Building Cannons of Self-Destruction

How the Military-Industrial Complex Continues to Exploit America’s Poor

It is more than a cliché to state that the rich make war while the poor fight them. As a character in the French movie Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement) stated, “The poor make the cannons of their own self destruction, but the rich sell them.” History shows that America’s poor were disproportionately drafted into the military.

Four days after the reading of the Declaration of Independence from the town hall balcony in Boston, townsmen were ordered to show up for a military draft. “The rich, it turned out, could avoid the draft by paying for substitutes; the poor had to serve.” During the Civil War the Conscription Act of 1863 “provided that the rich could avoid military service: they could pay $300 or buy a substitute.” The Confederacy also had a similar conscription law which “provided that the rich could avoid service.”1

During the invasion and occupation of the Philippine Islands from 1898-1902, African-Americans had mixed reactions. They had enlisted in the military for the same reasons their descendants have enlisted: to try to get ahead in a racist and class conscious society. “There was the simple need to get ahead in a society where opportunities for success were denied the black man, and the military life gave such possibilities.”

The wealthy and privileged during World War I were allowed to avoid military service, and “African-Americans, immigrants, and men with lower levels of education,” according to a 2004 report on the demographics of military personnel, were over-represented. The study also points out that during World War II and the Korean War the very richest and poorest of the population were under-represented. The Vietnam War allowed the richest in society to avoid serving overseas by joining the National Guard, or “seeking educational, occupational, or medical deferments.”2

The Congress abolished the draft in 1972, thus creating a volunteer military. The 2004 report cites two studies done on military enlistment since the draft ended. The first study cited looked at the high school class of 1972, who were the first to enter the military after the draft ended, and found that “those who joined the military were of lower socioeconomic status and more likely to be black than those who did not serve.” The second cited study looked at high school seniors from the classes of 1984 to 1991, and found that the parents’ amount of education “was negatively related to joining the armed forces within two years of high school graduation.”2

The 2004 report takes aim at the idea that enlistment in the military functions as a social-level. According to the report, from the founding of the U.S. “the various systems of selective conscription used to staff the military…have privileged the wealthy and politically powerful.”2 A 2007 Associated Press analysis found that 75 percent of U.S. troops killed in Iraq came from small towns where per capita income is below the national average, and over half from towns where the percentage of people living in poverty is above the national average.3

The Army’s inner-city marketing programs

The Army’s GED Plus Enlistment Program allows applicants to enlist while completing a high school equivalency course. It is “specially designed for disadvantaged youths who have neither a high school diploma, nor a GED.” The program is available “only in certain areas” and those certain areas are “mostly inter-city areas where most disadvantaged youths live.”4

The national graduation rate in 1998 for white students was 78 percent. It was 56 percent for African-Americans, and 54 percent for Latinos.5 Only one in seven Latinos will graduate from California high schools, according to the California Department of Education. Only thirteen percent earn a bachelor’s degree, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.6 The drop out rate for white students in California in 2005 was eight percent.7 Poverty nationwide in 2005 was higher among minorities than among whites, according to a government census report.8

Designed by the Latino Sports Marketing in San Diego, the Hispanic H2 Tour consisted of a Hummer called a “mobile branded platform,” with multiple video screens. The U.S. Army website’s stated goal of the Hispanic H2 Tour was to “build confidence, trust, and preference of the Army within the Hispanic community.” The Hispanic H2 Tour visited Latino neighborhoods across the country. “Latino Sports Marketing claims the tour has “surpassed its initial goal of qualified leads [potential recruits] by 57%.”9

The U.S. Army’s “Strategic Partnership Plan for 2002-2007” document states that “the Hispanic population is the fastest growing demographic in the United States and is projected to become 25% of the U.S. population by the year 2025… Priority areas [for recruitment] are designated primarily as the cross section of weak labor opportunities and college-age population as determined by both [the] general and Hispanic population.”

Former Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera, presently the president of the University of New Mexico, is the architect of targeting young Latinos for military recruitment. Caldera said, “Hispanics have a natural inclination for military service,” and the Army can “provide the best education in the world.” “Hispanics represent approximately 22% of our recruiting market,” a Pentagon spokesperson told the San Antonio newspaper Express-News in 2002. Only three percent of Marine Corps officers are Latinos. In all branches of the military 80 percent of officers are white.9

“Takin’ it to the Streets Tour’ was meant to increase African-American recruits. Army recruiters toured America in a yellow hummer. According to Army reporter Amey Adkins, Takin’ it to the Streets Tour uses “ideas of hip-hop to discriminately target low-income areas — primarily comprised of minorities — to recruit for the armed forces. The Vital Marketing Group helped the U.S. Army develop the tour.”10

Junior ROTC programs in America’s inner cities

The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) is “designed to teach high school students the value of citizenship, leadership, service to the community, personal responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment, while instilling in them self-esteem, teamwork, and self-discipline,” according to the U.S. Army JROTC website.11 The JROTC is “one of the best recruiting services that we could have,” former Defense Secretary General William Cohen once said.

The Middle School Cadet Corps is an after school program for children ages 11-14 which meets two to three times per week. “Programs differ from school to school, but MSCC students generally learn first-aid, civics, citizenship, and character development. They also learn military history and take field trips to local military bases. Once a week, students wear their uniforms to school for inspections.”12

Both the Middle School Cadet Corps and JROTC programs are funded by the Defense Department. During the last decade the amount of Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) programs doubled from 1,500 to around 3,000. Money spent on the JROTC tripled from 1992’s $76 million to the approximately $210 million spent in 2003.13

JROTC programs and cadets doubled nationwide after General Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, paid a visit to South Central Los Angeles after the 1992 riots, and said the solution to the problems faced by inner-city children was the discipline and structure the U.S. military offered.14 Colin Powell wrote in his 1995 autobiography, My American Journey: “Yes, I’ll admit, the armed forces might get a youngster more inclined to enlist as a result of Junior ROTC. But society got a far greater payoff. Inner-city kids, many from broken homes, found stability and role models in Junior ROTC.”15

Both Los Angeles and Chicago have large JROTC programs. Los Angeles is the second most populous city in the U.S. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is considered by critics to be the “the “most militarized school district in California.”15 LAUSD has 29 JROTC programs “situated in heavily populated year-round schools.”16 The LAUSD pays for over half of the $4 million JROTC/Cadet Corp budget. LAUSD is 71 percent Latin, 12.1 percent African-American, and only 9.4 percent white.

In Chicago, 91 percent of the students are non-white and 85 percent are poor, and 44 out of 93 high schools have a JROTC program. Chicago has ten military academies: three operate independently, and the other seven are part of the public school system. According to the Chicago JROTC website, Chicago has the “largest JROTC program in the country in number of cadets and total programs.”17 Only five schools in the more affluent areas of Chicago have JROTC programs.12 Nine-three percent of students in Chicago’s JROTC programs are African-American or Latino.18

Many of the young people in JROTC programs will go to enlist in the military. A 1995 study paid by the American Friends Service Committee titled, “Making Soldiers in the Public Schools” found that 45 percent of cadets who complete a JROTC program enlist in a military branch. “A 14-year-old is no match for the Department of Defense in sorting out the military’s claims,” stated study co-author Catherine Lutz.18

  1. Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. 1999. []
  2. Segal, David R. and Wechsler, Mady. “America’s Military Population,” Population Bulletin. December 2004, vol. 59, no. 4, 2004. [] [] []
  3. Mariscal, Jorge. “The American Soldier: Looking for a life; Feelings of honor and duty,” Chicago Sun-Times. July 8, 2007. []
  4. []
  5. Greene, Jay P. “High School Graduation Rates in the United States.” April 2002. []
  6. Hendricks, Tyche. “College Seems Out of Reach to most Latinos,” San Francisco Chronicle. June 24, 2007. []
  7. High School Dropouts, by Race/Ethnicity, (African American/Black): 1995-2005.” []
  8. Poverty in the US.” []
  9. Mariscal, Jorge. “No Where Else to Go: Latino Youth and the Poverty Draft,” Political Affairs. November 2004. [] []
  10. Adkins, Amey. “The Few. The Proud, the Targeted,” The Cavalier Daily. October 21, 2003. []
  11. United States Army Junior ROTC []
  12. Wedekind, Jennifer. “The Children’s Crusade,” In These Times Magazine. June 2005. [] []
  13. Schaeffer-Duffy, Claire. National Catholic Reporter. March 28, 2003. []
  14. Goodman, David. “Recruiting the Class of 2005,” Mother Jones. January/February 2002. []
  15. Stodghill, Ron. “Class Warfare,” Times. February 24, 2002. [] []
  16. Inouye, Arlene. “Organizing to Demilitarize Schools in the Greater Los Angeles Area,” Draft Notices. March/April 2004. []
  17. CPS Military Schools and ROTC. []
  18. Karp, Sarah. “Students recruited in wartime – Keeping Current,” The Chicago Reporter. March 2003. 13 Sep. 2007. [] []
Gina-Marie Cheeseman is a writer. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Gina-Marie, or visit Gina-Marie's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. johnnie said on September 26th, 2007 at 4:09pm #

    anyone who wanted to could continue their education and get a student deferment, 2-s i think. it was most certainly not reserved for “the richest” of society. ( in reference to the viet-nam era.)

  2. Scott Kohlhaas said on October 10th, 2007 at 11:08pm #

    A draft could never be fair. To begin with, you can’t draft everyone, so the burden is placed on the young…

    Would you be willing to spread the word about It’s a site dedicated to shattering the myths surrounding the selective slavery system and building mass civil disobedience to stop the draft before it starts!

    Our banner on a website, printing and posting the anti-draft flyer or just telling friends would help.


    Scott Kohlhaas

    PS. When it comes to conscription, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!