Dr. Teresa Whitehurst
June 8, 2005
ROTC and Military Recruiters in Our Schools: Predators, Prey and Defensive Selection
“Defensive selection refers to the survival of traits that prevent competition or predation within a species. It is primarily responsible for the survival of the individual and secondly responsible for the survival of the species through the survival of each individual member. Defensive selection deals with traits, which survive the test of time due to their ability to help an individual organism survive long enough to reproduce.” Derivation of Offensive Selection From Natural Selection as It Relates to Sexual Strategies (Laura R. Thatcher, Rochester Institute of Technology)
“Survive long enough to reproduce”…Having seen Logan’s Run a few too many times, I find myself wondering why kids today aren’t more suspicious of the glorious rewards offered by authorities who have everything to gain from youthful gullibility and willing martyrdom.
After so many soldiers have died and tens of thousands more have been horribly wounded with amputations, brain injuries and such, why are high school kids across America still joining ROTC, pathway to enlistment? I wonder: Were we to take a long-term perspective, might we see that the teens who have the confidence, strength and ability to see through military recruiters’ promises, or whose parents have taught them how to resist those lures, represent the “fittest”, in Darwinian terms—the strongest, in terms of having the know-how and the family support to avoid dangerous situations, who will survive.
This then leads to the sad thought that those kids who don’t have those assets—perhaps they’re too trusting, or have been taught never to question authority, for instance—and whose parents are unable to inoculate them against military recruiters’ seductions, are those less likely to survive and have children of their own some day.
Do some parents pass down a “skepticism gene” of sorts? Or do they merely pass on their learned cynicism? Either way, kids need parents who will strengthen them against the lures of quick cash, positive attention, visions of heroism, and the ready-made “family” that the military offers.
WHERE WILL THE ROTC KIDS BE NEXT YEAR?
At my daughter’s senior awards banquet the other night, a tall gangly red-haired boy wearing an ROTC uniform was called repeatedly to receive military “recruiting achievement” and financial awards. While we applauded his many honors, we couldn’t help noticing that the table to which he returned each time was filled with other ROTC students—but no parents. Perhaps their parents were somewhere else in the room, but after the event, when students and their families were milling around and congratulating one another, I never saw the ROTC students sitting with or talking to anyone who wasn’t a fellow ROTC student or a member of the military. They kept to themselves.
Every student sitting with their parents in the high school cafeteria had been invited because they would be honored at the event. My daughter and her friends received honors, awards and scholarships based on achievements in subjects such as history, French, creative writing, biology, and volunteer work. The ROTC students’ awards were for “performance”, “teamwork”, “strong leadership”…but most of all, for recruiting other teens into the military.
As the redhead walked proudly to the podium, I wondered where his family was. I wondered if the military was for him a new family, a family with fewer problems or deeper pockets than his own. I wondered how he, so thin and awkward-looking, had been convinced by someone (A father figure? A new “best buddy” recruiter who took an interest in him?) that the military was his best shot at the good life.
KIDS BOUND FOR DORM ROOMS…OR CAR BOMBS
The military awards were announced separately from the scholastic awards, and the students were called according to the branch providing the honor or cash: Army, Navy, Marines. Unlike the hooting and hollering that accompanied “civilian” students as they walked blushingly to receive their awards, there was only restrained clapping without boisterous celebrating at the ROTC table. The audience seemed to pick up on the serious demeanor of the ROTC students, and a somber tone accompanied their trips to the podium. The audience was feeling something unmentionable, for this school is situated in pro-Bush—thus pro-war—territory.
That unmentionable feeling was something akin to foreboding: Would the military photos of those teens one day be displayed, like the ones we see on the evening news, next year this time as the announcer reverently intones, “He died for his country in Baghdad after an improvised explosive device hit his Humvee…” This foreboding, which I observed among the college-bound students as well as their parents—mingled with the obligatory respect we’ve learned to show whenever the words “Our Troops” are spoken.
Most students at Awards Night were dreaming of class schedules, dorm rooms and weekend parties, not basic training, car bombs and body armor. They know very well that joining “Our Troops” at this point in history will lead the graduated senior straight into the bloody horror that is occupied Iraq, or into the next pre-emptive war. With Bush and his men at the helm, joining the military has truly become a life-threatening event.
Patriotic-sounding prowar arguments on TV and talk radio continue to charm armchair warriors and the gullible masses (“It must be the truth if it’s on TV”)—the masses, that is, who don’t have military-age youngsters whose lives they value more than “defeating terrorism” or “installing democracy”. But parents of teens have different priorities—we want to keep them happy, healthy, and alive. We want them to survive, to have children and grandchildren, to carry our genes and our love from one generation to another.
THINGS ARE DIFFERENT NOW
During those halcyon years when the Bush family wasn’t in the White House, busily reshaping the United States into an aggressive, warring nation with a military-based economy, parents could, fairly safely and in good conscience, encourage their children to join the military, which was focused on genuine defense. But things are different now. America is in the lucrative business of perpetual war and “rebuilding” the weak countries it annihilates for “defensive” purposes.
Parents who promote or fail to point out the dangers of a military career at this time, when the military has become the tool of pasty prowar politicians who need young Americans for their global game of Risk, endanger their child’s life, which may cut short the family line. Many parents are beginning to realize that the military offers kids an unsafe environment in which to cast aside family and religious moral values such as “Thou shalt not kill”, and learn to tolerate intolerable risks. So recruiters sneak into high schools, working on vulnerable students where their parents can’t see or object.
Parents instinctively protect their young, behaving in ways that will maximize their survival and minimize their risk of injury or death. Thus we must inoculate our children against recruiters’ arguments and help them to reject the cult of military martyrdom…that is, if we want them to bear fruit and multiply.
Jacob Hornberger asks, “What parents would place a higher value on the installation of an Islamic Shi’ite regime in Iraq, even a democratically elected one, than they would on the life or limbs of their own child?” Parents Are Right to Protect their Children from the Military. Such a trade of other men’s goals for one’s own flesh and blood, goes not only against common sense but against nature itself.
What we’re seeing now—savvy or well-to-do kids resisting recruiters’ claims, and impoverished, troubled or gullible teens joining the military—brings to mind a behavioral form of natural selection. Whether or not it meets the technical definition of the term, at the end of the day, susceptible kids who lack effective defenses against recruiters’ appeals will join ROTC in their high schools, and will enlist. Many will be wounded or die an early, unnecessary death. Needless to say, those young people will not have survived long enough to reproduce.
The military is a predator, constantly on the prowl for prey. Recruiters should never be allowed to darken a high school door, but they do it every day, looking for the weakest students—the ones who lack not physical strength, but healthy skepticism and the ability to just say NO. We as parents and other adults must protect vulnerable teens by protesting loudly and visibly against the presence of these sharks in uniform in American schools.
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Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting (2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn’t Have to Choose Just One" as seen on her website.