On Military Recruiting - The Write Stuff
"It's hard, at 18, to distill your core values into a few words or sentences. I've talked to military recruiters, no doubt decent people who are only trying to fill their quotas, who were so aggressive that I could barely find a gap in their bombastic monologues in which to say, 'No thank you, I'm a pacifist,' and hang up the phone." Alicia Puglionesi, 2005 Haverford High School graduate, entering the University of Pennsylvania this fall
Writing--and reading interesting, evocative, provocative writing--is, to me anyway, a calling, a holy grail. I'm a good writer (she said modestly). I damn well better be, my Ivy League education cost a fortune. And I've spent more than half a lifetime gaining the kind of knowledge and skill it takes to put together an elegant turn of phrase, a clever sentence, the visceral whack of just the right words parsed just the right way.
I've been feeling justifiably proud that my output here--with a few time-out, I can't think exceptions--has conveyed ideas, emotions, attitudes, frustrations, ideologies, dreams and experiences with a certain erudition, lucidity, wit, even charm.
Then I read a Commentary in the Philadelphia Inquirer submitted by an 18-year-old young woman describing her take on the current military recruiting practices in high schools. And I was frankly blown away. Alicia Puglionesi writes with a polished, personal, literate style and sophistication that conveys maturity and wisdom--and talent--far beyond her tender years.
I was going to write a piece on the outrage of Backdoor Pentagon Recruiting, but Alicia said it all, and then some. Here is her commentary in its entirety. I bet you'll agree that despite sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the flowers of our future are blooming in public schools ... and should be cherished and nurtured for the growth they bring to all of us.
Posted on Mon, Jul. 11, 2005
No thank you; please butt out
By Alicia Puglionesi
The Air Force called the other day. That didn't surprise me because the Marines, Navy and National Guard also have been dialing my number quite a bit lately.
I am, of course, very flattered by all this attention. Yet I can't help but wonder what I did to deserve it. Maybe they saw me pumping those 5-pound dumbbells at the gym. Or perhaps my winning personality convinced them that I'm exactly what this country needs to pull its armed forces out of their current funk. One more possibility is that an act of Congress forced my public high school to disclose all of its students' names and phone numbers so that we could become fodder for the massive recruiting machine that consumes almost $4 billion of this country's defense budget. (My parents signed a form so that my information would not be divulged, but guess what?)
Sadly, my conversation with an Air Force sergeant named Dave led me to believe that the last option was correct. He didn't know about my workout routine and didn't seem very interested in my personality. In fact, he couldn't even pronounce my name right.
The truth is that my personal qualities are probably not compatible with those necessary for a successful military career; I'm afraid of guns, missiles, and anything that explodes.
When informed of this, Sgt. Dave paused for a moment, then proceeded to describe the critical role of Air Force support staff such as kitchen and maintenance workers. Apparently, no one told him that I hate cooking and cleaning.
To avoid such awkward calls in the future, the Pentagon has embarked on a massive effort to compile private information about every high school and college student in the country, beginning at age 16. The database will consist of prosaic things such as birth dates, Social Security numbers, and e-mail addresses, but it will also contain each student's ethnicity, grade-point average, and courses of study.
Next time Sgt. Dave calls, he can tailor his pitch to appeal to a white high school graduate who had a 3.92 grade-point average and who now is an English major in college.
That is what truly disturbs me about this Orwellian undertaking - it can easily be used to profile people based on race, education and class. Don't get me wrong, I fully understand the need for the United States to maintain a strong defensive military force, and I count myself among its passive beneficiaries. But I could never go to war. To fight competently, you have to believe that the enemy on the other side of the battlefield deserves to die. I simply cannot do that.
I'm not concerned that, when the Army calls me up, I might be won over against my better judgment. What worries me is that under the No Child Left Behind Act - and particularly with the Pentagon's creepy new database - teenagers who are not certain of their beliefs could be pressured to join the military without truly understanding what they're getting into.
It's hard, at 18, to distill your core values into a few words or sentences. I've talked to military recruiters, no doubt decent people who are only trying to fill their quotas, who were so aggressive that I could barely find a gap in their bombastic monologues in which to say, "No thank you, I'm a pacifist," and hang up the phone.
These are not friendly recruiting calls; they are more like psychological warfare. Recruiters are trained to manipulate and persuade young people. They often target minorities, underachievers and the underprivileged.
The new Pentagon database will further promote this predatory behavior, allowing recruiters to zero in on kids with the "right" profile.
In a nation served by an all-volunteer military, the armed forces have a right to make themselves visible through recruiting stations and advertising. I think, however, that the choice to enlist must be a conscious one, arrived at through personal deliberation, rather than through coercion.
The military can extend its hand in an open public forum, but it should not be able to reach into your home and your private life so that Sgt. Dave can call you and say, "I see your grades have been slipping. You probably won't get that scholarship you were hoping for. Have you ever considered the Air Force?"
Bravo! If this is a representative of our future, we're in good hands.
Philadelphia Inquirer 07/11/2005 No thank you; please butt out