The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

What's your life worth?

Dec 20, 2004

The Army National Guard admits that since September it has not been able to meet its recruitment targets. To counter this, in mid-December the Pentagon announced that it is tripling bonuses from 5,000 dollars to 15,000 dollars to current members who sign up for another six-year stint. It is also increasing bonuses to first time recruits from 6,000 to 10,000 dollars. To rope in new recruits, it is also increasing the number of recruiters from 2,700 to 4,100.

This is one more indication of what is going on inside the entire U.S. military in reaction to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: a whole lot of soldiers, in the regular army as well as the National Guard and Reserves, are "voting with their feet" by refusing to re-enlist. At the same time, as the news from those wars becomes ever more grim, the U.S. military is having more and more difficulty recruiting new soldiers to take the departing soldiers' places.

No wonder, given the job that these soldiers are being ordered to do: to fight the wars and carry out the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, these soldiers are not in Iraq and Afghanistan by their own choice. They have been ordered to do the dirty work by the Bushes and Rumsfelds, and behind them, the big U.S. corporations that are looking to suck the vast wealth out of these regions for their own profit.

But the soldiers are the visible face of this policy in these occupied countries. They are the ones who patrol the cities and towns, where almost all the people hate and despise them, where there is an active resistance, and where anyone and everyone around them is a potential enemy, including even children and old people. It is the soldiers who impose the U.S. occupation, often through the worst violence, devastating these countries with bombs and shells, invading peoples' homes, imprisoning and killing the people, including women and children. Under these conditions, it doesn't make much difference if sometimes these soldiers also try to befriend people, help with the little reconstruction work, pass out candy to children. This doesn't change the basic nature of the occupation and war and their bloody tasks.

The price these soldiers pay is high, over 1,300 killed so far. Those who survive the war don't come back the same. Tens of thousands have already been seriously wounded, their heads, faces, backs, arms and legs torn apart. And, according to most studies, one out of three of all returning soldiers will continue to suffer mentally from the trauma of the war, condemned to be tortured by memories of what they lived through perhaps for the rest of their lives.

The fact that the military is having an increasingly difficult time in getting soldiers to do this job means that all the flag waving and patriotic propaganda glorifying the military and war no longer have the same draw. Especially neither does the military's promise of cold hard cash, training and an education, even at a time when decent prospects are so scarce for young people from the working class.

It shows that the number of people who don't want to be turned into cannon fodder for a war fought for profit is increasing. And that is a healthy sign.