Some adults are hired as recruiters by the military to go to high schools, hang out with children, eat lunch and play sports with them and establish friendships. This is because the relationships they foster make it easier for them to convince the kids to enter armed combat.
It is very dangerous to join any branch of the military. Certain risks, like the chance of dying in combat, are obvious, while others, like widespread homophobia and sexual harassment among fellow recruits and officers, are not.
Recently, a tweet from the U.S. Army went viral after receiving an influx of respondents explaining the devastating impact military service has had on their physical and mental health and that of their families.
By law, military recruiters are given access to any high school campuses that allow other organizations to recruit on-campus, as well as contact information of all students aged 17 or older. A school attempting to bar military recruiters from reaching students on school grounds would violate the law and risk loss of funding.
The Alestle recently published a staff editorial stating that Juul should be held accountable for the harm caused by their messages targeted at young audiences. If this is true for a tobacco company, this should be true for the military as well.
While high school students are constantly reminded of the risks associated with tobacco, many of them have never been told the ways joining the military may adversely affect their health. Exposure to accurate portrayals of the military is not guaranteed, but exposure to military propaganda is inevitable.
Data from Pew Research Center suggests an overwhelming majority of Americans trust the military. For a majority of these high school students, as well as the parents by which most of them have had their environments controlled and views heavily shaped, information released by the military comes from a trusted source.
However, because the military wants people to continue volunteering, it is not within recruiters’ interests to provide each student with comprehensive information about the military experience. They benefit more from focusing on the positives of a steady job that helps pay for college among other perks, portraying the obvious drawbacks as sacrifices made in service of a greater good and ignoring the internal systemic problems. This motive is enough reason to question whether a recruiter is presenting information accurately.
The military spends hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising each year to curate their image. This gives them the resources to make their case seem very appealing, whether or not it actually is. Adolescents are especially impressionable and prone to making uninformed decisions.
While students may not be able to compete with the Department of Defense in terms of visibility, we can all help paint a more realistic and grounded portrayal of the military experience in the public consciousness, inform the young people around us of how enlisting may affect them and propose alternative solutions to the issues they would attempt to solve by joining a branch of the military.
Those who join will be affected by that decision, for better or worse, for the rest of their lives; it is not a decision we can allow anyone we care about to make lightly or without comprehension.