Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The 'Cannon Fodder' backlash

Young Americans who would've signed on for a few years military service are staying away from recruiting offices by the thousands.

No surprise why. They and their families are having reservations about duty in Iraq and becoming cannon fodder there, plus wondering whether neo-con civilian saber-rattlers in the Pentagon are spoiling for new wars with more "evil" nations.

Word is out that the Pentagon doesn't honor contracts. Military retirements and discharges of personnel eligible to leave service have stopped, with no word of how many more tours regular Army personnel, reserves and National Guardsmen must serve to help avoid manpower shortages.

The Army is desperate. Enlistment goals have fallen far short. Only 18.4 percent of the fiscal year's target of 80,000 recruits were processed last October. That was half of enlistments at the same time the previous year.

The time between signup and basic training has been sharply cut because enlistees are being rushed into training.

Another 800 recruiters are being added to 5,201 already trying to flush new enlistees out of high schools and elsewhere. A new $100 million Pentagon advertising campaign also is being launched to lure recruits. And four-year Army enlistments now fetch a $20,000 signing bonus.

Still lurking in the background as a manpower backup is Selective Service—the draft—to meet Army needs by dragging recruits into uniform.

A new draft would be political suicide for President Bush who aims to topple tyrannies with democracy—forcibly or not.

The United States could emulate Britain with a far-out way of finding recruits: an all-out campaign to recruit gays and lesbians whose patriotic impulse to serve has been stifled by Pentagon policies.

Since a 1999 court ruling overturned the British military's ban on homosexuals, gay men and women have been recruited vigorously, with many serving in Iraq. One of the British Navy's outed gays, Lt. Cmdr. Craig Jones, says with gays now found throughout the military, Britons wonder, "What was all that fuss about?"

Such reasoning won't happen here. Demonizing gays has intensified with the corresponding influence of Christian evangelicals over the White House.

Moreover, the Pentagon wouldn't dare recruit gays when a mere Public Television cartoon character visiting a lesbian couple in their home causes Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to throw a tantrum, and reigning congressional Republicans are obsessed about a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.

Will America see the draft revisited? Or will we cut, run and leave Iraq to the tender mercies of organized terrorists? Stay tuned.

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