Need money? Want power? Desire a job with sex appeal? Uncle Sam wants you! More like Uncle Scam, am I right? The sales pitch for military service reads like a poorly written wanted ad in the local paper. Why does the military prey on people’s insecurities? In order to understand the need for such absurd recruitment tactics and techniques, we must first understand the backdrop for military recruitment—the Poverty Draft. To understand the Poverty Draft is to understand the plethora of wrongs with the foreign and domestic policies of the United States.
The naysayers argue that the Poverty Draft does not exist and that every recruit has the choice to join or not to join the military. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Granted, some individuals join the military out of tradition, bravado or any of a host of other superficial excuses. The vast majority, however, join out of financial necessity. I should know. I was one of them. Indeed, financial security and access to a college education through the GI Bill or ROTC are the top reasons why ordinary people "choose" military service.
Who can blame them? The shrinking job market due to "free trade" agreements brokered by special interest groups and policymakers in Washington, D.C. compounds the financial problems of working-class people. Over time, debt accumulates due to constrained or reduced household incomes. These circumstances coerce people into joining the armed forces to alleviate their financial woes.
In short, to have any shot at the American Dream the poor face two choices. They can either borrow their way to prosperity, which most don't have the chance to do since the job market prevents them from being able to pay back the loans, or they can join the military on a gamble that if they complete the contract without becoming a casualty of war then their financial anxieties will just magically disappear. Never mind the fact that the military offers few marketable skills to grunts for employment once they leave the service—more proof that the Pentagon does not care about the problems facing working-class people.
Nevertheless, praise be to the international bankers, the defense contractors, the raw materials industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—the ones that really benefit from perpetual war—for giving us this golden opportunity to serve the business interests of the leisure class under the faux premise of national defense. Right? How dare working-class Americans demand to have a safe, steady job with good pay and benefits, or to have access to higher education without the precondition of military service? What do they think this is? America?
Anyone who entertains this kind of ethos is a sadist. The same individuals who create economic instability in the U.S. through outsourcing are the same individuals who benefit financially from the destruction and regional instability caused by military operations. So where's the nobility in military service? As veterans, we need to get over our inflated egos and elevated sense of self-worth so that this country can finally evolve. This is our duty as patriots and as scholars.
Yet hardly anyone discusses this issue. Most bury their heads in the sand instead of addressing the injustices that exist in this country. To borrow a phrase from William Butler Yeats, "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." A prime example of this is the veterans and service members who refuse to acknowledge the Poverty Draft, or who flat-out attack the very phrase as heresy despite their personal experiences. This kind of willful ignorance, complacency and silent consent is reckless to say the least. I know, I know. Most veterans would not be the "successful" and "productive" citizens they are today without the "benefit" of military service and the GI Bill. Tell that to the returning veterans who are maimed, crippled or mentally unstable. Better yet, tell that to the recipients of a folded flag.