CULTIVATING LIBERALISM
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Mercenaries or Criminals?
A Military of Rejects

Be all that your criminal record lets you be

We’ve been hearing it to excess every time the question of servicemen’s quality is raised: The American armed forces are more educated than ever, better trained, more professional, better dressed, better fed, and so on. The old standard—that it’s full of drop-outs and ex-cons—no longer applies. And the Pentagon has no problem recruiting new soldiers despite the prospect of ending up as IED roadkill. Except that, as with most things involving the military, it’s almost all a lie. In the last three years, “more than 125,000 service members with criminal histories have joined the military,” the Times reports. Individuals with serious criminal backgrounds need a “moral waiver to join,” and those waivers have grown about 65 percent since 2003. Add to that the roughly 12,000 medical waivers a year granted those who otherwise could not (should not?) serve due to asthma, high blood pressure, attention deficit disorder (how would you like to be at the receiving end of that sentry’s duty?), out of annual recruiting totaling less than 70,000; add to that recruiting involving, as they may in the Army now that desperation has spiked up the age of eligibility, men as old as 42, add to that the lifting of restrictions on weight, bad eyesight and other formerly limiting factors, and we end up with a military replete with fat, old, unhealthy, criminal elements who shouldn’t be near a gun, let alone responsible for the welfare and safety of others. The military isn’t having trouble recruiting because it has reduced its standards to a tragi-comedy of allowances and exceptions, and because, in the Army’s case, it’s offering up to $40,000 signing bonuses to new recruits, and retention bonuses of $50,000 to $150,000 to long-serving soldiers it doesn’t want to let go (or who haven’t been killed yet). We have people formerly used to prison life now running around with heavy weaponry in their hands, patrolling those Baghdad neighborhoods in the latest “push” to end all pushes, bashing heads along the way and having the time of their violent life with no consequence short of the possible medal and appellation of hero. How, with a military so shoddily recruited, is the Pentagon expecting not to have atrocities on its hands? The question, however, is patently unfair in one respect in current circumstances. It assumes that atrocities are what one soldier, what one platoon, may illegally do to civilians or prisoners of war—a Haditha-type massacre, say, or an Iraqi My Lai. The assumption is convenient for the military and the government that leads it. But it’s hypocritical at best, a conspiracy of sorts, at worst. For in the given war in Iraq what, in the end, is the real atrocity? Haditha is a symptom of it. Abu Ghraib is a symptom of it. But the atrocity is the war itself, it is that so-called “Operation Iraqi Freedom” that has demolished a society and called it “democracy,” that continues to lock it down in circumstances identical to a prison’s while calling it “safety,” that imposes totalitarian means on an entire populace while calling it the necessity of security. The atrocity is the war and what it has engendered—a military that mirrors it.

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