by Katherine Stapp
(IPS) NEW YORK -- A couple of months ago, Kim Rosario found an improbable e-mail message in her Monster.com inbox.
The mother of a U.S. soldier, she travels the country publicly denouncing Washington's policies in Iraq.
"It was from the military, asking if I've ever considered a career in the Navy," Rosario recalled. "I said I might if you send my son back from Iraq!"
Unintended irony aside, she believes the offer is a sign of the Pentagon's growing desperation to counter dwindling recruitment numbers -- especially in the lower-income communities once viewed as fertile ground.
Reflecting the skepticism felt by many people of color toward the Iraq invasion, a study commissioned for the Army last August concluded that "more African-Americans identify having to fight for a cause they don't support as a barrier to military service."
It added that attitudes among youth in general toward the Army had taken a downhill turn.
"In the past, barriers were about inconvenience or preference for another life choice," the study said. "Now they have switched to something quite different: fear of death or injury."
Five years ago African Americans made up 23.5 percent of army recruits. Today, they are less than 14 percent.
Rosario and others are quick to point out that the low numbers are not for a lack of zeal on the part of military recruiters.
"I see them in the subways and the streets, right around the time kids are coming home from school," said Rosario, who has started speaking at local high schools to urge students not to enlist. "They target low-income neighborhoods, and they use really young guys who look like teenagers to hook them in."
Under President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" plan, public high schools must provide military recruiters with contact information for every student or face a cutoff of federal aid.
"Kids tell me that not only do the recruiters call them at home, but they have copies of their grades, and will say, 'So Johnny, you're not doing very well in class. How are you going to get into college?'" Rosario said. "There is an opt-out form, but a lot of parents don't know about it."
If the shortage of new soldiers persists, many worry that the government will be forced to reintroduce a compulsory military draft for the first time since the Vietnam War.
There are already signs that the Selective Service System (SSS), as it is known, is gearing up for business. By Mar. 31, the SSS boards in every state must certify to Washington that they are ready to induct the first young men within 75 days.
"They're putting in place the mechanisms to actually do a draft," said Dustin Langley, a spokesman for the Troops Out Now Coalition representing more than 400 labor, community and human rights groups.
"In the past the SSS has basically been a mailbox. They haven't even prosecuted people for not registering," he said. "In their latest Performance Plan, they talk about increasing efficiency, but it is more than that. The report goes way beyond basic housekeeping."
"They need two sets of boots at home for every one on the ground overseas. If you do the math, it's clear that they can't maintain the current level of the Iraq occupation -- let alone send troops anywhere else -- without a draft. It's impossible."
Community activists note that youth of color are already being deployed at higher rates than whites. Minority groups make up 35 percent of the military, and black servicemen and women alone make up 20 percent of the total. That far outstrips the percentage of African Americans in society, where the figure is about 12 percent.
Nellie Hester Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council, a group that works for affordable housing, describes the current situation as equal to "an economic draft."
"Blacks and Latinos and people of color are dying disproportionately in this war, and they are mostly young people who joined because they saw themselves as having very little future in the U.S. economy," she said.
"In the Harlems throughout the United States, we have seen the direct connection between the cuts in social programs and the new $81 billion that has been appropriated for the war," Bailey said.
"Not to mention the unforgivable and unimaginable permanent damage to the young men and women coming back wounded and psychologically scarred, and the ones who will never return to their communities."
March 18, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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