In our culture the line between adulthood and childhood is defined as the age of 18. Whether this line is arbitrary and whether an 18-year-old is capable of making adult decisions are complex issues beyond the scope of these few words, but most reasonable people agree that 17-year-olds are children and should not be called upon to make "adult" life and death decisions.
In our society any adult who solicits a child for, say, sexual activity, is rightfully deemed a criminal.
Since 2001, however, as part of the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" program of public education, any public high school in America that does not allow military recruiters on campus and does not give out the phone numbers of its students to those recruiters is in danger of losing federal funding. So ... in our modern society it's neither OK nor legal to solicit children for sex, but it is legal and acceptable to solicit them for training in the military arts of killing and being killed for their country.
It's called patriotism, adding a dark and bizarre twist to the phrase "No Child Left Behind."
Congress passed this law, and, accordingly, all across the land military recruiters have set up shop in the libraries, cafeterias, hallways and entranceways of public high schools. Unless a parent or guardian happens to know about Section 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act, and opts out by turning in a signed form stating that the child's private information is not to be given out to the military, every school system in America is required to turn over the private information of every student to the military. School is out for the 2004-2005 year, but it will crank up again in a few months and it is not likely that the U.S. military need for cannon fodder in Iraq and Afghanistan will let up before then. Most parents don't know about Section 9528, but even if they do it doesn't keep military recruiters out of the schools.
Military recruiters have a hard job, and it is not surprising that in recent months they have been unable to meet their projected recruiting goals. By the time this reaches print more than 1,700 American soldiers will have been killed in Iraq. Many thousands more will have been wounded, crippled, maimed and destroyed as human beings. These soldiers need replacing, and the military recruiters are starting in the high schools to fill their missing slots.
What do you think of that?
The members of Congress obviously think it's OK for the military to leave no child behind, and, since Congress was elected by the American populace, at least in theory most Americans think it's OK.
I do not.
Neither does Rachel Rogers, a New York state single mother of four who objected when she learned that National Guard recruiters were using baseballs to teach high school students how to throw hand grenades. Rogers has been insisting, according to the New York Times, "... that administrators limit recruiters' access to children."
Nor does a Southern California former truck driver, Orlando Terrazas, who has been trying to hang posters at his son's high school countering the military's propaganda since last September when he learned the recruiters were promising students jobs as musicians in the military.
And Amy Hagopian has been against giving military recruiters the same access to children as college recruiters since the beginning of No Child Left Behind. The co-chairwoman of the Parent-Teacher-Student Association of Garfield High School in Seattle, Hagopian has spent time away from her job to stand beside military recruiters at Garfield High with pictures of injured American soldiers from Iraq. She said, "We want to show the military that they are not welcome by the PTSA in this building. We hope other PTSA's will follow."
Rogers, Terrazas and Hagopian are three of a growing number of parents who object to the military soliciting children to kill and die in the name of patriotism. In my view, they are exercising their patriotic duty and rights as parents and citizens. Good for them.
The last time the U.S. mired itself in an unpopular, unnecessary, unjustifiable, unwinnable war there was a draft to provide cannon fodder.
This time there is The No Child Left Behind.
I am reminded of the Donovan song "The Universal Soldier," written the last time the U.S. mired itself in an unpopular, unnecessary, unjustifiable, unwinnable war:
"He's five foot-two, and he's six feet-four,
He fights with missiles and with spears.
He's all of thirty-one, and he's only seventeen,
Been a soldier for a thousand years.
He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can't you see,
This is not the way we put the end to war."