Saturday, November 10, 2007

Stop Military Recruiting in Canadian Schools

All I can say is, the recruiters had better keep their filthy, lying, militaristic, patriarchal, colonial propaganda away from my kid:

ACTION ALERT: Stop military recruiting in our schools

November 2, 2007

The Canadian Armed Forces are actively recruiting through their forty-two recruitment centres across the country, their website, at various major public events (such as exhibitions, sports games, etc.), and even at high schools, colleges and universities.

In fact, they have even conducted "outreach" at elementary schools. As reported by on June 15, 2007, "The Canadian Forces have been touring schools in the St. John's area this week, as part of an outreach program." The story reports that a Grade 3 "class at Holy Cross Elementary school (in Holyrood, Newfoundland) were given a first-hand show-and-tell session with a tank and related gear."

Andrew Cash wrote in the May 25, 2006 issue of Toronto's NOW magazine, "In both Toronto's public and Catholic boards, the (military co-op program) pays kids to join the Reserves, gives them four high school credits and trains them in, among other soldiering arts, machine gun shooting and grenade throwing...The crisp military brochures most guidance offices make available to students talk up the career aspects of the military while conveniently ignoring the elephant in the room: the fact that a soldier is trained to kill and die on command. Do we really want a merging of public education and military objectives when it appears we have no national consensus on our new U.S.-inspired war aims."

There has been resistance to recruitment outreach to students:

* The London Free Press reported on October 19, 2007, "One Grade 12 student irked by (a) military event at South secondary school has received permission from administrators to hold a simultaneous anti-war event in another part of the school...He said that earlier this week it looked as if his counter-recruitment event -- he asked the school for permission last week -- wouldn't be allowed..."

* As reported by London Indymedia on February 24, 2007, "the Canadian military has been drastically increasing their presence at Fanshawe (College in London, Ontario)...All year, recruiters have been setting up booths and tables inside our college, convincing us to join the military instead of pursuing our own dreams for which we are in college in the first place." A group of six students who attended a February 13 career fair there to hand out information "as a counterweight to the military recruiter's lies" were told to leave, while one student was arrested.

* And as reported by the student newspaper The Manitoban Online in 2006, "While some Canadian universities remain unconcerned about the militarization of student space, others are more critical. Students at UBC are currently organizing to resist the presence of recruiters. Concordia University in Montreal has a policy banning military recruitment on campus entirely, and the Link, Concordia’s independent student newspaper, includes the Canadian Forces on its advertising boycott list."

If you go to the Canadian Armed Forces recruitment website, you will see that they emphasize "subsidized education" as well as "competitive wages...medical and dental care..." and their pension plan. It also features a "publicity video" and an "Online Chat with a Recruiter" feature.

In turn, ACT for the Earth has launched "Operation Objection (which) is a Canada-wide counter-recruitment campaign to reclaim our educational institutions for peace and the interests of students from those who would co-opt them for war."

If you go to their website, you will find a downloadable war free schools organizing kit, counter-recruitment charts and postcards, and reports and resources. In their 50-page 'War Free Schools: The Rise of the Counter-Recruitment Movement' you will find on page 40 a listing of films that may be helpful for film screenings and discussions. Their 26-page 'War Free Schools: A Handbook for Counter-Recruitment in Canada' on pages 8 to 11 includes a helpful 'Students for Peace: A Guide for Organizing a Counter-Recruitment Campaign' section.


Take action by writing the Minister of Defence Peter MacKay at and your provincial or territorial minister of education and demand that military recruiting be banned from Canada's educational institutions. Our schools should be a military-free zone.

Minister MacKay,

I join with the Council of Canadians in calling on you to stop the Canadian Armed Forces from recruitment and outreach activities in Canada's elementary and high schools, universities and colleges. Our children should be learning about peacebuilding, the avoidance of violent conflict, global justice and true security, and not be subject to glamourized and misleading images of the military through publicity videos and brochures. I await your response.

[your name]

For this one, I think letters are only a place to start if we want to achieve the stated demands.

(From an email from GK.)


rabbit said...

So far as colleges and universities are concerned, I think those students are adult enough to make up their own minds about joining the military.

They don't need - or want - your protection.

Scott said...

No, I certainly don't see university and college students as needing protection in that sense. But one thing they need is relief from the economic pressures of increasingly ridiculous tuition and fees and the prospect of massive debt, which might push some in directions they would otherwise not go. They also need much greater power to determine the nature of the institutions where they are learning, much greater freedom to organize for institutions free of militarism and the oppressive practices and values that brings with it, and whatever support those of us outside the academy can give them for doing such organizing. They need to be treated with respect as adults who are capable of appreciating that the presence of the military on campuses is a serious political question, not disrespected with the fairytale that it is a career option just like any other.

daev said...

A couple of years ago, Canadian military recruiters showed up at my university's equivalent of "career day," rifles and all. Unfortunately, I wasn't in school at the time (took a year off to work), but I followed the debate. It was frightening, but unsurprising I guess, how normally critical and progressive (if not radical) students/professors transformed into stalwart defenders of the military's presence on campus. The Canadian Forces mythos of military-as-benevolent-peacekeeper and defender-of-Afghan-freedom was on full display, as well as your fairytale of the military as just another career option (and an excellent one, at that!). If the CF ever decides to recruit on my campus again, be assured that yours truly will make use of the Operation Objection materials. Thanks for passing along the info!

Scott said...

Hi daev!

Yikes, that's disturbing...not surprising, I guess, given how deeply rooted all those myths of Canadian benevolence are even among so-called progressives in all areas of society. Glad to hear you'll find the Operation Objection materials of use, if it comes to that!

Raging Ranter said...

All I can say is, the recruiters had better keep their filthy, lying, militaristic, patriarchal, colonial propaganda away from my kid.

You object to the Canadian military recruiting kids? So you're in favour of cancelling the entire cadets program then? Kids can join the cadets from the age of 12 and up. They can chose the Air, Army, and Sea Cadets. And they learn to march, to follow orders, and they wear little olive green uniforms and combat boots, just like the real military does. Here's their website:

When I was in grade 6 (circa 1981 or so) the Royal Canadian Air Cadets came to our school and gave us their pitch. I tried out but didn't like the discipline, though I admit to occasional bouts of jealousy when I'd hear the ones who stuck with it talking about their weekends. While I was at home watching TV, they were skydiving, glider training, attending survival wilderness camps, engaging in war games, learning marksmanship, touring military bases, learning Canadian war history, meeting with vets, attending live training exercises, and all kinds of other cool stuff. They also had the option of going directly into basic training when they graduated from high school. When I think of it now, I missed out on one hell of an experience.

Never can I remember anything surrounding cadet recruitment to be in the least bit political. Nor do I ever remember a parent holding their child back from joining for political reasons. The cadets were from families of all political stripes. In fact I'm quite certain that if some parent would have come up with the paranoid, histrionic attack on recruiting that you have, you'd have been written off as the village idiot. How the hell are they supposed to convince kids to join at age 12 if they can't start the recruitment drive in elementary schools? Kids start turning 12 in grade six don't they?

Scott said...

Hi Raging Ranter.

I have to admit, it is hard for me to tell whether at least some parts of your comment are meant as satire or not. I'll assume not.

Yes, the opening line of my post is kind of melodramatic, and I certainly wouldn't approach organizing around this issue in that tone -- it was more giving voice to the knot I get in my gut when I think of adult human beings deliberately doing things to make war seem fun and cool to my four year-old. It makes me literally feel ill.

But stepping back and being a bit more measured...

I think the root of some of the incredulity that we each feel at the other's take on this issue is based on having very, very different understandings of the canadian military as an institution and its role in the world. I wouldn't dream of putting words into your mouth, but I would suspect you would see it as a useful, positive, perhaps even noble institution. I, on the other hand, feel quite differently. Which is not meant to deny that lots of people participate in it for reasons that are noble (which are genuinely held but, I would assert, ill-informed) or a result of life leaving them few other options. We all have to make choices from where we are at, and all of us end up complicit in unpleasant things in one way or another. But the institution as a whole is one that I have little positive regard for.

Why? Well, the purpose of the military of any state is to enact the interests -- often via violence -- of that state. And though many people equate the interests expressed through a state with those of the entire nation over whose territory the state governs, I do not. Though it benefits from a lot of mildly favourable comparisons to the state immediately to the south, nonetheless the Canadian state functions by and large in the interests of elites domestically and internationally, and with the exception of a few hard-won gains to redistribute bits and pieces of benefit, it mostly works to preserve the unequal relations of power that organize Canadian society.

Exactly what that means for the Canadian military in various times and places has varied. In some eras it has been a role in strikebreaking. In all eras it has included the role of the military as at least a background threat and often enough an active agent in keeping indigenous people down and maintaining colonial relations in northern North America. In all eras the military has also been a very patriarchal institution -- very much oriented around hierarchy, around a particular sort of oppressive masculinity, and around a kind of organized violence (that is, war) that always impacts women most severely. In short, militaries enact and embody relations of domination.

Internationally, though Canada's relative unimportance in the world means our military does little of the heavy lifting of global elites, it still plays a role. I believe it secured an airport or something like that during the U.S.-backed coup against democratically elected president of Haiti Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. There was informal participation by individual members of the Canadian military on loan to the U.S. in the recolonization of Iraq. And of course there is the disgraceful, open participation in the recolonization of Afghanistan. And that is just the recent stuff. (And I recognize you probably have quite different analyses of each of these conflicts.)

Some might point to ostensibly good things the Canadian military has done. Certainly it sometimes does very useful things in terms of disaster relief, but those tasks hardly require an armed force -- if we wanted a non-military organization with those capabilities, in a country as rich as Canada we could easily have one. Other people point to peace keeping. I would respond by noting that the proportion of the military budget devoted to that task has always been minimal, even though it was used to create a much larger public relations hype. And more seriously, it is possible to make a good analysis of how even peace keeping, as it has occurred in the second half of the 20th century, remains quite a colonial venture.

It is interesting that you characterize all of that stuff about the cadets as being not at all political. Perhaps you are understanding "political" in terms of parties. I mean it a bit more generally than that. What better way to get youth to buy into a hierarchical, oppressive institution than to make it seem innocent and fun? What better way to have a captive audience that provides nationalist, uncritical, propagandistic "Canadian war history"? Those are extremely political things, in my understanding of the word.

And though I don't question your memories of cadets, they are very partial. There was organizing against cadets in Toronto as far back as either the '50s or the '30s, I forget which. I once interviewed a man who went to high school in the '30s who did not participate in cadets because of his father's politics around war and peace, and to hear Frank tell it that was not a hugely unusual thing. I also know plenty of people who would have political objections to their kids participating in cadets (though whether or not they would actually forbid them to join if they expressed an interest would depend on their parenting philosophies, rather than any affection for military organizations). These people would ground their politics in places as diverse as some kinds of feminism, anarchism, diverse sorts of pacifism, and indigenous anti-colonial politics. Of course, there are also many on the left (broadly understood) who would have no objection to cadets.

Anyway. I have a feeling we are not going to come to some kind of consensus on this issue, but I look forward to your response.

Oh...and I really, really have to wonder how you can write "How the hell are they supposed to convince kids to join at age 12 if they can't start the recruitment drive in elementary schools?" and not see recruiting and cadets as intensely political things.

Raging Ranter said...

Scott, thank you for your thorough response. I was expecting (and admittedly probably trying to provoke) a more irrational response. However, I appreciate your effort in answering my question.

You're right that we will likely not agree on much. I'll even admit that at one time, say between the ages of 12 and 18, I kind of saw the military, at least the US military, the same way. I was convinced that the US Marines in particular were completely brainwashed thugs. I don't see the military like that any more, though I understand that they are trained to kill and to follow orders without question.

However, do you not think it is possible that because you tend to view things first and foremost through the lens of feminism, or of some fiercely anti-colonial instinct, or perhaps one of intense pacifism, that you might be somewhat blinded to our legitimate needs for a military?

In a Utopian sense, I think most of us would love to live in a world where the military was not necessary. Same goes for a world without police, or even laws for that matter. But I can't imagine a world like that even being possible.

I read quite a bit of history about WWII, and the lead-up to that conflict, and I'm constantly reminded of how the demilitarization of France, Britain, Belgium, Holland, et. al. led to the worst conflict this world has ever seen.

Basically, if we are going to exist in this world, we are going to have enemies. We can't control what other countries do. And if we have enemies, we need to defend ourselves and our interests, and sometimes defend others from those enemies. While the military won't always be used for the most noble of purposes, it is still needed. Which means it needs to recruit. I don't see any sort of idealism as being a legitimate way around it.

Scott said...

Hi again, RR!

First, though I know what you're getting at, I want to emphasize that I don't agree with your 12 to 18 year-old self in seeing all people in the military as "completely brainwashed thugs" -- my take on things is more complicated than that, as I tried to make clear in this post and in a more detailed way in an earlier post called "Support Our Troops"?.

So it seems to me you are making two points: The first is that we have a practical need for a military, and I am ignoring that. The second is a more general assertion about radical visions of social change -- that they can easily be idealistic, impractical, and not responsive to reality.

So I would argue that I am a pretty practical guy, and that having a radical vision for social change isn't necessarily inconsistent with that. Though I abhor violence, I am not an absolute pacifist. I agree that human beings will always be imperfect, messy, conflictual creatures. I agree that there will always be situations in which collective interests of different groups of human beings will diverge and come into conflict. But I think the reasons for specific conflicts and the way they translate into real world actions depend a lot on how our world is socially organized, which is something that can and does change. Practical changes to social organization can make conflicts less likely and less deadly, and more oriented towards broad human interest rather than elite interest. Which is a much different assertion than a kind of abstract desire for utopia based on urgently held values but no analysis of the material world.

In evaluating how to respond to the military as an institution, I start by thinking about what, in practical terms, are or might be real threats to me, to people I know and care about, and to people I don't know but whose interests are important to me. On that very practical basis, I don't come up with anything terribly immediate in which I could see the Canadian military as a possible ally. But I see a lot of situations in which the Canadian military, or more broadly the institutional relations into which the Canadian military is integrated, are on the other side. This is not an expression of desire for a utopia that pretends conflict between human collectives does not occur; it is a recognition that such conflicts define our local, national, and global societies and orienting myself with respect to those conflicts. I think the role that the Canadian military (and the larger institutions into which it is integrated) plays is actually one that prevents the kinds of social changes that would make violent conflict less likely.

I actually think it is more idealistic -- in the sense of being based in ideas rather than material reality -- to see conflict between states as the only or the most important forms of collective conflict in our world today. You say "we need to defend ourselves and our interests" -- well, who is "we"? What are "our" interests? The implicit answer that "we" is an undifferentiated nation represented unproblematically by a state defending "our" interests from dangerous Others is not one that I think is a very accurate representation of reality.

And your world war II example is actually a good one, though perhaps not in the way you mean: I think focusing in on demilitarization as the cause of World War II erases a lot of important history around the active complicity of western states and, perhaps more importantly, western capital in the rise of fascism in europe. I think a thorough examination of that history leads to a much broader agenda for social change than just dismissing peaceniks as foolish utopians.