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The War Against JROTC By: Aaron Hanscom
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 16, 2007

Last year’s much-publicized decision by the San Francisco school board to eliminate the Junior Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program from the city’s high schools was not an isolated incident. Not only has Lowell, Massachusetts, also taken steps to abolish JROTC, but educators-turned-activists from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are waging a determined battle to keep the United States military out of schools.

While ostensibly designed to protect students from military recruiters (public enemy number one for the pacifist activists), the anti-JROTC campaign itself is what really harms young people by teaching them to view all U.S. military action as criminal and immoral. Such brainwashing was revealed in a recent Los Angeles Times exposé of Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, California (“Junior ROTC takes a hit in L.A.”), “where students and teachers have launched a crusade against military recruiting and JROTC.”


Until recently, service to one’s country was respected at Roosevelt. In The Times article, 11th grader Jesse Flores says that in the past cadets at the school were often stopped so that other students could admire the medals and ribbons on their uniforms. The school’s “Rough Rider Battalion” used to be one of JROTC’s best, regularly winning citywide competitions. The battalion’s girls’ drill team won the national championship in 1990, when there were 400 cadets in Roosevelt’s program.


This was all before 9/11 changed everything. For LAUSD’s radicals, the terrorist attack against America wasn’t seen as an opportunity to express gratitude to the U.S. military or rally even more support for JROTC. Instead, Arlene Inouye, a speech therapist who once worked at Roosevelt, founded The Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools (CAMS). CAMS is part of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) Human Rights Committee, which made headlines last year when it planned to discuss the launching of a boycott of Israel from union headquarters. CAMS is now active in 50 Los Angeles-area schools, providing teachers with anti-military films, books, pamphlets and speakers. Inouye envisioned “the neighborhood schools as centers of activism where the broader community could participate.” Her dream has become a reality, as the situation at Roosevelt makes clear.


At Roosevelt, CAMS joined ranks with United Students, a group of students and teachers that works to get more Latinos into college. The 100 Roosevelt members of United Students keep track of when military recruiters are coming to campus so they can conduct counter-recruiting ahead of time. The group has presented a program called “Students not Soldiers” in 60 classrooms. Rather than describing the students’ options in an objective way, the program attempts to show the dark side of military life.


But students at Roosevelt don’t need to be stuck in a “Students not Soldiers” presentation in order to be indoctrinated. Inouye has written that at Roosevelt “students from MEChA and other organizations wear handmade T-shirts with sayings like “Books not Bombs” and “Students not Soldiers,” and pass out counter-recruitment fliers and college informational brochures.” Many teachers at Roosevelt wear T-shirts that say “A War Budget Leaves Every Child Behind.” The Times reports that nearly two dozen teachers have shown the anti-war films “Arlington West” and “The Ground Truth” in their classrooms. Social studies teacher Jorge Lopez keeps brochures on his blackboard titled “Don’t Die in a Dead-End Job! Information for Young People Considering the Military.” Anti-military propaganda literally stares Mr. Lopez’s students in the face: When they look up they see on the classroom wall a poster called “Ten Points to Consider Before You Sign a Military Enlistment Agreement.”


History teacher Martha Guerrero’s class is even worse. The 11th grader Flores, a master sergeant and JROTC flag detail commander, told The Times that Guerrero often directs hostile questions to him in class. These questions include, “Jesse, are you going to go to Iraq and die?” and “Why are you wearing a uniform? Aren’t you embarrassed?” Guerrero sees nothing wrong with her bullying. In fact, hostile questioning is a tactic endorsed by the anti-JROTC crusaders. CAMS approves of students asking JROTC teachers questions like, "What is the difference between murder and what our military is doing in Baghdad?" and "Why does the military use chemical weapons in Fallujah and torture people in prison camps?" In the warped minds of the LAUSD radicals, such questions aren’t even open for debate. As Guerrero told Sgt. Otto Harrington, the senior JROTC teacher at Roosevelt, “I just tell them things I know are right or wrong. I stand against war, against JROTC.”


Of course Guerrero, like many avowed pacifists, isn’t against all war. Although she often wears a “War is not the answer” t-shirt in class, she has a flag of Ernesto “Che” Guevara hanging in her classroom. Guerrero evidently misses the hypocrisy of an antiwar activist admiring a man who wanted to start a third world war in the name of Communism.


As a result of the anti-military crusaders’ efforts, there has been a 24 percent drop in JROTC enrollment in the LAUSD since 2003-2004. The number of JROTC cadets at Roosevelt has declined by 43 percent in four years, from 286 to 162. That’s 162 too many for Carlos Castillo, another social studies teacher at the school. “I want to get them completely off campus,” he told The Times.


Activists with JROTC Derangement Syndrome overlook the feelings of the students themselves in their relentless pursuit to ban the military from public schools. Instead, cadets are thought of as cannon fodder, nothing more than dupes of a recruitment effort concentrated in low-income communities. (The proper way to deal with this imbalance is by increasing JROTC programs in wealthier areas.)


The reality of JROTC’s influence on students was seen in San Francisco during a protest before the school board voted to ban the program. More than 50 teenagers held signs reading, “JROTC is my choice” and “JROTC to motivate not discriminate.” Sophomore Daniel Chin said, “Everything JROTC does is encourage youth to give back to their communities.”


Roosevelt’s cadets are just as enthusiastic about JROTC. Sgt. Harrington told The Times that his students often arrive to school at 6:30 a.m. even during vacation. “For some students, the biggest reason to come to school is for JROTC,” said Harrington.

Unfortunately, only 5 percent of Harrington’s cadets would even qualify to enlist. One reason for this low percentage is that so many students couldn’t pass the military aptitude test. This is what should concern Roosevelt’s teachers: the quality of education that their students are receiving. Of course, this would require them to drop their roles as activists. That’s not such a likely scenario at Roosevelt High School.

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Aaron Hanscom is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

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