JROTC is not a choice

Pub date August 19, 2008
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION To hear proponents of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) talk, it’s a matter of personal choice for 14- and 15-year-olds to sign up for the Pentagon’s military recruitment program, which is being phased out of San Francisco’s public schools June 2009. The San Francisco Board of Education also recently voted to remove physical education credit from the program this school year. It had to: the retired military officers who teach the course don’t meet the educational standards of state law, and the course doesn’t meet state physical education standards.

Supporters of JROTC are taking the issue to the November ballot. Their initiative, albeit non-binding, would put San Franciscans on record as in support of the military program.

As Democratic clubs and other political organizations begin their endorsement process, progressives need to understand the importance of defeating this initiative. It’s not a harmless measure. If it passes, the new school board can use it to reinstate JROTC. If it loses, it’s less likely the board will change its course. Thankfully, last week the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) voted overwhelmingly not to endorse the measure.

JROTC is not summer camp or a harmless after-school activity. It is one more way the military finds bodies for its illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Denisha Williams can tell you that. The African American high school senior in Philadelphia told the City Paper that she left JROTC and opted out of the military having her contact info. It hasn’t made any difference: “I have received phone calls, e-mail, three letters and a 15-minute videotape. I even received a phone call from a female recruiter asking if I was still interested in the Navy. I told her I wasn’t and hung up. A week later I received another letter and the tape.”

Capt. Daniel R. Gager, commander of the US Army recruiting station in south Philadelphia, said he and other recruiters were ordered by the US Recruiting Command to put more time and energy into recruiting high school upperclassmen such as Williams.

In San Francisco, at least 15 percent of the cadets have been placed in the program without their consent. It seems the military will do whatever it takes to get in front of our youngsters in our public schools.

Pressuring kids to join the military is wrong. International law says kids under 18 should not be recruited at all, and the ACLU agrees (see www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/gen). Recruiters in every high school and at every mall in this country break that law every day.

Nationally about 40 percent of JROTC kids end up in the military. In San Francisco, proponents claim only 2 percent go on to military careers. They are wrong. According to the school district, no tracking of JROTC students is done.

Please work to defeat Proposition V, the pro-JROTC initiative.

Mark Sanchez and Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Mark Sanchez is President of the San Francisco Board of Education and an eighth grade science teacher. Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical queer activist and writer whose regular columns appear at beyondchron.org.