A rare moment of truth – several of them, actually – occurred at last week's meeting of the Toledo Board of Education's Policy Committee when school officials, peace activists and military recruiters assembled to discuss a draft policy to control recruiters in public schools.
Thanks to the federal No Child Left Unrecruited Act, kicking the snake oil salesmen out altogether was not on the table (frankly, I think the vast majority of school board officials around the country are glad "No Child Left Alone" gives them the political cover to tell peace activists "gee, we'd love to ban recruiters altogether, but the federal law, blah blah blah…").
So before the discussion fixated on how many pounds of Pentagon refuse per square foot of cafeteria space would be permitted on alternate Tuesdays, I asked to speak. Board President, Larry Sykes, who prefers to go by his first name, nodded in my direction.
"Larry, I want to explain the depth of my concern and what motivates many of us here. If you've not been in combat or spent time in a military hospital, you can't understand why we're so concerned about recruiters in our schools. I worked as a corpsman in a Navy hospital during Vietnam for over two years. I've seen the results of war. And anybody who thinks it's a good u2018option' for our kids to be recruited into the military needs to spend a few days in a military hospital and see it for themselves."
"But it's not just that young people get killed and wounded in the military. Even if there was no war, or even if a soldier gets assigned to Alaska or Germany, they still suffer the dehumanization of the military in boot camp. How else can we get young people ready to do what war requires?"
Then I pulled out a page of march "cadences," those charming little ditties familiar to any grunt who's been through basic, collected from members of Veterans For Peace around the country. I wanted these policymakers to hear what their students would be exposed to after the recruiters got done sweet-talking them. With an example of the sing-song rhythm used by the drill instructors (DIs), I launched into the following.
I want to go to Viet Nam I want to kill old Charlie Cong. I don't know but I've been told, Eskimo pussy is mighty cold.
See the little girl with the puppy; Lock and load another pointed round. Take the shot and if you're lucky; You'll watch their bodies hit the ground.
A yellow bird with a yellow bill Was sitting on my window sill. I lured him in with a piece of bread And then I smashed his little head.
I went to where the commie kids play; Pulled out my machine gun, began to spray. I went to McDonalds where the commies eat; Pulled out my machete and chopped off their feet.
"And this," I told them, "is what one Army vet, Hal Muskat, wrote about one day at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, where 1,000 young men were doing bayonet training."
"In between the call and response of u2018What's the spirit of bayonet? KILL! KILL! KILL!' DIs would pick up megaphones and scream, u2018See those C-130's landing? They're bringing in bodies of dead Americans killed by gooks. The gooks murdered our soldiers! Do you want to be a body on that plane? I can't hear you! What's the spirit of bayonet?' u2018KILL! KILL! KILL!'"
I stopped for a moment, looked at the board members and let it sink in.
"That's what our youngsters are exposed to in the military. Is that where we want 12 years of hard work with these kids to end up?"
Dismissing the board's draft policy as inadequate, I added that "counter-recruiting" opportunities did not rate very high on my list of policy ideas. "The military gets three billion dollars a year of our tax money just for recruiting! I'll be glad to come to Toledo Public Schools and talk with students any time about the military, but don't think that inviting us to come in on our own time, taking time off from work, printing up our own material – compared to the slick presentations and Humvees in homecoming parades and climbing walls on the football field the recruiters offer – is some kind of equal opportunity. It's not!"
Staff Sgt. Owens, who later stated he was employed by TPS as an athletic coach (!) responded, "That might have been the way the military was during Viet Nam, but things have really changed since then. Drill Instructors can't run over recruits like they did…they can't even swear at them any more."
That claim was so absurd it didn't even need an answer.
After a round of criticism of the board's policy, Owens tried his patronizing best to mollify us with an "I-just-feel-like-people-here-don't-really-understand-what-the-military-is-all-about-these-days" speech, to which I almost heatedly objected until he lobbed a perfect softball right over the heart of the plate.
"Well, I just wish I could take you out and show you…"
"Show us what?! Would that tour include a visit to the V.A. hospital?!" I demanded.
"Oh, come on, we don't address…"
"YOU'RE DAMN RIGHT YOU DON'T TELL KIDS ABOUT THE V.A. HOSPITAL!! RECRUITERS NEVER TALK ABOUT THE V.A. HOSPITALS, DO YOU?"
At this, the principals' union president tried interjecting, "Well, I've seen plenty of athletic recruiters lie to kids, too."
"Maybe…but those lies don't send kids to a burn unit," I spat.
Trying to turn the volume down a notch, Larry said, "Now let's not get…"
"Larry, these guys," I said, pointing to the now-quiet recruiters, "get three BILLION dollars a year of our money to mess with the minds of our youngsters, and I'm not going to sit here quietly while they lie."
Satisfied with a point made for the moment, I watched that portion of the meeting conclude with Larry announcing the draft policy would be given a reading at the next full board meeting November 29.
I can't wait.
November 12, 2005