The penetration of the military into the nation’s bastions of learning had been gathering pace for decades. In 1996, in the middle of Bill Clinton’s tenure, the Solomon Amendment, named for its sponsor, US Representative Gerald B. H. Solomon, permitted the denial of federal funding to any educational institution which refused to allow military recruiters to go about their business on campus. This increased level of aggressive recruitment was facilitated and supported by one of George W. Bush’s flagship pieces of legislation. In 2001 the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law with great fanfare and bipartisan support. The act was supposed to enforce a more standardized testing regimen, but deep into its thousands of pages was a directive that would prove to be of huge help to recruiters looking to pester high school students to sign up. Though it drew no comment from the media at the time, which probably didn’t have time to read the whole thing, the Act stipulated: “each local educational agency receiving assistance under this Act shall provide, on a request made by military recruiters or an institution of higher education, access to secondary school students names, addresses, and telephone listings.” In other words, high schools would now be obliged to hand over the phone numbers of all their pupils (no matter how young) to military recruiters, so a process of grooming them for service in the US military could get underway. It represented the manipulation of US youth at its worst. Before the age of eighteen, young people were not trusted to vote, to make legal or medical decisions, among others, but now they were ready to be solicited for the job of putting their life on the line.
Investigative journalist David Goodman did the most serious research into the effects of this policy. He found that the Pentagon had gathered the names of 34 million young people, what they called “the largest repository of 16-25-year-million young people, in something they called the JAMRS database, or the Joint Advertising Market Research & Studies program run by the DOD.
The result was a full-scale militarization of high schools throughout America. A concerned BBC report profiled Sergeant Larry Arnold, a career soldier “with a charming line of fast-paced chatter” who “circulates through the town like a salesman.” The victims of his sales routine were the youth of Kokomo, Indiana—population 46,000—many of whom receive “cold calls” from the sergeant in order to get them to enlist. “He uses lists of student that federal law requires the schools to provide to military recruiters,” the article notes, without referencing the offending No Child Left Behind Act. Therefore “it is not uncommon for students to get calls from every branch of the service.” Sgt. Arnold said that army recruiters will make 300 calls a day, adding, “Pressure is always there. It’s the army, it’s your mission, and they drill that into you every day.”
In the process, they were breaking the law. A report, Soldiers of Misfortune, by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that the US government was actually in contravention of an international protocol prohibiting the recruitment of children into military service when they are under eighteen years old. It also noted that the US military disproportionately targets poor and minority public school students, but its findings were dutifully ignored after being submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Maybe that was because the US is one of only two countries (the other is Somalia) to have never ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Even so, the Senate puts the age minimum for recruitment at seventeen, but the report found that recruiters “regularly target” younger children, “heavily recruiting on high school campuses, in school lunchrooms, and in classes.”