2020 has kicked off to an interesting start, to say the least. Not even a complete week within the new year had passed before the threat of World War III crept into the minds of Americans and broke the internet.
On January 3 a United States drone strike killed Qasem Suleimani, Iran’s security and intelligence commander. The high-profile casualty sparked concern about a new war and the internet ran with it. “World War III” began to trend on social media and memes about what people would do if they were drafted flooded Twitter and Instagram.
It’s important to note that Congress would have to reinstate the draft and as of now, there is no push to do so. So that is one concern we can put to rest. However, the growing tension between Iran and the U.S. is swelling and the president’s tweets about nuclear weapons put many Americans on edge.
But what we can discuss is the military’s preference in gaining recruitment from members of underserved communities.
The military targets Black and lower-economic communities to enlist by offering special merits some groups may find more attractive than others. This is not to say recruiters only seek Black soldiers or that programs like the JROTC and Future Soldiers Program do not exist in public and private high schools across the country.
Recruiters, however, present the “benefits” of enlisting as a choice and incentives when in reality, they are in fact the necessity of many poverty-stricken 18-year-olds who can’t afford their next meal, let alone to pay for college.
49 percent of young people said that a reason they joined the army was to pay for their education, according to a 2017 Department of Defense poll. Although we’d like to believe access to education is something offered to all citizens, it still comes with a hefty price tag that annually increases. It’s still treated like a privilege although American rhetoric markets it as a basic right.
What some may view as an option, some may see as indispensable. Paying your way through college can be financially draining, so a free ride is more than helpful. It’s a secure leg up for your future that the military prices at the cost of your life. So let’s say there is an actual draft. Keep in mind, those who can afford to pursue higher education would be allowed to forgo enlistment. This is where the issue of class and race comes into play. Those who can afford to shell out a high tuition cost per semester won’t have to put their lives at stake. No matter how you slice it, part of the enticement of signing up stems from the financial security and quality of life the military promises. In the same way, affluent teens can forgo the military, they can do without these benefits as well.
The military also offers healthcare and a large signing cash bonus. Living in poverty sometimes restricts your access to medical coverage and having money on hand is more than attractive. However, if you come from a well off family, things like comprehensive medical care and a couple of thousand dollars won’t appeal to you or fill you with excitement because they’re a basic part of your life. And so the trade-off is a bit skewed.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 184,000 people must be recruited each year into the armed forces to replenish the slew of retiring soldiers.
Joining the military also appeals to immigrants. It can help service members and their families gain naturalization. To become a citizen, at the time of filing your application, you have to have remained a permanent resident in the U.S. for at least five years. Serving in the military, however, can help accelerate that process for both you and your family. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, one year of service may allow you to apply for naturalization.
The point is, military recruiters tend to sell a dream only part of the country yearns for. By incentivizing basic needs like citizenship or healthcare they make it harder for the people who tend to lack these things, to say no. And so they offer the illusion of choice and although they do present many tools to Americans like tradition, honor, a way of life, they also provide a way out.
In America, sometimes even our patriotism takes roots in institutional agendas where we take advantage of the circumstances of others to fuel someone else’s mission. This puts our communities, Black people, at the forefront of wars we didn’t wage, in a country that wages its own against Black bodies.