is no object. Latinos and Latinas are.

NUdear-BB-145x170-no-v.jpgRegarding “Lost Hermanos,” my December 7 item, Alexis Mazón writes from Tucson:

    Dear Mr. Harkavy:

    Excellent post yesterday on the Pentagon’s predatory tactics against my community’s young people. If Latino & Latina youth stopped falling for the military’s lies, we could stop this war in Iraq and many future wars.

    You write that the Pentagon is spending $20 million a year in marketing to Latinos. However, I think the figure is actually much higher. Roberto Lovato recently did a great article for The Nation in which he states that the Pentagon’s spending on Latino-targeted marketing is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

    There is so much to say about this, not the least of which is that the national Latino organizations like NCLR [National Council of La Raza] and LULAC [League of United Latin American Citizens] are supporting this [the Pentagon’s recruitment of Hispanics]. It’s outrageous.

    By the way, did you design those graphics in your post? They are genius. Thanks again and please keep it up.

Thanks for writing, Alexis. You’re so right about Lovato’s October 3, 2005, piece in The Nation: It’s excellent. Lovato zeroed in on how crucial Hispanic recruitment is for the Pentagon:

    The centrality of Latinos to the military enterprise can be seen in statements by Pentagon officials like John McLaurin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Human Resources, who stated that in order to meet recruitment goals, Latino enlistments must grow to 22 percent by the year 2025, when one in four Americans will be Latino. Two factors add to the urgency. One is that while Latinos make up only 13 percent of the active-duty forces, they also make up a fast-growing 16 percent of the 17- to 21-year-old population.

    In the eyes of Pentagon planners, this rapidly growing, relatively poor population is prime recruiting material. Latinos already in the military are concentrated in the low ranks of the Marines and the Army, serving in the high-casualty, high-risk jobs of front-line troops urgently needed in Iraq. The second factor driving the Latinization of the Pentagon’s recruitment strategy is the decrease in African-American and women recruits. Since 2000 the percentage of African-American recruits has dropped from 23.5 percent to less than 14 percent, thanks to the widespread disaffection with the Iraq War — and good organizing — among parents and students in the black community.

    And some preliminary indicators show that the Pentagon’s efforts are paying off. Latino enlistment increased from 10.4 percent of new recruits in 2000 to 13 percent in 2004. According to University of Maryland military sociologist David Segal, however, the jury is still out on whether the Latino enlistment campaign will solve the Defense Department’s recruitment problem in the mid to long term. A drop in Latino numbers could, Segal says, “plunge the military into an even deeper crisis. They will have to learn how to better recruit whites.” He adds that “when anti-war efforts focus on recruitment, they’re denying recruiters major access they desperately need.”

And Lovato did a particularly good job in sussing out the counterrecruitment movement:

    The Bush adventure in Iraq has done much to foster anti-recruitment sentiment and create the “Latino unity” activists have dreamed of for decades. Beyond the anonymous, individualistic rejection of the war measured in recent polls of Latinos, a more vocal and active rejection of war and recruitment is taking hold on the ground, tapping into several currents of Latino political tradition. Vietnam veteran and University of San Diego professor Jorge Mariscal is among those working feverishly to cut Pentagon strings they feel yank young Latinos further and further into imperial entanglements. “We are trying to show the historical continuity of Latino protest against the exploitation of other Latinos in US wars of aggression,” says Mariscal, considered by many to be the dean of Latino counterrecruitment efforts.

As to the amount of money spent on recruiting, it’s enormous, although it’s unclear, as Lovato notes, exactly how much of it is spent to target Hispanics.

Typically, the Bush regime is practicing massive corporate welfare in this case, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into ad agencies’ coffers to come up with the right slogans to sucker poor kids into a military that the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal is using and abusing. Considering the growing inequality of income and wealth in America, better that the money be spent on education and economic opportunity, you’d think.

As to how all these billions are spent, even the federal government’s own auditors are critical. A GAO report from September 2003 (read it at John Pike‘s excellent site) found that the military’s ad budget for recruiting had started soaring in the Clinton era, when it was already ridiculously high:

    DOD’s total advertising funding increased 98 percent in constant dollars from fiscal year 1998 through fiscal year 2003 — from $299 million to $592 million. The advertising cost per enlisted recruit has nearly tripled and is now almost $1,900.

Did all that money do any good? The GAO report was scathing:

    DOD does not have clear program objectives and adequate outcome measures to evaluate the effectiveness of its advertising as part of its overall recruiting effort. Thus, DOD cannot show that its increased advertising efforts have been a key reason for its overall recruiting success. Isolating the impact of advertising on recruiting efforts is inherently difficult because joining the military is a profound life decision. Moreover, DOD has not consistently tracked key information, such as public awareness of military recruiting advertising and the willingness of young adults to join the military.

    Such data could be used to help evaluate the effectiveness of advertising. Without sufficient information on advertising’s effectiveness, DOD cannot determine the return on its advertising funding or make fact-based choices on how its overall recruiting investments should be allocated.

Well, it’s a faith-based administration, creating its own reality, so who needs facts?

Oh, and Alexis, yes, I do my own graphics, using mostly art and photos available on government websites. For yesterday’s post, I used material from the “Marketing to Hispanics” presentation at the February 2005 conference of Pentagon direct-marketing muckety-mucks.

Thanks for the kind words. Make sure any prospective military recruits check out these men from Mars before signing up.

Also regarding “Lost Hermanos,” Armando S. writes:

    I think the spirit of “you can’t make this shit up” would be better translated as:

    “¿quien coños iba a inventar esa mierda?”

    But anyway, yours is a damn good translation.

Thanks for writing, Armando. You’re referring to this comment of mine in yesterday’s item:

    Esta mierda no se puede inventar.

I can’t take credit for the translation I used; that goes to colleague and multilingual wordsmith Jorge Morales.

I understand, Armando, that your alternative translates roughly to this:

    “Who the fuck would make this shit up?”

That sounds like me, and it certainly captures my continuing astonishment at what the Bush regime does. Why I’m astonished I don’t know.