The Barbaric Lowering of Recruitment Standards



Notoriously, the Iraq war has required far more troops than the administration expected. Back when the war planners were selling the operation as a “cakewalk,” part of the unrealistic plan was that only 100,000 or so troops would be needed to pacify and bring freedom to the country—when, weeks before Shock and Awe, Army General Eric K. Shinsek put the number at “several hundred thousand,” the Pentagon claimed he “misspoke” and Paul Wolfowitz reasserted the naive, lower figure.

Furthermore, this war has gone on considerably longer than many hawks expected, or claimed to expect. America has been occupying Iraq for more than five years since “Mission Accomplished,” and during this time nearly 4,000 members of the US Armed Forces have died trying to wrap up this cakewalk.

Overall, the government has sent 1.6 million troops into combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. All this strain for enough fresh bodies, exacerbated by the waning willingness among those who have historically been willing to enlist and the worst failures in reaching projected recruitment targets since the 1970s, has forced the military to steadily lower its recruitment standards and otherwise cut corners in order to sustain operations abroad. They’ve resorted to severe uses of stop-loss orders, which constitute a form of extended involuntary indentured servitude for the military. They’ve lessened up on the academic prerequisites—which helped for a while. They’ve begun signing up illegal aliens, offering them citizenship if they join and even going so low as to mislead them with false promises of citizenship for their families. They’ve waived rules against recruiting felons for tens of thousands of convicts, and more every year, including some implicated in sexual assault and terrorist threats. They’ve used No Child Left Behind to blackmail recalcitrant high schools into handing over the names of their students to recruitment officials. (Even their standards and training for recruiting recruiters have been questionable, seeing as how these people have been caught encouraging teenagers to fake high-school diplomas to qualify for enlistment, and, in a startling number of cases, have been accused of raping would-be enlistees: in one year alone, 80 recruiters were disciplined for sexual misconduct, including the raping of teenage girls “on recruiting office couches.” Other victims were “assaulted in government cars and groped en route to entrance exams.”) Such depredations on the part of recruiters, as well as just their more mundane but nevertheless disturbing, federally-imposed presence, have understandably caused controversies in both higher and lower education, and in some communities.

With this unpopular war dragging with no end in sight, with an increasingly invasive recruitment apparatus, with a strain on troops that has translated into all sorts of misconduct and poor morale generally, it is no surprise they have to keep lowering their standards, stooping to ever lower lows, to maintain a military hold on Iraq. And yet I am still surprised by this: Now they’re deploying 43,000 troops who, for medical reasons, have been deemed “undeployable” and unfit for combat. The empire has reached another depth of barbarism. Perhaps soon getting wounded will no longer be a way out of the line of fire.

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