10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military is a short 150 page book that provides just enough background information to explain to those considering joining the military why they should not and to provide a reminder to those against the war that we have a duty to begin “resisting” the military via well-organized counter-recruitment work. The book incorporates essays from ten different authors, including Cindy Sheehan, who provides a brief introduction to the book and who contributed the first reason not to join the military—“You may be killed.” The other nine reasons not to join the military—all of which correspond with essays in the book—are “you may kill others who do not deserve to die” (examining civilian casualties in Iraq), “you may be injured” (looking at the numbers of soldiers injured in Iraq), “you may not receive proper medical care” (examining at the military’s treatment of veterans), “you may suffer long-term health problems” (looking at the instances of long-term health problems among veterans), “you may be lied to” (focusing on lies told by recruiters), “you may face discrimination” (looking at discrimination within the military), “you may find it difficult to leave the military” (an examination of the “stop loss” policies), and that “you have other choices” (a brief examination of alternatives to the military).
All of the essays in the book make decent—albeit brief—arguments as to why one should not join the military, and indeed the book as a whole is convincing. However, it is the information on the military’s recruiting efforts and treatment of veterans that is probably the most important as it provides tools that can be used for those doing counter-recruitment work. These issues are first raised in Adele Kubein’s essay “You may not receive proper medical care” in which Kubein writes about the trouble her daughter had in getting treatment for lyme disease while in the National Guard and her discovery that since all states do no have treatment facilities in state, people must travel to other states (in her case from Oregon to Colorado) to gain treatment. Kuebein also reveals that the Guard and Reserve have no long-term health care plan if you are injured, maimed, or disabled while in service. She also cites an October 2005 article in the Washington Post that describes how one soldier who lost his arm in Iraq was forced to pay the military $2,200 for travel expenses related to the military’s treatment of his injury. Tod Ensign continues on this theme and discusses the exposure of Gulf War veterans to depleted uranium weapons and residue from destroyed chemical weapons at Khamisyiah as well as the numbers of Iraq veterans who are now suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ensign also describes how in 1950 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the military can never be held liable for injuries suffered while on active duty no matter how negligent its conduct.
Despite the reality of the military, recruiters continue to push military service on young people in the United States, especially targeting low-income youth and youth of color according to statistics presented in the book. Indeed, two-thirds of recruits in 2004 came from counties with median household incomes below the median with many being convinced that the military will provide money for college. According to a 2000 government report, 33% of males and 15% of women join the military for college money and money for college remains one of the biggest advantages of military promoted by the Pentagon’s $4 billion recruiting budget. However, the reality is that successfully obtaining money for college from the military is difficult. Qualifications for the GI Bill—one of the most talked about assistance programs—include a nonrefundable contribution of $100 dollars a month for the first year of service, three years of service, and an honorable discharge. If these criterion are met, soldiers then receive $985 a month for a maximum of 36 months or $32,000 total—an amount that rarely will cover tuition at state universities. Moreover, only 15% of those receiving the GI Bill are able to obtain their 4-year degree and to receive the $50,000 touted by the Army, one must sign up for infantry, armor, or artillery. Despite the dangers involved in military service and the reality that half of the new recruiters going through Fort Benning will be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan thirty days after enlistment, recruiters downplay the danger of the military and occasionally makes statements like “you could get shot—god forbid—in front of your apartment” while emphasizing that “more people were killed last week in New York City than in Iraq.” Recruiters frequently make promises to new recruiters that they do not keep and indeed are not required to keep unless they are obtained in writing, and even then, enlistment provisions can be changed as the Department of Defense’s enlistment contract states that “laws and regulations that govern military personnel may change without notice to me, such changes may affect my status, pay, allowances, benefits, and responsibilities.”
While short on content, the book is excellent in that it can be easily read in an hour or so and it is written in an engaging and conversational manner. The book could certainly be read by high school students being targeted in their schools by military recruiters and indeed some of the essays would be worthwhile reading in the state of Michigan’s mandated “government” classes. Additionally, the book contains a list of alternative resources for those who heed the book’s advice and chose not to join the military, with a reasonably detailed list of sources for scholarships, job training, and other such programs. Aside from an occasional lack of detail, the only thing lacking in the book is a strong focus on students organizing against military recruiters in their school, as such a focus could have provided inspiration to the younger audience that will likely be reading the book.
Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, ed. 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military, (The New Press, 2006).