Murphy's Law: The Anti-Recruiting Movement


March 13, 2007: Since the war in Iraq began in 2003, an anti-recruiting movement has developed in the United States. A branch of the anti-Iraq-war movement, the anti-recruiting effort has gotten a lot of publicity. But it has had no impact on actual recruiting. That's because most of the anti-recruiting effort is directed at schools (generally upscale) and students that are not the usual sources of new recruits. The media coverage of the anti-recruiting efforts does not dwell on this aspect much. Nor does the fact that the military has made its recruiting numbers, and is expanding the size of the armed forces, attract much media attention.

There's no conspiracy afoot here, it's just the impact of competition in the media. There's an iron rule in journalism, and it is that bad news sells, and good news doesn't. Actually, the job the recruiters do is fascinating, and the news there isn't all good. The major problem recruiters face is not the war, but a booming economy, and so many potential recruits who lack the physical or educational requirements to make an effective soldier. As a result, the army and marines have started programs to try and fix those problems, for potential recruits who would otherwise be turned down. The physical problems are easier to fix. Many potential recruits are too fat, and too weak to make in the military. Fixing that is a matter of exercise and eating less. The educational shortcomings are a much bigger problem. Many kids are coming out of school, even with high school degrees, nearly illiterate. While you can get someone into physical shape in a few months, it takes longer to repair over a decade of poor education.

The robust economy, and low unemployment rate, gives potential recruits economic alternatives. Since the people the military wants, are the same ones civilian employers want, there is a lot of competition here. In this, the war often helps. Many young people are actually attracted to the prospect of combat. For many, it's the patriotic aspect, but for others it's the ancient attraction to, well, adventure. Combat today is a lot less lethal than it was a generation ago. You can still get killed or maimed, but at a low enough rate that combat is not the complete turnoff it once was, to so many potential recruits.

The anti-recruiting movement is unfazed by all this. As long as they can play the media, they are unconcerned about being unable to stifle the recruiters.


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