A network of military-related programs is spreading in hundreds of elementary and middle schools.
By Gary Ghirardi, the communication staff person for the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY).
This piece appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune on September 18, 2021.
Seventy-six years after the U.S. dropped atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I am reminded of my own mindset during the Cuban missile crisis when American President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were threatening a nuclear confrontation. I remember feeling that my life would soon end, clearly embracing a comprehensible existential threat even at the age of 7.
I now understand the weapons of mass destruction deployed against the Japanese in 1945 as the two most horrible “singular event war crimes” ever committed by a state actor.
Coming from and living in the most militarized culture of scale in history, I work to promote non-military careers for youth most susceptible to military recruitment offers.
I do so with much restraint to not alienate nervous school administrators, fearful teachers and clueless students and parents, which means that essential lessons surrounding cultural militarism are avoided or carefully negotiated in language and tone.
We sell military service to our youth in the name of defending freedom and developing leadership and good citizenship traits, but the reality of our wars, and nearly all wars historically, are that they are fought to gain advantage over natural resources needed to accumulate wealth for the “national interests” be that petroleum or, in contemporary times, the vast list of minerals that construct our industrial and now technological world that support our quality of life standards.
Over the last several decades, the Pentagon, conservative forces and corporations have been systematically working to expand their presence in the K-12 learning environment and in public universities.
The combined impact of the military, of conservative think tanks and foundations, and of corporatization of our public educational systems has eroded the basic democratic concept of civilian public education. It is a trend that, if allowed to continue, will weaken the primacy of civilian rule and, ultimately, our country’s commitment to democratic ideals.
The most aggressive outside effort to use the school system to teach an ideology with ominous long-term implications for society comes from the military establishment.
Over the last two decades, with relatively little media coverage or public outcry, the Pentagon’s involvement in schools and students’ lives has grown exponentially.
Now, for example:
Every school day, at least half a million high school students attend Junior ROTC classes to receive instruction from retired officers who are handpicked by the Pentagon to teach its own version of history and civics.
These students are assigned “ranks” and conditioned to believe that military and civilian values are similar, with the implication that unquestioning obedience to authority is therefore a feature of good citizenship. Armed forces academies are being established in some public schools where all students are given a heavy dose of military culture and values; Chicago now has eight of them.
A network of military-related programs is spreading in hundreds of elementary and middle schools. Examples are the Young Marines and Starbase programs, and military programs that sneak into schools under the cloak of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
Our statecraft manipulates public opinion to justify these endless wars, and to secure public financing for the enormous matrix of industries, universities and private organizations that support the global U.S. military footprint in the name of security.
That security is now at a crossroads with our planet facing human affected ecological decline, our civilian society in economic crisis from a global pandemic, and a flailing democracy that really only represents those corporate interests that determine domestic and foreign policy.
By any practical definition, for the majority of us, we now live in a military, industrial and technological plantation, where all our collective surplus goes to feed the continuation of that militarized complex, now extending into the space that surrounds the planet and beyond.
The very apparatuses that construct our security, now including another imminent nuclear arms race with competing economies, are the very machinations that threaten the survival of the planet that gives and sustains our lives.
The essential lesson we should be learning from Hiroshima, even 76 years too late, is that we have become the enemy that we portended to protect ourselves from.
Robert Oppenheimer, who led the Manhattan Project for the development of the atomic bomb, understood the monster he helped create.