The Guardian 6 July, 2005

Recruiting child soldiers

Megan Watson, leader of Mainstream Moms, is so angry at military recruiters for invading schools to sign up unwary youth for combat in Iraq that she and her group launched an online movement, LeaveMyChildAlone.

"They offer these trinkets to lure our children to enlist", Watson said in a phone interview from her home in Bolinas, California. "This is very aggressive, demographic targeting to have conversations with our kids that should not be happening."

All branches of the military are falling short of recruiting goals as parents say, in effect, "Hell no! My kids wonít go!" Watson blasted the aggressive recruiting drive as a backdoor draft conducted by the Pentagon because the American people reject a return to military conscription.

"Iíve heard it called an economic draft", she said. "They know where to find kids who donít think they have a lot of options. They are playing on our childrenís lack of hope about college and their future."

Support for the war has plummeted so quickly that President George W Bush was forced to deliver a "light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel" speech at Fort Bragg, on June 28, pleading for patience and claiming that victory is just around the corner. He relied heavily on the discredited ploy of tying the war to 9/11.

But the news from Iraq contradicted Bushís rosy predictions. At least six US Marines were killed and a dozen more badly wounded when a car packed with explosives rammed into a convoy in Fallujah on June 23. The killed and maimed were women soldiers, bringing to 36 the number of US women who have died in combat, the highest toll of any war in US history! ran a full-page ad in The New York Times on June 28 under a headline, "Itís time to come home." It quotes Republican Senator Chuck Hagel: "Things arenít getting better; theyíre getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality".

Meanwhile, in Istanbul, Turkey, a "Jury of Conscience" from 10 nations heard testimony on the war from Iraqi witnesses and from 53 other nations. Author Arundhati Roy told a news conference at the conclusion that Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair "embarked upon one of the most unjust, immoral and cowardly wars in history", blatantly ignoring humankindís overwhelming opposition. The results have been a total and predictable human disaster, the jury charged.

Watson shares these views. "I do utterly oppose our occupation of Iraq", she said. "We are spending US$4 billion every month on this war. People are seeing the cost not only in dead and wounded but also in their own communities. Libraries forced to close. No National Guard to fight forest fires. They canít find $8.5 billion of the funds we sent to Iraq. And they want to squeeze it out of Medicaid funding for senior citizens. Itís just outrageous!"

Speaking of LeaveMyChild≠, she said, "This project gives people a mainstream way to take action. This is a Ďcommon groundí action. Nothing brings people together more than standing up to defend their children."

Watsonís children are too young to be recruited right now. "But Defence Secretary Rumsfeld says we will be in Iraq for another 12 years", she said. "That would put my children right in the middle of harmís way. I want to stop this war now, not when my children are in middle school. Instead of spending $3 billion for recruiting, why not use that money to provide financial assistance to students so they can go to college?"

The Pentagon recently acknowledged that it has set up a database with vital information on 40 million military-age people and has honed its message to appeal to potential recruits based on this personal data.

"We view this as a family privacy project", Watson said. The web site opens with a headline, "Did you know that the infernal No Child Left Behind Act has a sneaky-Pete section requiring high schools to turn over studentsí information to military recruiters?"

The group urges parents to "opt out of the Pentagonís illegal database right away" by sending a letter to the Defence Department demanding that their child be entered on the "suppression file". The address is provided. Parents are also urged to ask their childrenís schools to remove them from the list. It urges parents to organise a "School Board outing" to demand that administrators implement "opt out" policies on recruiting on school property.

Joining the effort are a dozen peace and justice groups including the Ella Baker Centre, ACORN, Code Pink, Peace Action, American Friends Service Committee, Latinos for Peace and Veterans for Peace.

"The phones are ringing off the hooks and the e-mails are pouring in", Watson said. "Parents all across the country are up in arms. They are outraged by these tactics. They are really happy someone is taking this on."

Peopleís Weekly World

Rob Gowlandís Culture and Life will return next week

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