My Hopes for the Next 35 Years

by on January 14, 2014 · 3 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Education, From the Soul, San Diego

schoolboard_meeting_erniemccrayBy Ernie McCray

I recently was reminded that the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (COMD) has been around for 35 years; 35 wonderful years I might add. I mean they’ve worked tirelessly in society’s behalf to challenge the military establishment’s overbearing intrusions in our lives.

They, with a host of other peace groups, have kept military issues in our collective consciousness via community forums, in the streets, and through youth outreach, keeping us aware of how much the military strains our economy, how much it magnifies a negative image of our country around the world, how much racism and sexism and homophobia it nurtures throughout its hierarchy.

COMD is a big part of why I continue working with the Education Not Arms Coalition (ENAC) to counter the recruitment of our children.

Without us there would still be rifle training on our campuses sponsored by the JROTC. To us, teenagers firing rifles on their school grounds made a mockery of San Diego City Schools’ Zero-Tolerance of Weapons Policy.

Through our efforts the school district also no longer places students in JROTC without their and their parents’ consent and they’ve ceased telling parents and students that JROTC classes will help them qualify for college because such an assertion is untrue.

Our endeavors have been sorely needed because in 2000 the country’s Defense Secretary, William Cohen, told Congress that JROTC is “one of our best recruiting tools.”

To combat such a boast ENAC helped the school district create a reasonable policy that addressed all recruiters, military and otherwise, at our schools, although it was only the armed forces who had to pull back because they were on our campuses more than some students.

Some of the wording in the policy paints a picture of what had been going on: “Recruiters visiting schools shall not at any time solicit contact information directly from students or require it as a condition to participate in an activity or receive an award or gift.” Recruiters had been gathering information from students before they could get the privilege to sit in a tank or flex their muscles on a pull-up bar like a “real” soldier or show off their dexterity in an interactive war simulation game like “America’s Army.”

And they have awards and gifts aplenty: free tickets to something; an opportunity to meet a celebrity; friendliness to an extravagant degree…
Because of COMD’s role in bringing such tactics to our attention as a nation, they’ve directly helped me live a life filled with hope. For 35 years.

And being an idealist both by nature and by choice I’m still pursuing a better world for our children for the next 35 years, hoping, in general, that schools join with the peace movement and make sure that “snake oil” salesman-type characters don’t come on our school grounds with pitches crafted for enticing our children to become warriors. Some will anyway but the schools shouldn’t contribute to that happening in any way.

With such thoughts in mind I’d like to see our schools, in the next 35 years, simply not allow the military to market itself to our children. I hope they come to realize that war is sold to them enough: at NCAA and professional games, in so many ads on TV, online, in magazines and newspapers, at the mall.

The Pentagon should have no ownership in our schools, especially when they spend so much of their time, when on campus, developing rapport with youngsters who lack self-esteem, who are outcasts in an environment where being popular is everyone’s dream, telling them “You’d sure look snappy in the dress blues of a marine, my friend” or asking them “Wouldn’t you like to make a difference in the world by fighting for your country so that we all might remain free?”

And the military has no shame in pursuing black and Latino youth fervently, selling them notions of having “pride” (in being a killing machine) and “purpose” (putting their lives on the line so some corporate head at Exxon Mobil and Chevron and BP and Shell and Halliburton can win a bonus worth millions of dollars) – while the “Prison-Industrial Complex” sits by waiting for them to fail and end up in jail, harboring neither hopes or dreams.

Well, I would hope that at some time in the next 35 years the school system starts considering the implications entrenched in such sad schemes and comes to comprehend at a deep level just what’s going on in the world that’s relevant to all the children it serves so that it can better nurture them to attend to their world, one that they, literally, must save.

We owe our children opportunities to learn newer ways of being in their world and I hope that we begin that journey with sincerity in year one of the next 35 years. A good start, in the spirit of all that has been done up until now, is for each of us to see that, at least, our school system honors its commitment to limiting the recruitment of students on its campuses by the folks at www.military.com/join-armed-forces.

And it would be so hopeful if, when the district considers how to help our children relate to and understand a rapidly changing world, it honors the works of the likes of COMD by consulting peace activists as to how warrior values can be diminished in our schools, allowing us to devote our energies to helping our children pursue the making of a sensitive caring cooperative society.

I hope our schools know that Jackie DeShannon had it right back in 1965 (and it’s certainly applies right now) when she sang “What the World Needs Now is Love.” It’s so true that “It’s the only thing there’s just too little of.” Our children are capable of learning the ways of love; they just need us to show them the way.

Wanting a more loving world in the next 35 years shouldn’t be too much to hope for.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Thomas January 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm

So what else is ENAC and COMD doing for these kids? Picking up any college tuition? Keeping kids out of gangs, off drugs, reducing unwanted pregnancies? Holding any leadership classes? Teaching kids any advanced skills so they can avoid minimum wage jobs?
As a veteran I can say first hand joining the Navy was the best thing for me after high school. College was not an option period. My life would of been a life of menial minimum wage jobs. Thanks to my Navy training I learned about electronics, computers and other intangible skills such as personal responsibility, team work, leadership, etc. Thanks to what I learned being a Navy man today I have a Master’s Degree and a well paying job.

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avatar Goatskull January 14, 2014 at 2:07 pm

I’m a veteran too and I have no doubt of the positivity of your experience, but like everything else there are two sides. Mine came out Ok so no real complaints either, but working in Navy administration I’ve seen firsthand how so many things can go wrong (bureaucracy, incompetent people in the system, flat outlying on the part of many, etc). Yes there are kids who’ve made a slew of bad decisions and brought on their own failure, but in my 20 year career I have never seen so many veterans unable to find work, homelessness, unable to hold of job even if they are lucky enough to find one. Things are not the same as they once were my friend. Why do you suppose that is? Something has changed from years past. You got into a field that with high demand in the civilian world and it sounds like to DID finally go to college. What about the infantry grunts? What are they going to do once they separate? Maybe the smarter among them have already planned on using their GI bill and go to college once they separate but let’s face it, some are not college material. Are they going to get a job shooting people? Not all fields in the military have viable career options once the member separates. You should consider yourself lucky. There are a lot of employers out there that want nothing to do with military veterans. Perhaps for political reasons or (wrongly at that) the assumption that they automatically have combat stress related PTSD or that even having PTSD means the person won’t properly function at work. It’s stupid on the part of people to think that but unfortunately it is what it is. Yes it IS possible for a person to go through the military and come out of it on top, but that is disproportionality harder to do these days than in years past.

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avatar Ernie McCray January 14, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Well, first of all ENAC came about as a result of kids at Mission Bay High and Lincoln at the time who were complaining that when their counselors couldn’t give them the class that they wanted, say, for third period, they would say something like “I can’t put you in American History but JROTC has some openings” without giving them information as to what JROTC is all about and as you know when it comes to the military it’s not like any other job. It’s a commitment that should be taken seriously. You can’t one day say this job sucks and walk away without severe penalties. Anyway, the kids asked for help from activists in their community like me. And, no, as ENAC we haven’t picked up any college tuitions but several of the kids who we worked with have gone on to college, one is a UCLA graduate who is an amazing community activist and leader. One of our people is a Fulbright Scholar now studying in Ecuador and is a respected community leader. We, have, in our informal make-up, found some interesting internships for some of he kids we’ve worked with. We haven’t prevented anyone from joining gangs although none of the kids are involved in gangs. Hey, I would never malign your service and the benefits you have received for serving your country but it is wrong for schools to act as though being in the military is not something that requires some thinking. You should join us so you can see how hard we have to work just to make the system care enough about students to not let them get caught up by the military who, especially when it comes to black and brown kids, are going all out to get them to sign with all kinds of promises. You’re not for that are you?

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