The Human-Capital Equation of the U.S. Occupation of Iraq

Infoshop News
Aug 12 2004

The Human-Capital Equation of the U.S. Occupation of Iraq
by Stephen “Flint” Arthur

“Endless development of armed force. Every day we hear of fresh
inventions for the more effectual destruction of our fellow-men,
fresh expenditure, fresh loans, fresh taxation. Clamorous patriotism,
reckless jingoism; the stirring up of international jealousy have
become the most lucrative line in politics and journalism. Childhood
itself has not been spared; schoolboys are swept into the ranks, to
be trained up in hatred… drilled in blind obedience to the
government of the moment, whatever the colour of its flag, and when
they come to the years of manhood to be laden like pack-horses with
cartridges, provisions and the rest of it; to have a rifle thrust
into their hands and be taught to charge at the bugle call and
slaughter one another right and left like wild beasts, without asking
themselves why or for what purpose. Whether they have before them
starvelings… or their own brothers roused to revolt by famine-the
bugle sounds, the killing must commence.” — Peter Kropotkin – War!

When a state is determined to pursue war, and all forms of indirect
symbolic protest actions have failed to sway politicians to halt
their imperialist aggression, the only remaining option is direct
action by the working class. One option is a general strike by
workers that can effect the production and transpiration of military
capital, that is the materials essential for the war machine. The
other is to deprive the military of the labor it needs to fight the
war. The slogan from the Vietnam War protests deliberately speaks to
this, “What if they had a war, and no one came?” The U.S. military is
overwhelmingly recruited from the working class, and convincing our
class as a whole to refuse to work for this blood money may be our
best chance for both ending the war in Iraq and limiting the
imperialist ambitions of the U.S. for future decades.

Military recruitment is a big business. The U.S. federal government
spends $2.4 billion dollars a year to recruit soldiers for what is
the most capital intensive army in the world. It costs the U.S.
Department of Defense about $11,600 to recruit a solider. In addition
to the cost of recruitment, training and equipping the average
solider costs an additional $50,000. The U.S. Army estimates that
each increase in the size of the army by 10,000 soldiers increase
costs by $1.2 billion a year.

The U.S. military spending is $395.2 billion, with an additional cost
of the current war of $74.7 billion. To understand the kind of money
we are talking about, the annual budget for the U.S. Department of
Defense (not including the current war) is three times the combined
military budgets for Russia, China, Iraq (before the U.S.
invasion/occupation), Iran, North Korea, Libya, Cuba, Sudan and

It also represents 48% of the Federal Discretionary Budget. The U.S.
federal spending on education is $61.4 billion — it is ironic that
if not for the huge sums the U.S. spends on the military and the
prosecution of various wars, the very economic benefits it tempts
recruits with could be shared across the entire U.S. populace. We
need resources for housing, education and healthcare — not warfare.

The Class Character of Cannon Fodder

“Politicians hide themselves away. They only started the war. Why
should they go out to fight? They leave that role to the poor” —
Black Sabbath “War Pigs”

A 1999 Pentagon study says that the military is recruited from the
lower middle class, and that the socioecomic status of recruits is
slightly lower than the general populace. To lure a segment of the
working class into the “voluntary army” a number of benefits, that
are quite commonplace as social benefits in other countries, are
offered to soldiers.

Education, job training, medical treatment, housing subsidies, a
steady income — all benefits that the working class has won through
class struggle in some other countries are lacking in the U.S. and
used as a form of economic conscription. The “poverty draft” targets
the most economically precarious sections of U.S. society and among
super-exploited communities; mainly youth of color.

Military recruiters prey upon working class people in Black, Latino,
Native American, Arab, Asian, and Pacific Islander communities. Quite
simply, the armed forces target people of color for recruitment
disproportionately, and thus they die in war disproportionately.
During Operation Desert Storm over 50% of the front-line troops were
people of color, largely Latino. While blacks make up about 12.7% of
the same-age civilian population, they constitute about 22% of
enlisted personnel.

Perhaps most striking is the number of enlisted women who are black:
more than 35%, indicating not only that black women enlist at higher
rates, but that they serve longer. In the Army, half of all enlisted
women are black, outnumbering whites, who account for only 38%.

The U.S. military doesn’t restrict recruitment to U.S. citizens.
35,000 non-citizens are active in the armed forces, of which 15,000
are now eligible for expedited naturalization under an executive
order from President Bush.

Do You Want to Be a Bullet Sponge for Career Day?

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) has led to more intense military
recruitment in schools. Before the act, one third of all high schools
refused recruiters’ request for students’ names or access to campus.

Under the NCLBA, schools can loose federal funding if they refuse to
release student information to recruiters. So now most schools turn
over student’s names, addresses and phone numbers to military
recruiters and allow military recruiters unrestricted access to
campuses. The NCLBA opened up some 22,000 schools to military
recruiters. Through the Deferred Enlistment Program, students can
join the military before they have graduated high school. The
proportion of new recruits who were high school graduates has dropped
to 91% from it’s peak of 98% in 1992. Only 6.5% of enlistees had some
college as opposed to the 46% of civilians of the same age.

The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) is present in over
2,800 high schools nationally. Further, the limit on the national
number of JROTC units in high schools has just been lifted. These
programs traditionally target communities of color, especially areas
of Latino concentration.

Fifty-four percent of JROTC participants nationwide are students of
color. The prior JROTC expansion took place in 1992 in the aftermath
of the Gulf War and the L.A. uprising. Writes Shelly Reese, for
American Demographics Magazine, “The riots underscored the lack of
opportunities for teenagers in economically disadvantaged areas. That
led General Colin Powell to lobby for expanded JROTC.”

There are now even feeder courses in middle schools to recruit
adolescents into high school programs in the future. In some schools,
a course in JROTC has become effectively mandatory for freshmen who
find it listed in their initial class schedule. JROTC programs even
cost their host schools money, about $50,000 per school; for
1995-1996, Atlanta spent $1.5 million on JROTC. Considering the size
and expense of the program, it also is very effective; with 50% of
program graduates joining the military, recruited directly into the
lowest ranks.

Military “Adventure Vans” (actually RVs and Semi-Tractor Trailers)
now travel across the country attracting youth with video games and
educational multi-media shows, reaching 500,000 students every year.
The army vans visit 2,000 schools; and the Navy and Airforce vans
visit another 500 each.

One new recruitment strategy has been to attract youth through video
games. America’s Army video game is a first person shooter developed
at a cost of $7 million. Released on July 4th, 2002, the game was a
free downloadable. It’s website got 750,000 hits per/second the first
two days it was online. Computer Gaming World magazine packaged
40,000 copies of the game in an issue of their magazine. It is
certainly worth the army’s investment since 28% of hits to’s are from websites that host America’s Army

Human Resources for the Greatest of Inhumanities

“The reason to have a military is to be prepared to fight and win
wars. That is our basic fundamental mission. The military is not a
social welfare agency, it’s not a jobs program.” – Dick Cheney, Vice
President of the U.S.A.

The much lauded fringe benefits to military service in terms of job
training, education and healthcare, are really just another big

Only 12% of male veterans, and 6% of female veterans say they have
made use of their skills learned in the military for regular jobs.
Veterans actually earn less than non-veterans. The average post
Vietnam-war era veteran earns between 11% and 19% less than
non-veterans from comparable class backgrounds. Over 50,000
unemployed veterans are on the waiting list for the military’s
“retraining” program. The Veteran’s Administration estimates that
one-third of all homeless people are veterans.

Soldiers must pay $1,200 into the Montgomery G.I. bill during their
first year, while their pay is as low as $700/month. Bureaucracy
tends to delay paying soldiers up to the first three months in
college. Only 35% of recruits receive any education benefits from the
military, that means about two-thirds don’t. Only 15% of military
recruits graduate with a 4 year degree. The American Council has
attributed a drop in black college enrollment to military

You can wait for months for an appointment with a VA medical center.
In some states, veterans who are not disabled cannot use the centers.
In 2002, an infestation of mice, maggots, and flies caused the
removal of the director and deputy director for the VA medical
regional network for Missouri, Kansas, and southern Illinois.
Janitors had not touched food storage areas or the cafeteria for over
a year. Maggots had nested in the noses of two comatose patients.
Bush slashed the VA medical budget by $275 million in 2002.

Job Security Through Infinite Destruction

One thing often told to U.S. soldiers in Iraq is that they are
rebuilding country, however the military is not the Peace Corps. The
U.S. military is also responsible for much of the damage to Iraq’s
infrastructure since during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The
intentional bombing of civilian life and facilities systematically
destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure leaving it in a de-industrialized

The economic sanctions against Iraq after the Gulf War exacerbated
the problems of destroyed infrastructure. The combination of
infrastructure destruction and sanctions was quite deliberate. Col.
John Warden III, deputy director of strategy, doctrine and plans for
the Air Force, agreed that one purpose of destroying Iraq’s
electrical grid was that “you have imposed a long-term problem on the
leadership that it has to deal with sometime. Saddam Hussein cannot
restore his own electricity,” he said. “He needs help. If there are
political objectives that the U.N. coalition has, it can say,
‘Saddam, when you agree to do these things, we will allow people to
come in and fix your electricity.’ It gives us long-term leverage.”

The Iraqi government and the U.S. military have financed
reconstruction of nearly 40 hospitals. Iraq’s Health Ministry’s
budget for next year is nearly $1 billion with an additional $793
million from the U.S. as well as donations from other countries.
Iraq’s hospitals were once the envy of the Middle East. The rich used
to fly their relatives in for everything from heart transplants to
plastic surgery, and Iraqi specialists traveled the world lecturing
about their research.

Targeting the electrical grid and water-treatment facilities in Iraq
in 1991 resulted in epidemics of gastroenteritis, cholera, and
typhoid, leading to perhaps as many as 100,000 civilian deaths and a
doubling of the infant mortality rate. Medical care continued
deteriorate under the economic sanctions imposed after 1991, and
Hussein banned the importation of medications produced by U.S.
companies and their affiliates, even though those were often the best
available. Iraq has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the
world — one that climbed from 40 out of 1,000 live births in 1989 to
108 per 1,000 live births today. Former US Secretary of State,
Madeline Albright, was asked if the death of a half of a million
Iraqi children from sanctions was worth the price, Albright replied:
“This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”

The education system in Iraq was once one of the best in the Middle
East in the 1980s, but investment declined from $620 per year per
student in 1988/89 to $47 in the late 1990s. Sanctions hit the
economy and schools were left short of basic supplies such as chalk
and blackboards, and poverty forced many children out of education.
Until last year, very little money had been put into construction or
repair work since the 1991 Gulf War, resulting in a shortage of
buildings. During and after the latest war, more than 3,000 schools
were looted, destroyed or burned in southern and central Iraq – and
60 in Baghdad suffered bomb damage.

Downsizing in the Death Factory

“Is there anywhere where our theory that the organization of labor is
determined by the means of production is more brilliantly confirmed
than in the human slaughter industry?” — Marx to Engels (1866)

Much of the 1990s was known for a profound restructuring of labor
through plant closings, layoffs and downsizing made possible through
the increased efficiency of automation as well as speedups,
taylorizations and “just-in-time” production made possible through
improved communication and distribution networks — a philosophy that
has been applied to the U.S. military. The smaller, more flexible,
more mobile army championed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,
shows that he has been thinking like the CEO of the military. Many
CEOs discovered that a reduction in the amount of labor makes what
labor is used, particularly skilled labor, more essential. Further,
that a breach in one link in a global just-in-time production chain
can bring the whole enterprise to a screeching halt. A leaner and
meaner operation, becomes far more vulnerable to disruption by a
withdrawal of labor.

Today, roughly 1 in 200 U.S. citizens are on active military duty —
the lowest proportion in a century. The army’s ranks have dropped by
40% since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. A surprising
retirement bulge after Desert Storm contributed to the decline.
Currently, there are 499,000 active duty Army troops, backed up by
700,000 National Guard and Army reservists. That’s a third less than
when the U.S. fought the Gulf War in 1991.

The U.S has troops in 156 countries; 63 with military bases.
According to the Department of Defense, “the United States military
is currently deployed to more locations than it has been throughout
history”. Over 130,000 Army troops are in Iraq, 9,000 in Afghanistan,
3,000 in Bosnia, 37,000 in South Korea, 56,000 in Germany. More than
half of the U.S. troops stationed permanently on foreign soil are in
Germany and South Korea. By comparison, during the Persian Gulf war
in 1991, The U.S. had more than 500,000 troops deployed in the Gulf
while the non-U.S. coalition forces equaled roughly 160,000, or 24%,
of all forces.

The U.S. has already begun to shift resources. For instance one unit
has been permanently removed from South Korea and is moving it’s
3,600 troops to Iraq. The move will deplete U.S. forces in South
Korea by nearly 10%, the first major shift of resources out of the
country in decades –indeed this is shifting troops from the border
with North Korea one of the dreaded “Axis of Evil” that actually has
openly demonstrated that it has nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
There is a real limit to exactly how much the U.S. military can
rearrange it’s troop deployments.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, “the United States has
invested heavily over the past 50 years in base infrastructure for
its troops stationed overseas, any major shifting of forces — either
between overseas locations or to the United States — would require
significant spending to provide that infrastructure somewhere else.”

Increasing numbers of National Guard and Reserves are being called up
for one year stings since 9/11. 15,000 were mobilized this spring, in
addition to the 43,000 already mobilized. Deployments of the National
Guard and Reserves have gone up 3-400%. This year, 40% of US troops
in Iraq will be from the National Guard or Reserves.

Outsourcing and Privatizing the Privates

“Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one
holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor
safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline,
unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they
have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is
deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by
them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other
attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend,
which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are
ready enough to be your soldiers hilst you do not make war, but if
war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe” — Niccolo
Machiavelli, The Prince

The largest military presence in Iraq after the U.S. is not the
contingent from the United Kingdom, rather it is the some 20-30,000
mercenaries employed by various private security firms — the exact
number is unknown. Their losses can be high, but are rarely reported
because of non-disclosure agreements–but as many as 80 foreign
mercenaries were killed in an eight day period in April. Is the pay
worth the risk? It certainly depends on who you are. Some foreign
mercenaries receive up to $1,500 a day, while an Iraqi might receive
as little as $150 per month. Former British SAS commandos can expect
$10,000 month, while the 700 Nepalese gurkas hired by ArmorGroup earn
one tenth what white soldiers make. A low-ranking U.S. army grunt
makes about $1,000 month in Iraq, about the same as a Nepalese gurka

The U.S. has pushed for the interim Iraqi government to grant
mercenaries with U.S. citizenship the same immunity to Iraqi law that
U.S. military troops have — but the mercenaries aren’t accountable
to the U.S. military either. Officially, the “US government assumes
no responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the
persons or firms whose names appear on the list” of private security
firms. The question of immunity is particularly troublesome since two
of the accused torturers at Abu Ghraib prison are U.S. employees of
CACI International.

The largest mercenary group is the South African/British company,
Erinys. It is charged protection of oil fields and pipelines. Ahmad
Chalabi, previously the Department of Defense’s favorite stooge,
secured Erinys the $100 million contract which employs 14,000 Iraqi
troops, largely from Chalabi’s militia for the Iraq National

Around 1,500 South Africans are employed as mercenaries in Iraq. SAS
International, an Erinys subcontractor, was revealed to be employing
troops who had been part of South Africa’s apartheid-era security
forces. This included a member of the Koevoet, a South African unit
used in Namibia which paid bounties on blacks during the 1980s
independence movement; as well as a former Pretoria police sergeant
who was part of the Vlakplaas death squads whose actions ncluded a
car bomb assassinations of a government official, killing fifteen
blacks and firebombing the homes of between 40-60 anti-apartheid

Mercenaries continue to find themselves at flashpoints. Blackwater
USA contractors were the victims whose corpses were mutilated and
hung off a bridge which triggered the increased repression of U.S.
forces on Fallejuh. Blackwater also participated in the siege —
which was only resolved by turning security in the town over to Iraqi
troops lead by former Baath officers. Having received additional
training at Blackwater’s 6,000 acre compound in North Carolina, the
company has also employed and dispatched 60 former officers of the
Pinochet’s Chilean military. Blackwater (as well as Titan Corp) also
have employed between 500-1,000 Serbian troops who have experience in
Bosnia. Among it’s contracts, the company won a bidless $21 million
dollar contract to provide security for the boss of the U.S.
occupation — Paul Bremer.

Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) current 21,000 troops might be the
outsourcing solution to the occupational army’s labor problem — if
only they would show up reliably to work and not slack off so much
when they do show up. During the uprising of al-Sadr and the Mehdi
army, there were reports of ICDC troops deserting, leading U.S.
troops into ambush, and firing upon U.S. troops. In April, half of
the Iraqi army, paramilitary units and police deserted or left their

“Right now the ICDC are a mess. They have no disciple and no
motivation to do anything. All they want to do is show up, get their
pay and their three good meals a day, and that’s that. Plenty of guys
over here view them as cannon fodder for us, people we put on the
very front of the gate as a first line to stop whoever first.” —
Anonymous U.S. soldier working with the ICDC

The behavior of the ICDC is not surprising in light of the Iraqi
military under Saddam. That army was one of the most disloyal,
deserting, fraternizing, mutineering, couping militaries of all time.

Forty percent of the Iraqi army failed to show up for muster when the
U.S. invasion started, and even more deserted once it started. During
the Iraq-Iran war, the Iraqi army had to shell itself to get its own
units to fight. Many of the frontline troops surrendered to Iran
rather than fight — which accounts for the fact that at the end of
the war Iran had 75,000 Iraqi prisoners of war — seven times the
number of Iranian POWs. After the first Gulf War, the U.S. released a
similar amount of 71,204 Iraqi POWs to Saudi control.

Between 1991-1994, over 13,000 Iraqi troops deserted. Strangely
enough, during the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, only
7,000 Iraqi soldiers surrendered — leaving the bulk of the Iraqi
army to go underground or desert. Perhaps they had a premonition
about what might await them at the Abu Ghraib prison; but more likely
it was the mass slaughter of Iraqi troops deserting the front lines
during the first Gulf War where some where literally buried alive by
bulldozed trenches or massacred along the “highway of death” that
encouraged them not to surrender so easily to the U.S. this time.

If the U.S. military followed the lead of the Iraqi military, there
wouldn’t have been a war at all. With the retirement bulge after the
first gulf war, and the current difficulties with retention… some
U.S. soldiers might be taking at least some Iraqi advice — albeit in
a less dramatic fashion.

Similar problems plague the Afghan National Army (ANA) under the
Karazi government where 3,000 troops have deserted, leaving the ANA
with only 7,000 troops to fight a resurgent Taliban. Other
Jehadi/Northern Alliance militia, like those Dostum and Gulbuddin
have already proved themselves as less than loyal to the Karazi

Iraq’s new police force has some 70,000 cops. There is also 21,000
border police, and an additional 92,000 Iraqis guard important
infrastructure and government buildings through the facilities
protection services. While these positions are some of the most
dangerous in Iraq, and while the pay of $3-500 a month for security
services is the equivalent to the salaries of civil servants and
teachers — a larger motivating factor might be Iraq’s 45%
unemployment rate.

The largest challenge for the future Iraqi army is the incorporation
of standing militias. So far, the army has an officer core of 1,700
officers — but it remains to be seen if they can successfully
integrate the militias. Some 100,000 troops are being ordered into
the army, border security or police –they are being given the
enticement of being treated as veterans with various government
benefits including pensions.

The bulk of militia fighters are 75,000 Kurdish pesh merga under the
control of the two main Kurdish political parties PUK and KDP. The
Kurds have been seen as the U.S. strongest allies, but that all might
be about to change. At the beginning of May, the Kurdistan Workers
Party (PKK) under it’s new name of the People’s Congress of Kurdistan
has declared an end to it’s five year-old cease-fire with the Turkish
army — which they backed up with attacks that the Turkish army
responded to in kind. Since no Kurd was selected as either president
or prime minister in the interim government, Kurdish political
parties are feeling frozen out. The KDP and PUK have threatened to
pull out of the interim government unless Kurdish autonomy is
guaranteed. A new Kurdish uprising could mean mission creep to
Turkey, Syria, Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The rest of the militias are controlled by Allawi’s Iraqi National
Accord, Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, the Shiite Dawa party, the
Iraqi Islamic Party, Iraqi Hezbollah, the Iraqi Communist Party and
the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, The Badr
Brigade (of the Supreme Council) numbers 15,000 and so far appears to
be cooperating, however many Badr brigadiers were sympathetic to the
uprising by al-Sadr and the Mehdi Army, with over 800 fighters
killed, still appears to be growing.

The other U.S. allies in Iraq are the 24,000 troops from the armies
of other nation-states who are increasingly concerned about their
role in Iraq. It was U.S. allies that bared the brunt of Mehdi
uprising. Britain has more than 10,000 troops in Iraq, and Italy,
Poland and the Ukraine have between 3,000 and 1,000 troops deployed
in Iraq respectively. Spain’s removal of 1,300 troops is the most
significant so far. A request by the U.S. to involve NATO in Iraq has
fallen on deaf ears. Will the new U.N. mandate help in securing more
peace keepers?

The Rising Cost of Blood in Exchange for Oil

“We don’t do body counts.” — General Tommy Franks, US Central

Even though Bush declared an end to major hostilities over a year
ago, death of occupying forces continues. Since the start of the Iraq
war there have been 1,000 coalition deaths including 880 U.S.
soldiers. For the U.S. forces alone that’s more deaths than the first
three years of U.S. involvement in Vietnam war. At least two dozen
U.S. soldiers have committed suicide. According to the Pentagon,
5,013 U.S. troops have been wounded in action. Soldiers are medically
evacuated from Iraq for other reasons including “non-combat related
weapons discharges”, malingering (self-inflicted wounds),
pregnancies, psychological breakdowns, and accidents. An unknown
number of mercenaries have died, as well as an unknown number of
Iraqi military. Civilian Iraqi deaths are estimated between 9,436 and

Four divisions — half the Army’s active-duty strength — are in the
two lowest readiness categories because of their service in Iraq.
They are expected to be in that situation for the next six months. US
ground force requirements in post-invasion Iraq “have stressed the
U.S. Army to the breaking point” With a third of the army’s total end
strength involved in occupying Iraq, the Army War College calls “for
an across-the-board reassessment”, that is for an increase in service

Part of the effort to increase service levels has led to the highly
resented “stop-loss” policies, which prevent armed forces members
from retiring or resigning. At the end of May 2004 some 44,000
soldiers had there service extended. The most recent stop-loss policy
restricts soldiers from completing their service if their unit is
within three months of deployment to Iraq.

Finding it increasingly difficult to retain current soldiers and
recruit future soldiers; as well as finding increasing needs to
increase the size of the military; the U.S. government may try to
return to one of the more primitive forms of labor expropriation —
slavery. While they will wait till after the elections this fall,
politicians might find it necessary to reinstitute forced military
labor-conscription: The Draft.

“Unless so-called Army short tours in the badlands of Iraq and
Afghanistan become manageable based on the number of troops available
— right now the Army is trying to do the work of 14 divisions with
10 under-strength, active-duty divisions–we’ll see a mass exodus
from the Green Machine and the inevitable return of the draft.” —
Col. David H. Hackworth (USA Ret.), Soldiers for Truth

Take This Job and Shove It

“We soldiers who are driven along to the word of command, or by
blows, we who receive the bullets for which our officers get crosses
and pensions, we, too, poor fools who have hitherto known no better
than to shoot our brothers, why, we have only to make a
right-about-face towards these plumed and decorated personages who
are so good as to command us, to see a ghastly pallor overspread
their faces.” — Peter Kropotkin, An Appeal to the Young

We can expect retention to continue to decline as morale continues to
decline, which will increase both the amount of stop-loss orders as
well as number of soldiers fleeing military service when they have
the opportunity. An October (2003) Stars and Stripes survey said that
1/3rd of the military personnel surveyed believed that the war had
“no value” or “little or no value” at all.

Further, nearly half of the U.S. troops plan not to re-enlist. The
New York Times reports that for the last three years, Army, Navy and
Airforce Reserves have failed to meet their recruitment requirements.
According to Thomas White, retired general and former Secretary for
the Army, “We are in serious danger of breaking the human-capital
equation of the Army. Once you break it, it takes along time to put
it back together. It took us 20 years after Vietnam”.

“The voting via the shoe leather express isn’t about to start, it HAS
started. A few of my best friends and confidants here at Campbell are
company grade officers and they can’t wait for their obligation to
end. They have no intention of staying in. One of them spent 9 months
in Afghanistan and then 7 months in Iraq. He just took company
command and he will be going back to Iraq in a few months for another
year. 3.5 years in and most of it spent in the Middle East. He has no
intention of staying past his mandatory service date.” — Anthony
Topkick, Soldiers for Truth

While many soldiers will “vote with their feet” and decline future
service at their end of their tours, a few have already started to
apply as conscientious objectors, that is they are refusing to
participate in war in any manner. Conscientious objection reached
record heights in the Vietnam War era where there were some 200,000
COs. By comparison, the Gulf War had only 111, but military put a
stop to the practice and imprisoned 2,500 C.O. applicants. To qualify
as a CO, an applicant must have a “firm, fixed and sincere objection
to war in any form or the bearing of arms” because of deeply-held
moral, ethical, or religious beliefs. The GI Rights Hotline
(1-800-394-9544) can provide information to military service members
about military discharges, grievance and complaint procedures, and
other civil rights. In 2002 the number of calls to the hotline had
grown to 21,000 calls — it now averages 3,000 calls a month.

For some, they won’t be willing to wait out the terms of the service
(or stop loss), nor will they qualify as conscientious objectors.
Their choice becomes imprisonment or desertion. After being Absent
With Out Leave (AWOL) for 30 days soldiers are classified as
deserters. In the Vietnam war some 100,000 people went into exile to
avoid military service, mostly to Canada — and the New York Times
estimates that 25,000 Vietnam resisters never returned to the U.S.

According to the U.S. Army public affairs office. Over 3,800 soldiers
deserted in 2002, of these 3,255 were returned to military control —
then usually discharged or serving a short incarceration sentence.
There are currently several high profile desertion cases like Jeremy
Hinzman and Brandon Hughes who’ve requested refugee status and
political asylum in Canada — though these requests are likely to be
denied, and if denied it is likely means deportation back to the U.S.
It is also much more difficult to legally immigrate to Canada today
than it was during the Vietnam War. Further, by going into exile, the
U.S. government will consider the expatriate deserter to be a
fugitive. Any return to the U.S. is likely to result in conviction
for desertion.

Breaking the Human-Capital Equation

“In response to the ongoing atrocities being committed against the
Iraqi people by the US military, an Air Force recruitment center in
Woodbridge, NJ became the target of direct action. The Main Street
office had red paint thrown all over its front, including its front
windows and sign. This serves the primary purpose of causing damage
but also symbolically protests the slaughter at the hands of
America’s criminal air force. The blood is on every Americans’
hands… this invasion is an effort by the US government to expand
corporate hegemony over the region. Human rights are being pushed
aside to plunder Iraqi resources and leave a stronger military
stronghold in the region. America’s oil-based consumer economy is
destroying civilizations all over the world for the profits of a
minority.” — Communique from Direct Action Front, April 16 2003

With all these statistics, it’s tempting to reduce human beings to
mere numbers. For the likes of General White, the labor of soldiers
is commodified to such an extent, that the soldiers themselves become
indistinguishable from war-material — human beings are reduced to
just another form of capital. Labor can become so alienated, our
humanity, ethics and conscience is on the auction block. There is a
tendency for people to simply go along with the situation, to buckle
under to the pressure, to accept authority. It feels like a betrayal
to go against the espirit de corps, to breach the job contract, to
break the law. As much as the state and capitalism attempt to reduce
human beings to automatons through the alienation of our labor, one
thing I’ve realized by talking to soldiers, is that some humanity
still exists under the mass-produced uniforms. Some part of them
wants to defy authority and reclaim their lives. While politicians,
corporations and military brass might think of grunts as nothing more
than interchangeable pieces in the war machine, we should not make
the same mistake. They are still human beings, we can still talk to
them, and by doing so… we might be able to help them free
themselves from war.

We can reach out to youth who are feeling pressured to join the
military and show them that there are other paths they could take,
that some jobs just aren’t worth having. Since the military starts
recruiting in schools, we must be active there as well. There is an
exception in the No Child Left Behind Act that allows students and
parents the ability to opt out of their information being provided to
military recruiters, they must simply send a letter to their school
superintendent. Presenting students and parents with a form letter
they can use is an excellent way to start conversations in opposition
to war and militarism.

Also, some anti-recruitment activists have gotten access to schools
by calling for equal access as the military recruiters have, and they
provide presentations on other options for training and education
while exposing the swindle that is the military recruitment. We can
work with student activists groups to kick JROTC out of their
curriculum, and counter the military adventure vans. Forums at
schools should be planned where people can speak out against joining
the military, and veterans can relate both the banalities of the
military as a career and the horrors of war. Targeting recruitment
centers for pickets and protests will help prepare the anti-war
movement for opposition to the draft.

Further, in reaching out to youth, we have to build an
anti-militarist culture. To a certain extent, the U.S. move away from
conscription after the Vietnam war represented how much
anti-militarism had already taken hold in the U.S., and the
pre-emptive protests before war that have happened since the 1990s
are another example of how deeply anti-militarism has become
entrenched. The counter-culture of the hippies has been stereotyped
as anti-militarist, but anti-militarism can be found in many youth
scenes, and that sentiment should be encouraged; much like
anti-racist activists have encouraged anti-racism in youth culture
through combinations of music, fashion, graffiti, periodicals, forums
and rallies.

Getting to potential recruits before they enlist is the best way to
deprive the military of new blood. We should setup pickets outside
recruitment centers, just like we might picket a struck business or a
temporary employment agency that primarily is used to break strikes
through hiring scabs. Joining the military must be seen as even worse
than scabbing. We must impress upon our fellow workers that the
military is the worst job imaginable, that whatever they are offering
it’s not worth killing and dying.

Finally, and potentially the most difficult thing to do is to
convince those already in the military to get out. It is likely that
most soldiers will come to be selectively opposed to the current war,
instead of becoming total conscientious objectors.

The U.S. military, however, doesn’t allow for selective objection —
so for those willing to get out, they’ll either need to claim
conscientious objection, or go AWOL and then desert. We need to
provide soldiers with all the information we can get them to accept.
Even if you can convince a soldier to go AWOL for just a short period
of time, to decide if fighting this war is what they really want to
do, you are providing a window where they, at least, have the option
to think for themselves. Once they are deployed to the Middle East —
even if they change their minds once there — they are in a difficult
situation; you can’t walk home from Iraq.

The protests that attempted to “stop the war before it starts” we’re
unprecedented — and yet, they failed to stop the war. What’s needed
now is a qualitative, not quantitative, shift in our anti-war
activity. Instead of speaking to politicians, we need to start
speaking to more receptive ears — that is the rest of the working
class with a message that speaks to our economic situations and human
needs. There is no war, but the class war.

By breaking the human-capital equation of the military and depriving
the capitalist state of the labor it needs to keep the war-machine
going, we can limit the U.S. ability to wage wars of occupation. If
we are successful in such a campaign, we can deter U.S. imperialist
aggression not just today, but perhaps for an entire generation. The
U.S. may have reached it’s pinnacle as an empire. The war in Iraq may
represent the empire overstretching itself. If we can break the will
of soldiers to fight for the U.S. empire, this might be the last such
war the empire will ever have. The struggle against imperialist war
is a worth fighting.


Stephen “Flint” Arthur is a member of NEFAC-Balitmore, and currently
has a sister in Iraq with the U.S. Army National Guard


This essay is from the newest issue of ‘The Northeastern Anarchist’
(#9, Summer/Fall 2004)… which includes essays on the Iraq war and
military recruitment, anarchist arguments against electoralism, wages
for housework, prisons and fascism, revolutionary organization, a
history of anarchism and anti-imperialism, the Quebec general strike
of 1972, and much more!

The Northeastern Anarchist is the English-language magazine of the
Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC), covering class
struggle anarchist theory, history, strategy, debate and analysis in
an effort to further develop anarcho-communist ideas and practice.