Enlistees Felt They Had No Other Options
During interviews that became the basis for About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War, I spoke with many young people who enlisted not to fight but because they felt they had virtually no other options. Here are some explaining their decision to join up.
“As most people know, the recruiters start out on you at a very early age in high school, and sometimes they approach you even at sixteen because it’s really hard to tell the ages of the kids in high school. Once they find out that you’re not sixteen yet, or you’re not a junior or senior, they have nothing to do with you. They won’t speak to you the rest of the year.
“But then the next year comes. When they get your rosters from school, they start calling your home; they start setting up their tables again in the lunch room, and continuing to do their spiel on you over and over and over. And as a high school student you’re not really prepared, I guess, to make a life-changing decision—and that’s what the military is. But I made that decision, and sometimes I feel maybe I was a little forced to do it, being as I lived at home with my mom and dad still, because I was in high school, and I never wanted to be a burden on them. So I thought, well, this would be the best way that I could take care of money for school.”
“I grew up in Visalia, California, which is mostly an agricultural district in the San Joaquin Valley. And I never really made a whole lot in the work that I did in that area. So one day in November of 2003, me and my wife were looking for a new job and I saw an Army advertisement and thought I’d go down there and check it out. I went to the Army recruiter and they told me about the good pay that I would get, all the benefits, the medical, dental coverage for me and my family, how I would be able to go to college and the bonuses you get when you sign up. And it sounded like a good deal. I would get job experience; I would learn a new skill, and it would be something that would help me when I became a civilian again in the future. So I decided to enlist.”
“I enlisted in the military immediately following high school. I did very poorly in high school as the result of being a very depressed young man. I graduated high school with a 2.1 GPA. My family was broke and could not afford to support me going to school, or me figuring out how to go to school after high school. So I enlisted in the military as a way to bridge an un-crossable gap that I saw in my life, from post-high school poverty and mediocrity to actually having a shot at going to school and making a career for myself in some type of profession.”
“I first got a call from a recruiter when I was sixteen and I knew my grades weren’t good enough to pay for university, and this was about 1998. They were offering a lot of benefits and it was the National Guard. I thought we would be doing disaster relief, and that sort of thing. So in 1999 in November I joined. I was living in Sioux City, Iowa. I signed up for six years and I went to Basic Training. And that’s pretty much how I became involved with them.”
“I joined the Marines for financial reasons. I wanted to attend college, and I couldn’t. So I thought it would be a good deal if I signed up with one of the services in the armed forces. I happened to just pick the Marines. And I liked being a Marine, but I wouldn’t say that I fit under the category of gung ho.”
“I was called one day at my home by a recruiter. The first thing he asked me was, “Do you have a way to get to college?” And I said, “No, I haven’t really thought about that.” So he said, “Well, stop by our office and we’ll talk about it some time.” So we made an appointment. I stopped by there, and he told me all the other wonderful things that they could do if I just enlisted for a few years. You know: pay for my college, pay for a signing bonus, and basically cover everything. So to me, it sounded like a good deal at the time.
“I thought it would be a good move to jump-start my life. I was just coming out of high school and didn’t know what I wanted to do and didn’t have a way to get to college. And I thought I’d be doing good things, signing up to defend my country and fighting for the right causes. That’s the image I had in my head—I was gonna be a good guy.”
“I don’t know, honestly, why I joined the Army. They had a really good recruiting pitch and I didn’t have anything else to do. And they gave me a job where they said I wouldn’t deploy to Iraq, which I thought was a really great thing.”