Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Army of hate?

There have been on-going reports about neo-Nazi recruitment of Iraqi War vets, and members of various right-wing hate groups swelling the ranks of the U.S. military, including the security bulletin issued by the Dept. of Homeland Security. That one caused the right-wing noise machine to go batshit.

Now Matt Kennard at Salon comes out with this (via Orcinus):

Since the launch of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military has struggled to recruit and reenlist troops. As the conflicts have dragged on, the military has loosened regulations, issuing "moral waivers" in many cases, allowing even those with criminal records to join up. Veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder have been ordered back to the Middle East for second and third tours of duty.

The lax regulations have also opened the military's doors to neo-Nazis, white supremacists and gang members — with drastic consequences. Some neo-Nazis have been charged with crimes inside the military, and others have been linked to recruitment efforts for the white right. A recent Department of Homeland Security report, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," stated: "The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned, or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today." Many white supremacists join the Army to secure
training for, as they see it, a future domestic race war. Others claim to be shooting Iraqis not to pursue the military's strategic goals but because killing "hajjis" is their duty as white militants.

Soldiers' associations with extremist groups, and their racist actions, contravene a host of military statutes instituted in the past three decades. But during the "war on terror," U.S. armed forces have turned a blind eye on their own regulations. A 2005 Department of Defense report states, "Effectively, the military has a 'don't
ask, don't tell' policy pertaining to extremism. If individuals can perform satisfactorily, without making their extremist opinions overt … they are likely to be able to complete their contracts."

I'm not doubting any of these reports. In fact, I was of the opinion that because we are currently engaged in conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan that military recruiters would be experiencing difficulty with meeting their recruitment quotas.

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to have a long conversation with a recruiter for the National Guard. I asked him that question, and I was surprised by his answer.

He told me the exact opposite of my assumption--he could be increasingly selective in his choices of candidates. Given the economic downturn, and his branch's generous tuition program for college, he was getting a better class of recruit than ever before. He told me that the "typical" recuit from the past--the kid that underachieved, tending to get poor grades, and not have much in the manner of successful outcomes up to that point--was getting bypassed by the best and the brightest, seeing the Guard as a positive option for them.

So, who to believe? I didn't think the National Guard recruiter was trying to blow smoke up my ass, but maybe he was doing exactly that, as an attempt to counter the reports coming out about our service organizations. Or, maybe his experience as a Guard recruiter was entirely different than the other branches.

Either way, it is somewhat troubling if our military has become a training ground for militias and other hate groups. It is also problematic if the only options for college grads with increasing college debt is to do a tour, or two in a battle zone.

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