Counter-Recruiting Efforts Anger Pentagon
The New York Times highlights a growing trend: protests at military recruiting offices, including by veterans.
As those thinking of becoming soldiers arrive on the slushy doorstep of the Army recruiting station [in Duluth, Minnesota], they cannot miss the message posted in bold black letters on the storefront right next door. “Remember the Fallen Heroes,” the sign reads, and then it ticks off numbers – the number of American troops killed in Iraq, the number wounded, the number of days gone by since this war began. The sign, put up by a former soldier, has stirred intense, though always polite, debate in this city along the edge of Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota. In a way, many of the nation’s vast and complicated arguments about war are playing out on a single block here, around a simple piece of wood.
The seven military recruiters here, six of whom have themselves served in Iraq, want the sign taken away. “It’s disheartening,” Staff Sgt. Gary J. Capan, the station’s commander, said. “Everyone knows that people are dying in Iraq, but to walk past this on the way to work every day is too much.” But Scott Cameron, a local man who was wounded in the Vietnam War, says his sign should remain. Mr. Cameron volunteers for a candidate for governor of Minnesota whose campaign opened a storefront office next door to the recruiting station, and he has permission to post the message he describes as “not antiwar, but pro-veteran.” “We’re still taking casualties from Vietnam, years later,” Mr. Cameron said recently. “Is the same thing going to happen again?” Despite the location, he insists that his purpose is not to prevent new recruits from signing up for the Army, but to honor those who made sacrifices. Still, Mr. Cameron also says, “Before they join the military, people better know what they’re getting into.”
Clashes like this are emerging elsewhere, too, even as the Army wrestles with the challenge of recruiting during a war, a struggle that left it 8 percent shy of its goal to bring in 80,000 new active-duty soldiers in the most recent recruiting year.
Some of the conflicts are part of a growing number of planned “counterrecruiting” efforts by antiwar groups, parents and individuals. They have fought to prevent recruiters from getting access to students’ contact information from schools or have set up their own booths near recruiters’ at job fairs to tell potential recruits why they should not sign up. At George Mason University in Virginia, an Air Force veteran was arrested this fall while standing near a recruitment table on campus, wearing a sign that said “recruiters lie.” At Kent State University in Ohio, a former marine climbed a recruiter’s rock-climbing display in October and unfurled a peace banner.
But some of the debates, like the one here, have played out far more quietly, seeming less staged, more ambiguous and more like the natural edges of the country’s debate over war seeping out on their own.
While both forms of speech are protected and even desirable, the first is simply of a different stripe than the second. Cameron’s effort is noble and well-intentioned, whereas the efforts aimed at disrupting the speech of military recruiters are more unseemly.
Cameron is right: People die in wars and there’s a war going on. Reminding people, especially youngsters thinking about joining a volunteer military, of those facts is not at all a bad thing.