Hatred of the Military: No Peace for Students
First Sgt. Otto Harrington — tall, muscular, his head cleanshaven — has soldiered through battles in Bosnia, Kuwait and Somalia. He has patrolled Korea’s DMZ.This propaganda clearly has had an effect on students.
None of that prepared him, though, for the attacks he has faced as senior teacher in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, where students and teachers have launched a crusade against military recruiting and JROTC.
Harrington blames their campaign for cutting the number of cadets at Roosevelt by 43% in four years, from 286 to 162. Some teachers urge students not to sign up for JROTC, he said, and have worked to end involuntarily placement in the program.
“They seem to think I’m some evil, horrible soldier down here trying to sacrifice our kids to Iraq,” Harrington said in describing the increasing tensions on the Eastside campus.
The program’s critics see JROTC as a Trojan horse targeting students in low-income minority schools with high dropout rates. “We are a juicy target,” said Roosevelt social studies teacher Jorge Lopez.
At Roosevelt and other schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the anti-JROTC movement has helped drive a 24% drop in enrollment since 2003-04, Harrington and his critics said. The decline runs counter to enrollment nationwide, which grew 8% to 486,594 cadets between 2001 and 2006, fueled by a 57% jump in federal funding, according to the Department of Defense.
Roosevelt 11th-grader Jesse Flores said that as recently as his freshman year, students didn’t think less of kids for being in JROTC; some even stopped cadets to admire ribbons and medals pinned to their uniforms. “Now,” Jesse said, “everyone says JROTC is bad.”Of course, one of the best ways for young people from poor families to go to college is with the financial aid that the military offers. But Lopez, obviously, has a rather different agenda.
Many teachers are openly hostile toward JROTC, Jesse said, and some wear T-shirts that say “A War Budget Leaves Every Child Behind.”
Arlene Inouye, a speech therapist formerly at Roosevelt, said she thinks anti-military advocacy by teachers is a counterbalance to a strong military presence on campus. She said she once counted 14 recruiters approaching lunchtime crowds of students in Roosevelt’s quad, handing out “Join the Army” book covers and promising adventure, travel and money for college.
In 2003, concerned that students weren’t hearing the other side, she founded the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools. The group has spread to 50 Los Angeles-area schools, providing member teachers with literature, speakers, films and books.
Nearly two dozen teachers have also shown the films “Arlington West,” put out by Veterans for Peace, and “The Ground Truth,” a documentary in which veterans condemn the war in Iraq and their treatment by the military on their return home.
Lopez, the social studies teacher, keeps a stack of glossy brochures propped on his chalkboard titled “Don’t Die in a Dead-End Job! Information for Young People Considering the Military” that show a soldier saluting flag-draped coffins. Prominent on his wall is a poster called “Ten Points to Consider Before You Sign a Military Enlistment Agreement.”
“I want to see more Latinos go to college,” Lopez said.
The students in the program, unlike the leftist activists, like the program.
“For some students, the biggest reason to come to school is for JROTC,” said Harrington, noting that his students often come in at 6:30 a.m. even when they are on vacation.But unfortunately, she’s not tolerant of students who disagree with her.
Daniel Segura, a soft-spoken 16-year-old with a mop of brown hair and an easy smile, is one of them. He said his grades spiraled after his father died of diabetes two years ago. “I felt there was no point,” he said.
He started ditching class to go to the Santa Monica Pier and failed half his classes. Urged by a counselor to enroll in JROTC, he was at first resistant and defiant during class time. Harrington told him not to attend the program, then agreed to give him another chance if he followed the rules.
Slowly, Harrington gave Daniel more responsibility, putting him on the flag and armed drill teams and on JROTC’s courtesy patrol, which helps translate for parents at teacher conferences.
Hoping to be named to the JROTC staff and earn more responsibility, Daniel said, he plans to pass all his classes this semester and is getting a B in English.
Roosevelt students tell him he is being brainwashed to go into the Army, but he said he thinks they don’t understand what the program really is. It has taught him leadership and discipline, he said, and he has thrived on its boundaries and rules.
In a bewildering school with nearly 5,000 students, JROTC has been a beacon, a place to belong.
“JROTC made me try again,” he said. Several JROTC cadets describe feeling as if they are under hostile fire from anti-military teachers.
Last year, Jesse, the 11th-grader, a master sergeant and JROTC flag detail commander, was the only student wearing a JROTC uniform in Martha Guerrero’s first-period world history class. He said that Guerrero, who often wears a “War is not the answer” T-shirt and has a flag of the revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara hanging in her classroom, sometimes asked him pointed questions in the middle of class.
“Jesse, are you going to go to Iraq and die?” she asked. “Why are you wearing a uniform? Aren’t you embarrassed?” Jesse said he felt singled out by the question and told his JROTC instructor about it.
Angered by what he saw as bullying of his student, he confronted Guerrero, who apologized to Jesse. She said she wasn’t harassing the student. “I just tell them things I know are right or wrong. I stand against war, against JROTC.”
The irony here is huge. These are the leftists who think that teenagers can make their own decisions about having sex, and that teenage girls are quite mature enough to decide whether to have an abortion, but they don’t trust students to make up their own minds about the military.