Opinion: Like toy soldiers we play

A discussion on the U.S. military’s backward recruiting strategies


Joining the U.S. military is no longer an appealing career choice for the disaffected and non-patriotic Gen Z. Photo courtesy Pixabay

In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt said the United States should “speak softly and carry a big stick,” setting the tone for his foreign policy agenda and the birth of “big stick diplomacy.” Characterized by establishing a strong military and approaching foreign affairs just as European empires did, “big stick diplomacy” has defined American foreign policy ever since.

Historically speaking, the U.S. has been able to do just that by having the resources to engage in multiple wars and conflicts while growing into the global superpower that it is today.

Why is it that the U.S. is globally recognized as a military superpower that one ought not to mess with and yet enlistment is nearing an all-time low?

A reason for this could be that finally the recruitment tactics done by the military are being exposed for what they really are, predatory propaganda.

In recent years, the U.S. military has struggled with meeting their set quota for recruitment. In fact, a study done by the Brookings Institute found that every one of the military branches struggled with recruitment in 2022.

As a result, the different branches of the military have resorted to a myriad of tactics to lure in new recruits, some of which are highly questionable and even coercive in some aspects.

Some examples of this are the creation of their own esports teams, a TikTok e-girl who is also a psychological operations specialist and perhaps worst of all, pestering low-income high school students.

Written behind all of the sweet nothings from recruiters is an indication that there are systemic problems within the U.S. military.

A big appeal to joining the military is the financial assistance. Some of these benefits include an enlistment bonus, special pay on top of a base salary, college tuition assistance and a guaranteed home loan program.

One easy way they reach out to impoverished students is via the U.S. Department of Education’s Section 9528 provision code, which allows military recruiters access to students and the information of the students.

In the American public school system, it has been found that with constant budget cuts, there is a concerning and ever-prevalent issue with low funding for public schools. In fact, public policy research think-tank The Century Foundation reports that public K-12 schools in America are underfunded by almost $150 billion yearly.

Additionally, a significant portion of students is in high need with over 13% of students across all U.S. public school districts being considered impoverished.

With this in mind, military recruiters intentionally table at high school events across the country. Some schools have even gone as far as to incorporate a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, also known as JROTC, program on campus.

In a 2005 report by distinguished professor and senior university scholar Bill Ayers of the University of Illinois, he points out how targeting youth lacking direction has been a cornerstone of military recruitment.

“High school kids are at an age when being a member of an identifiable group with a grand mission and a shared spirit—and never underestimate a distinctive uniform—is of exaggerated importance, something gang recruiters in big cities also note with interest and exploit with skill,” Ayers reported.

In these interactions with military recruiters, students are presented with a sense of purpose and made aware of the monetary compensation they could achieve if they enlist. For a low-income student lacking access to career opportunities, an opportunity like that might seem too good to pass up.