New Tactics featured the dialogue 'Engaging Youth in Non-Violent Alternatives to Militarism' from April 21 to 27. Governments around the world target youth for military recruitment and service. In response, human rights organizations have developed innovative ways of introducing youth to non-violent alternatives to military service and combating the culture of militarism. This tactical dialogue is a space for those working with and interested in engaging youth in non-violent alternatives to militarism to share their stories, challenges, resources and ideas.
New Tactics is pleased to host this dialogue with the help and engagement of students from the St. Thomas University, Conflict Resolution studies course.
Our featured resource practitioners for this dialogue included:
- Oskar Castro of the American Friends Service Committee - Youth and Militarism Program, United States
- Amjad Ali of the Swat Youth Front, Pakistan
- Mike Ferner of Veterans for Peace, United States
- Daniel Lakemacher and Patrick Spahn from the Center on Conscience, United States
- Pernille Ironside - Child Protection Specialist in Emergencies Programme Division UNICEF
[Photo credit: December18.org]
Participate in this dialogue by replying to the following main themes or other participants' comments:
- Why youth? Why nonviolent alternatives?
- What are ways of engaging youth? What kinds of alternatives?
- What is the role of family, community, government and media?
- Share stories of success
- Share challenges and opportunities
Growing Up in a Militaristic Environment:
There is a general tendency within the U.S. and other countries to value the national military, which is supposed to protect citizens and act on their behalf. This is linked to the belief that violence is acceptable when inflicted by those in uniform.
Oftentimes militants are portrayed as heroes, and recently video games and other forms of media have had a major role in desensitizing youth to militaristic violence. Youth are even encouraged to join military preparation programs such as the Jr. Reserve Officer Training Program while still in grade school. In this way, the government has a considerable role in militarizing youth. It can create national initiatives and training camps to encourage patriotism and engage youth in militarism.
However, the reasoning behind joining the military varies drastically from youth to youth, even amongst those who grow up in similar social circumstances. Some feel that they have no other choice, and others who are forcefully recruited truly do not have a choice. Children often join militant groups to avoid poverty, social exclusion or inequality, etc., or to lessen the burden on their families and communities.
In some communities there is an expectation that youth who are able will join the military, and they are pressured into joining. Parents are often the source of this pressure. In other (although fewer) cases, parents and communities participate in efforts to divert youth from militaristic action. Families and communities are also vital in the process of reintroducing those who have already been militarized back to civilian life.
Religion also plays a considerable role in the likelihood of youth to engage in militarism. Most religions deliver both violent and nonviolent messages, but different interpretations of religion can throw this balance to one side or the other.
Military Recruitment Tactics:
Many youth in the U.S. join the military simply because it is one of their easiest post-high school options. It is much easier to join the military than it is to apply to college in most cases, and much less expensive. In fact, youths are given immediate (help paying for college, the chance to see the world) as well as long-term (job security) incentives to join the military. Job security is especially attractive when the economy is suffering as it is now, which is why military recruitment numbers actually increase during economic downturns.
Militaries usually can provide greater incentive for youth to join the military, especially as they have more money to spend on these efforts. An enormous amount of the state budget goes to military spending, rather than to other measures that would improve national security such as eradicating poverty and creating jobs. They also have young recruiters who are good at identifying and recruiting youth. Anti-military efforts need younger voices and a way to engage the youth themselves, rather than just targeting the bureaucratic side of the issue, which doesn’t directly involve youth.
Military recruiters portray service as a great opportunity professionally, educationally, and monetarily. Students at many high schools, especially in rural America, hear this and have few other options laid out for them. Because recruiters put a lot of effort into areas where few others do, they are often successful. They make service seem glamorous, but the reality is very different from what recruiters, commercials, and other advertisements show. One way to help change this is by clearly listing both the benefits and disadvantages of joining the military, as many are not made aware of the dangerous realities of military service prior to their recruitment.
Armed groups also use the allure of power as a recruitment method. The power that having a gun or weapon gives one is also a dangerous lure to military life.
The UNDP assembled a report on Youth and Nonviolent Conflict that discusses, among other things, the role of gender for youth in militarism. It also includes a list of strategies used by militaristic groups to recruit youth.
Alternatives to Militarism:
One possible alternative to military service for high school students (in the United States) is AmeriCorps. Many churches also offer service positions, some even partner with AmeriCorps and may also offer to fund some part of the volunteer’s education. The Catholic Network of Volunteer Services publishes a list of 200 similar service programs, both religious and secular, called “The Response Directory.” However, while the military provides a steady salary, AmeriCorps does not, nor does it offer equal educational compensation, therefore it is not really an equal replacement option. Also, the military provides a career path, and AmeriCorps, etc., do not.
Sports can be a great way to bring youth together. In some areas, youth are brainwashed by militaristic groups or kidnapped, especially in areas where unemployment is high. In these areas, it can be difficult to reach out to youth and teach them about nonviolent ways of living, and utilizing the popularity and teamwork of sports can be a great first step to reaching out to youth. Sports also have a positive effect on participants’ psychological health and can help to reduce aggressive behavior. However, while sports can keep youth busy and off the streets, they can sometimes encourage aggressive behavior and are also used in militant settings to increase competitiveness.
Educating youth about topics such as human rights, governance, and conflict issues can also help them make the choice to avoid militarism. A part of educating youth is pointing out the “tricks” that the military employs and detail examples of fraud within the military. Because those in uniform are thought to be trustworthy and honorable, pointing out fraud is necessary to counter this often false image of trust and respect.
Another great way to learn how to prevent youth from engaging in militarism is by listening those who have succeeded in resisting militarization themselves, despite being under great pressure. It is especially important to hear from those conscientious objectors to militarism who have actually participated in the military, or in other words, involve veterans in youth outreach efforts.
It is also important to incorporate parents in anti-militarism efforts, although these results will only be seen in the long-term.
Youth are heavily influenced by celebrity figures such as musicians and actors, therefore getting these role models involved in the anit-militarism movement could prove to be an invaluable tactic. However, Celebrity culture can also be detrimental to the cause, since in modern times in preaches sex and violence more than peace and love. The 1960s-70s are great example of music promoting peace.
Examples of Anti-Militarism Efforts and Other Successful Projects:
- Project YANO has succeeded in engaging youth.
- The German-Zambian Cooperation.
- Artistic alternatives: Pangea Theater and the Pilsbury House Theater.
- Muslim organizations promoting peace
- Youth actively resisting militarization
- Helping those already enlisted speak out against militarism
- Giving youth opportunities to learn and lead
- Counter-recruitment programs
- Using education to counter militarism
- Involving families in the fight against militarism
- Educating youth about alternative career options
To follow a thread of the dialogue focused on gender roles in the military, click here.
Why is it so important to engage the youth in nonviolent alternatives to militarism? What is the implication of not reversing the trend toward greater militarization of youth?
Share your thoughts and ideas below by replying to this comment!
Many communities within the United States of America suffer from a need to feel secure in the notion that their government protects them from aggression and insures their freedom. Often, they associate that protection with the role that the military plays and thus they tend to put that institution on a pedestal making it one of their sacred cows; above reproach and criticism. Compounded by this unhealthy adoration of the military is the belief that in order to be sufficiently safe one must agree that violence is quite acceptable, if not necessary, if it is conducted by men and women wearing a uniform who are, presumaby, acting on the behalf of the citizenry. This is what we often call militarism and it can lead to many other negative "isms". We only have to look back within the last century to recognize that Italian fascism, German nazism, and even Japanese imperialism were all fueled by a strong national consciousness of militarism.
So how do the communities in the United States get this way? Much of it begins when a young person is born in to an environment that does not allow them to critically analyze militarism, their military, or what it really means to be patriotic in a democratic republic (http://www.afsc.org/Youth&Militarism/ht/display/ContentDetails/i/18301). The child grows up believing that men and women in uniform represent the "heroes" of their society and many are encouraged to "play soldier" at a very early age. With the advent of the personal gaming systems that have evolved over the years now children of all ages can play the soldier in the virtual world where they learn to kill, be killed, and reset the game to kill or be killed again. Other ways in which youth are militarized include being encouraged to join Jr. Reserve Officer Training Programs in high schools as well as similar styled programs at the elementary school level where children are taught the "military" style of discipline, dress up in military uniforms, learn history from a military perspective, and in some cases learn marksmanship with real weapons in school facilties. Such is the way of 21st century mechanisms to militarize the consciousness of youth.
It is very important to engage our youth in nonviolent alternatives to militarism because militarized youth grow into militarized adults who wind up representing the nation as elected officials and who then tend to lead us into violent conflicts based on the premise that military superiority is the only way to be a strong nation. These same militarized adults also tend to avoid the reality that billions of dollars are siphoned away from national efforts to bolster true security (eradicating poverty, developing jobs, access to higher education, etc - http://www.oneminuteforpeace.org/) and put into the hands of the Pentagon which then gives much of that money to military defense contractors to develop weapons of mass destruction. The implication of not reversing the trend toward greater militarization of youth is that not only will our military budget continue to grow unchecked (the US currently spend more on its military budget than the next 15 nations COMBINED spend on their military budgets - http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending) but we as a nation are likely to see more unfettered and unchecked military missions that will often do more harm than any perceivable good.
While it is not likely that the US military will ever disappear, it is possible that by demilitarizing the lives of youth and ultimately the consciousness of a nation the military that we have will be a military that is controlled by the People and not by those who profit either politically or financially from the preparation and prosecution of war.
The reasons for youth participation in armed conflict may differ substantially from one context to another and youth presenting similar features (socio-economic, family situation, etc.) may differ in their choice to join (or not) armed forces/groups. In many countries around the world, children and youth are forcibly recruited - abducted from their homes, schools, roadsides and villages and held captive against their will, sometimes for years. Yet others so-called “voluntarily” join armed groups, though this is not a truly voluntary decision oftentimes. Young boys and girls may view enlistment as their best option for survival for themselves, their families or communities in contexts of extreme poverty, violence, social inequality, exclusion or injustice. They may enlist as a response to violence and a means of avenging attacks against their families and communities. They may also enlist to escape abuse or violence in their homes, because a parent or sibling is in the forces, for adventure or to serve a cause.
Preventing youth from participating in armed conflict is strongly linked to providing them with socio-economic opportunities allowing them to transition into adulthood. Without gainful employment, a sense of political involvement or access to education, young people can become alienated and contribute to the political destabilization of a country or region. The resulting sense of hopelessness and futility, coupled with the desire to change a failed political system can convert ordinary teenagers into activists who foment political rebellion. Depending on the opportunities available to them, youth can contribute to peace, security and growth. This is essential for the long-term stability of a nation, particularly one that is or has been recently at war, as youth carry their beliefs, values and experiences with them into the future.
Bear in mind that, within the UN system, youth are identified as those between 15 and 24 years of age, recognising however, that this can vary considerably between one context and another. Social, economic and cultural systems define the age limits for the specific roles and responsibilities of children, youth and adults. Conflicts and violence often force youth to assume adult roles such as being parents, breadwinners, caregivers or fighters. Cultural expectations of girls and boys also affect the perception of them as adults, such as the age of marriage, circumcision practices and motherhood. Such expectations can be disturbed by conflict. Under international law, children under the age of 18 are not allowed to take part in direct military hostilities and child recruitment below the age of 15 constitutes both a war crime and a crime against humanity.
Thanks, Pernille, for highlighting these common reasons for youth recruitment. It is interesting that it is a crime under international law to have children under age 18 participate in direct military hostilities. I believe that this is the reason that the United States has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
A question for everyone - is it possible to use international law, if you are a citizen of a country that has ratified the necessary treaty, to prevent the recruitment of children to government and non-government militaries?
It is very possible to use international treaties, though it is not an easy tactic, and our AFSC Atlanta Office is pursuing a course at the State level that will legislatively minimize the type of improper recruitment occuring with young people under the age of 18. They are citing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc-conflict.htm as US law of which the US is not in compliance with as it routinely pulls a "Joe Camel" approach to attract children and youth to its various military service branches.
To follow the efforts our folk are engaged in on this issue you can visit their blog at:
Thought this might be of interest to readers, even though I don't believe the Act has been successfully used yet:
United States-Child Soldiers Accountability Act of 2008: Passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on 3 October 2008, the Child Soldiers Accountability Act allows the United States courts to prosecute those who recruit and use children in conflict. The Act makes it a crime to recruit or knowingly use children under the age of 15 and allows the US to prosecute offenders who are in the United States, even if the acts took place outside of the US and the perpetrator is not a US citizen. Fines and sentences of up to 20 years in prison for offenders, or life in prison if death of the child results from the recruitment, may be imposed. The Act also allows the United States to deport or deny entry to individuals who have recruited children. There is a 10 year limitation period for prosecution.
From my experience with US Navy Recruiters and fellow enlistees when I joined the military, and then later when I worked at the Navy's boot camp, I found that the vast majority of young people enlisted because it was the easiest option. For most high schoolers, there are two different groups of people made available on their campuses to help them transition to life on their own: college recruiters and military recruiters. Even for those who may be qualified and interested in college, the process of being accepted and having the necessary funds available is infinitely more complicated than getting in a car with a Recruiter and sometimes days later finding yourself at boot camp. Additionally, not only is the military option seen as easier and more accessible, but unless an athletic scholarship is involved, there is no comparison between the adoration and appreciation one is shown for enlisting versus going to college.
If the cultural prestige and practical feasibility are stacked so much in favor of enlisting for those high school seniors eligible for college, think of how limited the options must seem for those who are academically unqualified. What praise is there for the teen who enters a carpentry apprenticeship program or the young person who starts working full-time at a day care center, and perhaps equally as important, who is out there advertising such options for those who aren't already working such jobs before they graduate? The reality is that for most teens in the U.S., the military is not one among many options, it is the only option presented with a clear path to a paycheck, "independence," and a higher than usual level of status. For many, the alternative to enlistment is resigning yourself to figuring things out on your own with no assurances of the bright opportunity-filled future promised by both college and military recruiters.
Thank you for raising this critical point about the military offering a place of recognition for young people that have few alternatives and options for gaining that recognition.
An aspect that I would like to raise in the equation is the seduction of having the "power position" of holding (and using) a gun.
I'm wondering what people in the dialogue think about the way in which militaries (organized by governments) and armed groups (organized by a wide variety of forces - those fighting governments but also in terms of inter-ethnic and/or religious groups, gangs, organized crime sydicates,etc) promote and recruit for their "cause" using the enticements related to having this "power position"
Thank you very much for posting this. I am a student in a conflict resolution class currently, but I come from a very rural part of the US. At my high school many disadvantaged youth saw the military as their only viable option to attain a higher socioeconomic class. Some kids could recognize the value in working as a mechanic, a waitress, or as a machinist who happens to coach football as well. However, most kids wanted to “get out” and the military was the easiest way to do that.
The military recruiters that came to our high school portrayed the armed services as a great place of opportunity. You would be able to get an education and get paid while doing it. The sad thing is that for some kids it was a financial reality that they wouldn’t be able to afford higher education without the help of the military. A very bright girl, whom I went to Kindergarten through 12th grade with, wanted to see the world and so she joined the Army. She thought she was going to learn how to fly helicopters and that she would have little chance of deployment. She is currently waiting to be deployed to Afghanistan, has not been out of the US, and doesn’t know how to fly a helicopter.
What frustrates me the most is that there was no alternative voice for these kinds of kids to hear. Alternative voices needed to be telling them it was ok to join a technical program, that it was ok to not be sure what you wanted to do right away, and they needed to be told the truth about what they may experience in the armed services. Instead of the greenhorn of a sergeant, who was only a few years older than us, we needed to be hearing from a soldier who had experienced combat, someone who had experienced the dehumanization of the military.
Daniel and Chad, I think you make excellent points regarding the portrayal of the military as the only viable alternative to advancing one's education through a college or university system. In addition to the initial benefits that the military promises (such as paying for college, opportunities to see the world, etc.), many people are "hooked" into the military system by the promise that they will have a job and that the job can lead them into lucrative careers in both the military and the private sectors. Employers in private businesses see the military as a benefit on an application, and military jobs also offer job security. These are seen as major benefits, especially in times of economic downturn as we are experiencing right now. Studies have shown that the worse off the economy is, the more apt people are to join the military. The problem for those seeking to create non-violent alternatives to militarism is to counter these (sometimes legitimate) career advantages.
I believe one way in which we are able to create non-violent alternatives to militarism is to give a fair and balanced report of BOTH the advantages and disadvantages the military offers. When one is in a recruitment office, it is easy to be blown away by the seemingly overwhelming advantages the military has to offer. However, if people are aware of the many risks and harms that military service also comes with, they may give more consideration to their decision.
Does anybody have any experiences they would like to share about how they educate others about military service? What seems to be the most appropriate way to educate high school students about the disadvantages of military service and advantages of other career options (such as the technical schools/jobs or jobs which do not require further education)? What tactics have effectively reached high schoolers to realize their alternatives to a military career?
Hi Andre - thanks for your comments to the dialogue! I wanted to bring in to this dialogue that alternative the exists now for those high school students looking for college money and a chance to improve communities in the US - AmeriCorps (I had also thought at the time of writing this that the PeaceCorps would be a great option, especially for those looking to travel - but it looks like you need to have a college degree to apply...can we change that?).
AmeriCorps' website boasts of the following benefits for AmeriCorps volunteers:
As an AmeriCorps member, you’ll gain new skills and experiences—and you’ll also find the tremendous satisfaction that comes from helping others. In addition, full-time members who complete their service earn a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award of $4,725 to pay for college, graduate school, or to pay back qualified student loans; members who serve part-time receive a partial Award. Some AmeriCorps members may also receive a modest living allowance during their term of service.
There are 75,000 AmericCorps volunteer positions that open each year (per the website) - how many military positions are open each year? Is AmeriCorps a legitimate alternative to military? If not, what needs to change? Many countries either offer these kinds of alternatives to military for their youth just coming out of school - and some countries make country-service mandatory (w/ the option of choosing military or something else). Is this a promising approach to de-militarizing the youth?
Besides the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, there are more peace - volunteer opportunities. I am a Brethren Volunteer here at the Center. Differnet churches have these service possibilities, with some of them you are even possible to go abroad and learn languages and the new cultures. People could travel to Germany for example and learn about the peaceful protests 1989 that unified Germany.
I am aware that the Brethren, the Mennonites and the Lutheren do have a volunteer service, and I am sure there are more. And I am not aware that you need to have a College degree to qualify. Some programms are linked to AmeriCorps, although doing the service with, for example, the Brethren Volunteer Service. you might qualify for the education benefits.
Patrick you are right to say there are other options in addition to Americorps and Peacecorps. I've served as a liaison between volunteer organizations and college students in the past and the resource I know best lists 200 such service programs. The Reponse Directory is published by the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service and includes programs that come from many religious traditions and some secular ones too. Their searchable index catalogs short- and long-term programs in the US and around the globe with many preference indicators that help narrow the search.
I believe full-time service programs like these have served as alternatives to military service for some conscientious objectors.
Does anyone know of a specific case of using this alternative that could become a precedent for other COs?
I just found this as I was looking at the Mennonite Volunteer Corps, a year long volunteer program one of my friends applied for. Check this article out: MVS and Selective Service sign agreement
The Article states that "In two weeks’ time, Mennonite Voluntary Service will become the first faith-based service organization recognized by the United States Selective Service System as a member of the Alternative Service Employer Network (ASEN) for conscientious objectors....
The signing means that if a military draft is ever reinstated, MVS is an officially recognized agency capable of hosting alternative service workers or conscientious objectors."
My friend was raised in a Mennonite Church and she partly like this organization because some of its placements are specifically non-violent peaceful positions such as community organizing, teaching a peace camp to kids, working with the arts for peace, and even a position with working at a bike recycle program (which donates bikes to low-income families as well as encourages people to bike more than ride). Check out their website for more information at http://www.mennonitemission.net/Serve/MVS/Pages/Home.aspx
Thank you so much for sharing this information about the Mennonite Volunteer Corps. The Mennonite church has a long history of conscientious objection. Mennonites who refused to serve in WWII played a significant role in identifying the horrible abuses in mental health institutions in the United States and lead the way to significant reforms.
I would also like to highly recommend the Mennonite Central Committee as a great organization for young people to explore. I personally served as a MCC volunteer for 5 years in the Philippines (1991-1995). The kinds of service positions vary and the places of potential service are both international and domestic.
Whether or not the AmeriCorps is a legitimate alternative to the military is definitely debatable. The people who join the military get a salary. The people who join the AmeriCorps do not get nearly the same compensation (modest living allowance). The educational benefits for someone who joins the military are much better than if the same person were to join the AmeriCorps. $4,725 to pay for college expenses would do little to alleviate my current student loan debt. I know my parents participated in VISTA, which is now an AmeriCorps program, and their housing was very poor and their living expenses barely covered groceries.
I think fundamentally it shows that our government values these programs and the service people undertake much less than military service. It could be a promising approach to de-militarizing youth if the programs were incentivized similarly. Until then, disadvantaged youth won't look to these kinds of programs to solve the question of "What am I going to do with my life?" Also people can make a career out of military service and you cannot make a career out of serving in the Peace Corps or the AmeriCorps. The Peace Corps is two years with the possibility of an extension to a third, and then you are done with your service and can't return to the program. Imagine if we had a standing "Peace Corps" of one million people who intended to make their life's work service and it was highly incentivized and supported by our government.
District Swat had been has been under the spell of Talibanization, Militancy and terrorism since 2006. A powerful cleric and head of the prototype Taliban,Mullana Fazlullah held considerable sway over the conservative population of the region and led a campaign based in Swat denouncing television cum cable network and satellite receiver, music, polio drops, women empowerment.
The human capital of Taliban were mostly young men and teenage boys as the Taliban used to brain wash youth and boys, inculcating love for martyrdom, paradise and the global rule of Islam and hence due to misconception youth joined the Taliban only out of ideological persuasion but however the major finding is that the greater reason was high unemployment in the area as the youth were paid (5000PKRS per month) indoctrination and forcible recruitment through kidnapping. Swat Youth Front (SYF) being a non-profit youth organization working for peace and promotion of human rights and peace took the initiative, in spite of the jeopardized situation, to engage the youth of the area in healthy and non-violent alternatives to militarism and extremism and hence initiated sports based related activities to engage the youth of the area in health activities as Sport can be an attractive entry point for those who are skeptical about peace and social cohesion. Sport and games allow those who are critical of or even against intercultural dialogue and nonviolent conflict transformation to work together. Sport and games targets an important part of each human being, which often gets forgotten in peace building: the body and its emotions. Sustainable conflict transformation requires also addressing the participant’s feelings. Sport and games offer the space for joy, fun, creativity, happiness, sadness and frustration. The power of sport comes with its popularity, and the effect and impact comes with its implementation. Focusing on conflicting parties’ mutual interest rather than using the problems as starting points for intervention, sport activities can create safe spaces for interaction where communication can be restored and understanding and tolerance can be built provided we have acquired adequate knowledge of the conflict situation. Sports can also be utilized as a Healthcare - Trauma treatment for men, women and children( militancy victim) the very process of participation in sport may also have a personally Therapeutic and publicly engaging function with regards to assisting the emotional and social rehabilitation of these traumatized individuals
IMPACT OF THE ACTIVITIES REVIVAL OF SPORTS ACTIVITIES:
Under the signed MOU it was mandatory for the teams to ensure providing of photos of the sport activities in which the gifted goods are used and also ensure to be the part of sport for peace network. To utilized Sports as an effective tool and a strong unifying factor in the process of conflict transformation, peace building and development, restoration of interaction and communication and emotional and social rehabilitation of traumatized community, SYF organized cricket and volley ball tournaments among the member teams of Sports for Peace Network
SPORT HELP TO BUILD RESILIENCE: Participating in sport and physical activity can lead to a number of positive health benefits in any situation for people of all ages and abilities. Sport has a crucial role in the optimal growth, learning and development children from infancy through adolescence, and continues people as they get older. In complex emergency / man-made disasters sport for peace project was a useful and valuable tool for building resilience and helping people affected by disaster to overcome trauma. It provided a safe, structured and friendly environment for people to begin to share their emotions through verbal and nonverbal communication. The emphasis was on building social cohesion and to encourage community member to interact and communicate with each other. Sport activities allow brief period of relaxation, focus attention away from the experience of the loss and provide an opportunity to reinforce educational and safety messages along with welcome respite for parents and caregivers. Psychosocial aspect of the sports for peace projectdo not have a primary focus on competition and wining but rather an emphasis on the cultivation of a cooperative and supportive environment. The culture of cooperation contributed significantly to the restoration of psychosocial and social functioning, especially after the trauma of disasters has caused upheaval. People benefited from having regular contact with providers of physical activity who provide trust worthy and reliable role models which is an important aspect of building resilience and overcoming trauma LEARNING OF SKILLS: Revival of Sports activities provide a forum to learn skills such as discipline, confidence and leadership and it teaches core principles such as tolerance, co-operation and respect. Sport teaches the values of effort and how to manage victory as well as defeat.
Sports for peace project help to promote social integration and foster tolerance, helping to reduce tension and generate dialogue. Establish a sense of structure and “normalcy” in Youth’s lives, which is particularly important for children affected by armed conflict and displacement. Sports for Peace project harness the power of sport and play to teach important life skills and values that can contribute toward building vibrant and peaceful communities. Participants learn how to communicate, work in teams and set goals. The project helps youth cultivate an ability to resolve conflicts peacefully through increased self- esteem and confidence in their own abilities, as well as motivation and courage to be positive agents of change. Regular activities also reduce stress, anxiety and depression, provide respite from conflict and stressful situations, and help children affected by conflict and war regain a sense of normalcy. Feedback from evaluations conducted in various areas of District Swat showcase how Sports for peace project is contributing toward decreased violence and conflict in the community and an increase in ability to resolve conflict cooperatively.
I am a student in the Conflict Resolution class.
The work with youth and sports that Swat Youth Front and the Sports for Peace Network are doing sounds great! The many benefits of using sports with youth to combat militarism and the strengths of the tactic are clear.
From this dialogue, it is clear that militarism looks different in different contexts. It also seems clear to me that using sports is a tactic that can benefit youth in many different contexts around the world. I am interested in learning more of the Sports for Peace Network and if tactics that are being used by member organizations are adjusted greatly depending on the context of conflict and militarism. Does this tactic look different in different areas, or is the use of sports a tactic which addresses the commonalities found underneath all youth involvement in militarism? I suppose this is a question for everyone. If you have used sports as a tactic, what was necessary to consider (in the context of the conflict and how militarism looks in your area) in order to transfer the use of sports to your specific situation and group of youth?
Amjad Ali - Thank you for sharing this wonderful example of how you've used sports in the Swat Valley to engage youth in physical activities (with so many benefits) and dialogue. I am anxious to hear more about the impact of these activities in under the 'Challenges and Opportunities' section of this dialogue.
tnacker - thanks for the great question about how this has been used in other contexts! I did a little searching around on the Right to Play website and found a few very short anecdotes on the impact their work has had around the world:
"If I speak of how young people were before, many of us did not approach each other to communicate; but we have seen that with Right To Play, now we do. Even if we are of different nationalities, we express ourselves to one another through play."
-- 23-year-old female participant living in a refugee camp in Benin
Reduction in Agressive Behavior:
These examples do not speak specifically to demilitarizing youth in these communities - but the link is not hard to draw.
Are there other examples out there of using sports and games to engage youth in nonviolent activities - and any specifically focused on preventing youth's militarization?
Thanks Amjad Ali and Kristin for raising sports as a great entry point for engaging youth. I wanted to share how the PEACE Center in Namibia was able to utlize sports as an entry point for engaging the whole community.
"PEACE launched an outreach program to build connections among community members and find ways to address violence in a population that has no history of expecting psychological help. Rather than establishing a clinic and expecting people to come to the door, PEACE decided to use soccer as the entry point for community engagement. The interest of one PEACE volunteer was used to launch the initiative. Twice-weekly soccer coaching for children under twelve was offered. (So much interest was generated by the youth team, PEACE has since started a soccer team for adolescents and young men."
You can read more about how they accomplished this by viewing a tactic presentation that was provided by Gudrun Kober during our New Tactics Liberia Workshop in 2007.
This is a subject about which an anthropologist should speak, but as an amateur, let me say this.
It seems that sport is one of those activities which receives its meaning and function from the culture surrounding it. Whether sports presents an alternative to or a diversion from militarization really depends not so much on the fact that it is sport but how sport is understood and experienced in that culture.
There is a famous saying attributed to the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo in which Wellington and his allies defeated Napoleon. Wellington is supposed to have said (though the story is probably apocryphal)"The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton" Eton was a posh secondary school in England, and Wellington's statement was intended to convey that Britain's victory was ensured by the fact that its soldiers, particularly officers, were trained in sports at such places.
Far from being an escape from organized violence and victory above all, some sport in some countries is continuous with it as sport sometimes shapes would-be warriors.
Now, this is not always the case. Some sports are less conducive to militarization, and some countries do not steep their sports in martial ways. But it seems clear that sport in itself cannot be the answer. One also has to be mindful of the cultural place and character of sports or a particular sport is in the place where it is offered as an alternative of militarization.
Hi, My name is Kasem Alshafiee, I'm a student in the Conflict Resoultion class.
The same theory of engaging youth in sport and other activities is already being performed by some non- profit organizations in the West Bank ( The occupied territory of Palestine). The idea is to create a good enviornment for the youth after school so they wont be exposed to the militant groups and more over to be used by them to serve their militant agenda by turning them against their opponent.
These non- profit organizations though tend to be in touch ( not necessary biased) with the most liberal political party in the local community.
Do you think that it is the same case with other organizations that try to engage youth in sport activities to avoid their militarism?
I agree with how your organization uses sports as a way to help youth resist militarism. Sports can be good way to both build community as well as resilience within a particular group. In fact, in my job I am currently working with another organization that uses sports (both volleyball and soccer) as a way of engaging Hmong youth (a recent ethnic group who came to America from mainly Thailand and Laos) to organize around issues happening in their community such as police brutality and violence in the schools. Also this sports program hopes to encourage these youth to stay in school and resist joining the local gangs.
But yet I have noticed there still is a competitive and aggressive side to sports. In fact, some other activists I know argue that sports are one of the highest forms of militarism because of their focus on the “us against our enemies” model. For example, a rather shocking advertisement I saw the other day outside of our local football (American football, not soccer) stadium showed sports direct connection to militarism. On the advertisement it first said something like “Minnesota’s First Line of Defense” and showed a picture of soldiers in battle. One the other side of the advertisement it stated “Minnesota’s Second Line of Defense” and then showed a picture of the Vikings, Minnesota’s professional state football team “doing battle” on the field with another team.
I think there needs to be a balance somehow in how sports are used. For youth maybe they are a good way to counteract militarism, but later on in life, it seems like professional athletes only encourage militarism (or at least the media would persuade us that this is true….and remember the media is both a reflection as well as a definer of a culture’s values). So how can we use sports and other competitive activities when many sports are set up in the “us versus them (the other team, side, or even enemy)” model?
(A Student from the Conflict Resolution Class)
The prototype Taliban militants under a strategy demolished many schools and colleges in the area with a sole aim to indulge the school going male teenagers into militarism and Talibanization movement as the major human capital of Taliban were mostly young students and boys as the insurgents used to brain wash youth and boys, inculcating love for martyrdom, paradise and the global rule of Islam and hence due to misconception youth joined the Taliban out of ideological persuasion.
Most of the suicide attacks in pre and post conflict situation were and are involved teenagers students of aged 14 to 19 years and hence to cope with the situation SYF initiated a project Open Minds Pakistan Project funded by Institute of War and Peace Reporting United Kingdom to initiate Human Rights Education and Journalism training with young students in five schools and colleges to broaden and enlighten the outlook of the students in objective manner to reject violence and violent views and increase the capacity of communities to reject violent extremists and help counter extremist propaganda in Pakistan and district swat that pulls individuals into radicalization and then into extremism.
The bimonthly dialogue sessions on Human Rights Education, the bimonthly journalism training and participation in online dialogue on the website www.openminds.org.pk enabled the vulnerable group of adolescents (aged 10-15 and 16-19) in public and religious schools demonstrate an improved competence in articulating moderate views on issues known to counter radicalization such as governance, rule of law, human rights, security and conflict and development issues.
The students and youth of the area are regularly participating in the online discussion forum on www.openminds.org.pk to share their views with their age sake around the world. The students being trainee journalists are regularly publishing their articles and reports in the local and national newspapers and even will launch a media program on National Television to highlight the issue of terrorism and indulging of youth as a human resources of the militants.
Swat Youth Front,
Using education as a way to help the youth that has been targeted to join the Taliban seems like an incredibly valuable tactic.
I am interested to know what specifically was done in the Open Mind sessions to help youth find more moderate views known to counter radicalism.
What are some of the questions or prompts that students are given in the online dialogues? What does the journalism training entail?
How did/does the Open Minds Pakistan Project motivate students to participate in the project?
What are some of the challenges the project has faced? Has there been any resistance from the Taliban?
What success has the project had thus far? Have the students that participated in the Open Minds project found it easier to avoid Taliban recruitment?
Thank you so much for sharing this!
(Conflict Resolution Course)
Thank you very much for the comments and raising important questions the answer i get yesterday while doing evaluation of the project with the British High Commision.
The open Minds Pakistan Project started since 1st May,2009 a time when taliban regime was in full swing. initially being the project manager of the project manager i conducted a through discussion with the school administration, teachers and project coordinating teachers. after that i took orientation classess with the students to brief them about the project and its objectives. As the students were living in the darkest age of Swat History and they experienced violation of basic human rights like right to education, movement and expression but they have no knowledge to know about their basic inherent rights and can not differentiate between wrong and right. the project aim was to braoden the outlook of the students to avoid extremism and terrorism.
The taliban were against such sort of activites and they even threat me to stop these activites as the ultimate consequence was nothing but just slaughtering. however we initiated the projec in May 2009 but on 13 May2009 we experienced the histroic displacement and had to leave district swat. We remain Internally displaced for three months and during this period SYF initiated the project in IDP's Camps with the students to maintain their education.
The journalism training provide training to students to enhance thier skills in report writing, interview skills, media reports and other skills of journalism field. An experienced Media Trainer from the National Television is recruited to provide training to the student
Thank you for responding to my questions. I did not mention this earlier, but I am looking for a tactic (from this dialogue) that I can summarize, and potentially post on the New Tactics Website. The Open Minds Pakistan Project is something I am interested in writing about. I wonder if you would be willing to answer a few more questions:
“On 13 May 2009 we experienced the historic displacement and had to leave district swat. We remain Internally displaced for three months and during this period SYF initiated the project in IDP's Camps with the students to maintain their education.”
Who was it that was displaced in May of 2009? And where is district swat?
How is SYF doing now? Is the program experiencing success after the displacement?
Could you talk about what an example of the journalism training looks like on a specific day? If we could sit in on the journalism training, what would we see?
I looked at some of the online discussions today, and noticed that many were about the media and education. How are these topics chosen? Do the students help choose them?
Amjad - you raise really important points regarding the education and the opportunity for student so participate in ways that make it possible for them to share their ideas, views and experiences.
I want to share an example from Palestine from the The Culture and Free Thought Association has established youth centers, run by youth parliaments, to teach adolescents about the democratic process and provide them with positive life experiences.- Developing youth parliaments to teach youth about the democratic process.
The process evolved into youth centers that became governed by the youth themselves, running their own electoral processes and electing members of the youth parliaments. The Culture and Free Thought Association initiated this program for youth out of a need to help young people actually experience what a democratic process could be, as the young people had never witnessed it. What the youth have experienced is a great deal of violence. The youth centers and parliaments are meant to help combat the feeling of helplessness which comes with being in a society experiencing such turmoil.
The on-going violence and lack of positive resolution to the conflict must be a tremendous and on-going challenge to continue to engage young people.
Aaron Hays in his post - Can you elaborate on organizing youth groups? - talked about his experience of being involved in a group in high school that provides another great example of what I think of as participatory education.
As a high school student, this group was incredibly valuable because it unified and amplified many like-minded youth from around the city that often felt like their small, anti-war voice was constantly loss amidst the apathetic jungle that characterizes the modern high school environment. In addition, we learned basic organizing skills and even had a brief introduction to nonviolent direct action, which is knowledge I’ve taken with me and utilized in college. Overall, it was an incredibly empowering experience and my thanks goes out to everyone involved in that program.
Aaron also asked about "sustainability". Perhaps one aspect of the "sustainability" question that Aaron raised is answered by his own on-going use of the skills he learned and continues to use.To me this is the true value of participatory education - learning by doing.
I'm interested to hear other's thoughts....
Hello! My name is Vera and I volunteer and work with New Tactics. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the dialogue so far!
Many of you have touched on the role of media in validating the role of militarism and violence, while others emphasized that the military provides concrete socio-economic incentives to attract youth enrollment. Of course, these are fundamentally connected - endorsement of military solutions in the media, in our reading of history and even in discussions with parents, makes the likellihood that youth will engage in violent action all the greater. But even when youth does not engage in violent acts, they are likely to endorse violent and military solutions (e.g., voting for militaristic policies, supporting leaders who promote armed conflict). Both of these aspects are clearly important, but I was wondering if each requires a different kind of approach:
I'm excited to hear about the examples!
Share your thoughts and ideas below by replying to this comment!
Every event having its roots in the society has an impact on the society both negative and positive but conflict has always a devastating impact on the generation to come and children and teenagers are the most vulnerable to these new trends and can be easily molded to the selfish ends of the insurgents and terrorists.
During the year 2008 and 2009 the Taliban has glowing popularity in the area and hence has an impact on the children and youth of the area. The children as “shown in the below pictures” were wearing Taliban Uniform and manufactured or bought Weapons, Rockets, Garnets and other destructive weapons.
In one haunting interview, a teenager in Swat who joined the Taliban a year ago when he was 13 described his journey, “First it was the sermons at the mosque, then being recruited to a madrassa, and finally spending months in military training…They teach us to use a machine gun, Kalashnikov…Then they teach us how to do a suicide attack.” When asked if he’s like to carry out a suicide attack, the boy answered, “If God gives me strength.”
Poverty and unemployment is also the major cause of Youth Involvement in the area as the parents send their children to some of the madrasas thinking that they are getting and education and more importantly free food but they do not know what kind of religious education their children is being put through. The poor areas of the area were/are increasingly becoming a new breeding ground for the next generation of Taliban fighters as the Taliban commander personally responsible for recruiting children. Qari Abdullah, who revealed he recruits children as young as five, six and seven years old, told her, “Children are tools to achieve God’s will. And whatever comes your way, you sacrifice it.”
To engage the Youth in non -violent alternatives to militarism it is obligatory to wage a war on poverty and a commitment to providing education and opportunity so that children in the future won't be turned into murderers, thinking that suicide and death are their only escape from a hopeless life. Please also visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cfll5JCDEq4 that how kids are brain washed by talibans
This is a fascinating story to consider given the age, culture, and international scope of the 13 year old and the conflict which he was drawn into. I believe it also raises a very important issue to consider when discussing militarism: the role that religion plays in either militarizing or de-militarizing a person. Clearly, one's religious beliefs are a major component of their value system, which includes issues such as war, violence, and defense issues.
What experiences do people have with the role of religion in conflict; have religious influences either helped or worsened a conflict situtation? If religion is used to draw people into conflict, what tactics can one use to prevent more people from being drawn in by these influences? What alternatives exist to the militarization of youth by religious influences?
Andre I want to respond to your post with two brief examples from my own religious upbringing as a Catholic. One of the first prayers I was taught was that of my "patron saint" Michael the Archangel:
St. Michael the Archangel defend us in battle. Be thou our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray. And do thou O heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander the rule for the ruin of souls. Amen.
Certainly a violent prayer for a child, and perhaps an overt predilection toward a militaristic worldview.
Yet this religious tradition also provides formal doctrine (i.e.: Catholic social teaching) and profound personal examples (Dorothy Day) of just and even pacifist approaches to religion and a religious life.
My point is that religious traditions include both inherently violent and nonviolent messages. It seems to me that the interpretation of scripture and doctrine, and the framing of religious life can lead toward or away from militarism in most traditions. People of faith need to be conscientious about the core values of their particular religion and responsible for upholding alternatives to militarism such as conscientious objection from military service, activism for social justice, ecologically sustainable lifestyles, and respect for human dignity as a primary value. Simply finding out about the idea of conscientious objection from a high school religion teacher led me to declare that status when it came time for registering with the "selective service" - the US agency responsible for instituting a military draft.
For a particular organization that upholds religious pluralism and cooperation, see the Interfaith Youth Corps. Its founder Eboo Patel believes that religious pluralism is the key to a peaceful future:
"One hundred years ago, the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois warned that the problem of the 20th century would be what he called “the problem of the color line.” The 21st century might well be dominated by a different line, no less divisive and no less violent: the faith line. The faith line does not divide people of divergent faith traditions, or religious people from secular people. Instead, this line divides religious totalitarians from religious pluralists. On one side of the line, religious totalitarians believe that their way of life is the only legitimate way; they convert, kill and condemn those who are different. On this side of the line stand all those religious extremists, from the KKK to the radical remnants of the Kach party in Israel, who are willing to act against others who do not fit into their restricted worldview. On the other side of the line are religious pluralists like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who believe that peaceful coexistence is possible with the willingness to invest the effort to get to know each other and come together around common goals."
IFYC trains interfaith youth tems in advocacy, education and leadership to build a social movement that addresses this 21st century challenge.
I am really interested in this idea of religion’s role in militarism. It is clear with Mike’s examples, and many other examples I am sure many of us could come up with, that one religion can teach various attitudes on militarism and violence. We see in Amjad Ali’s experience distressing examples of the how the Taliban uses Islam to promote the manipulation and exploitation of children for the building up of the Taliban’s own militaristic control. Yet we also see numerous Muslim organizations promoting peace through Islam (Muslim Peacemaker Teams and Muslim Peace Fellowship may be just a couple of examples).
I would like to connect this idea specifically to conflicts dialogue participants are connected to which are influenced in some way by either religious beliefs or ideologies. In working with religious communities and religious youth amidst conflict, how does one combat the same militaristic language and actions which may be promoted by a youth’s religious community? I feel that this challenge of specific religious language may ask something special of the youth in requiring them to speak out against their own community which has formed them in many ways. Are there any specific challenges which dialogue participants have struggled with or overcome in this regard? Is there a certain sensitivity with regard to this that you have had to develop? Can we uplift certain aspects of an individual’s spirituality while at the same time directly challenging other aspects?
(Conflict Resolution student)
Thank you Andre for your comments and suggestions for recommending alternatives to militarism.
As an empty mind is a devil workshop, it is likely to that the youth can become an easy prey to the selfish ends of the militants and inclination to other negative impulses.
To engage the youth of the area into healthy activities and getting a firm foothold in the labor market I propose technical and vocational education (TVE) to the youth of the area. Technical and vocational education (TVE) as an integral component of lifelong learning has a crucial role to play in this area as an effective tool to realize the objective of a culture of peace, environmentally sound sustainable economic development, social cohesion and international citizenship.
We need to be careful in attributing violent behaviour to religion as such, as opposed to recognizing the manipulation and distortion of a particular faith by extremists in the so-called name of that faith but which ultimately has nothing to do with it.
Religion and religious organizations can actually play an extremely important and powerful role in discouraging young people from being militarized.
On the positive side:
That said, there is a negative side as well:
To this end, UNICEF and Religions for Peace (which is the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition that works to advance peace) have formed a partnership to strengthen the partnerhip of religious communities and child protection actors to enhance protection for children affected by conflict (http://religionsforpeace.org/initiatives/violent-conflict/).
Thanks for your observations on how religious communities can discourage young people from being militarized. You raised some strengths and weaknesses of religious groups that I had not recognized before.
I imagine that this job of deterring youth from militarization could be difficult, still, because violence is a pervasive worldview in many of the Christian traditions (which I can only speak for). In the Bible, violence is attributed to God in stories like “Noah’s Ark” that portray and justify the genocide of nearly everyone on Earth because of humanity’s sins. Even some non-violent Christian activists throughout the civil rights movement in the United States based their nonviolence in the expectation of the apocalypse, when God’s redemptive violence is supposed to cleanse the Earth. Other stories give divine justification to military conquests that displace indigenous peoples and carry out ethnic cleansing. It is difficult to break out of these violent paradigms that have been handed down for generations and are entrenched in the very culture of these communities.
That being said, it is wonderful to see organizations such as Religions for Peace, which seems to work toward promoting a more just worldview. Thanks for posting the link - I visited it and saw some great examples of education and community building strategies that seem to be effective in transforming violent conflict.
I am intrigued by this partnership between UNICEF and Religions for Peace. Could you say more about some of the ways this connection works to better protect children from violent conflicts?
University of St. Thomas
My name is Kasem, I'm a student in the Conflict Resolution class.
I find the same case happening in the West Bank of Palestine.
Militant groups tend to encourage children and youth to resist the Israeli occupation by sending them to throw rocks on the soldiers (unlike the Taliban case, no use of weapons). Many of these children has been killed, injured or jailed by the Israeli army. Therefore, the need for organizations that can involve the youth in activities will help prevent their radicalization. Nowadays only few non-profit organizations active in this field and they only work with small groups of youth. Many Liberals believe that these organizations should be politically represented in the local communities.
What's your take on what's happening in the West Bank in terms of youth radicalization and the idea of politicizing these organizations?
What advices or work methods would you recommend to these organizations?
This section is focused on ways to engage youth in non-violent solutions. I came across an interesting document put together by the UNDP. This PDF, titled Youth and Violent Conflict contains many interesting sections. I was particularly interested in their section on gender and the fact that there seems to be a perception that youth, as a status, is more relevant for boys than for girls. Furthermore, this document contains a whole section on the demographics of youth at risk for being recruited for the military as well as the description of coercive strategies that military centers and officials use to engage youth in violence.
Thank you Vera for sharing the UNDP document addressing Youth and Violent Conflict! It is definitely a wealth of information and it raises some very interesting and important issues.
The section that I found to be most striking began on page 20, and was titled 'Youth Crisis'. The idea is that youth violence (in the form of government militarism, non-governmental forces, gangs, or other criminal behavior) is the result of a lack of education and employment opportunities. It is a cry for attention from those who feel that have been forgotten by society. However, the question can be raised as to where the line should be drawn between youth in crisis and typical teenage angst. At what point does this sense of alienation turn into a desire for violence? It is also important to recognize that youth experience varying levels and types of crisis, and their situations may or may not lead them to engage in violence.
So I think the key here is to investigate what leads some youth to resort to violence and others to avoid it. I think the article says it best on page 21: "Are they all in the same crisis? And if they are, does this crisis necessarily lead to violence? If young people who fight do so because they are in crisis [...] what about those who do not fight? Are they not in crisis – or do they deal with crisis in a different way?" While focusing our energies on youth who are at risk of becoming militarized is very important, I think it is important that we listen to the voices of those who succesfully resisted militarization in their own lives. I think these youth could teach us some very important lessons.
Yes! Let's talk about those organizations the support those voices that have successfully resisted militarization in their own lives (the conscientious objectors). There are two great examples that I have come to learn about:
The december18th project is a campaign to Free the Shministim (Israeli conscientious objectors). The Shministim are Israeli high school students who have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in an army that occupies the Palestinian Territories. December 18, 2008 marked the launch date of a global campaign to release them from jail. Supporters of this campaign are encouraged to send the following message to the Israeli Prime Minister:
I support the Shministim and their right to peacefully object to military service. I call for the release of those teenagers who have been jailed for their principled refusal to serve in an army which occupies the Palestinian Territories. The imprisonment of these conscientious objectors is a violation of their human rights and contrary to International Law.
I am inspired by these caring students and their counterparts in Palestine, whose nonviolent resistance to the Occupation points the way to a just peace and security for all people in the region. They are our best hope for the future. I urge you to heed them, and not punish them.
The campaign has videotaped interviews with Shministims - what better way to get their voice heard?
The IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War) has also made supporting conscientious objectors a priority. They track their jail time and send out email alerts to supports on their status. They have a list of war resisters here - http://www.ivaw.org/warresisters
Do you think that the government and military respond to these kinds of actions? What is the impact of these kinds of campaigns? My initial thought is that the support for the conscientious objectors makes it easier for others to also object without being fearful - they know that at least someone is watching and will help to share their story.
I have an admittedly biased opinion on the importance and potential impact of conscientious objectors (COs), but I think my perspective is justified given that I was classified as a CO and discharged from the United States Navy on September 11, 2009. Contrary to the DOD's successful publicity about the "all volunteer" miliitary, this phrase is more than a little disingenous since military personnel cannot voluntarily leave the armed forces at will. With this in mind, conscientious objection is the only militarily recognized form of seeking discharge because of an individual's opposition to war.
Least to say, the existence of regulations about conscientious objection are not well-known to military personnel, so much so, that I never even heard it mentioned in my first three years of active duty. What made the difference for me was discovering the website of the Center on Conscience & War (where I now work). I had been convinced of the immorality of the military's actions for months, but it wasn't until I got in touch with the staff at the Center that I learned how I could express these views in a way that might be recognized by the military.
I think it's hard to overstate the significance of a miltary member filing for conscientious objector status, because it's an action that takes place within the military system itself. Young people who have already joined the armed forces are often far removed from many of the resources and groups that are seeking to present alternatives to militarism, but someone filing a CO application is in their midst. While there can be severe opposition from both peers and superiors, a well-supported CO applicant is in a unique position to present an alternate way of thinking.
Personally, I went to Kinko's and had bound copies made of my application so that I could distribute it on base. I also started the website http://WarIsImmoral.com to post my application in addition to an ongoing blog about the process of seeking CO status. Most COs don't go to quite these lengths of publicity, but even the act of filing the paperwork draws significant attention to the moral and ethical questions that are rarely raised on military bases. Throughout the multi-month process of seeking discharge in this way, I repeatedly encountered individuals up and down the Chain of Command who were totally unfamiliar with conscientious objection. Many in the military can easily dismiss the beliefs of "civilian" nay-sayers, but it's much more difficult to ignore dissent when it comes from within the ranks.
The reality is that I doubt I would have known about or applied for conscientious objector status without significant support from a knowledgeable organization like the Center on Conscience & War. Looking beyond my own success in escaping militarism, highlighting conscientious objection in the armed forces can be a powerful way to counter the glorification of what it's like to be in the military. One method that the Center on Conscience & War has found extremely helpful in doing this has been to host screenings of the award-winning documentary Soldiers of Conscience followed by an open discussion about the issues raised in the film. Whether right or wrong, the status afforded to veterans means that often young people will be even more interested in an event that includes military personnel, even if it's only in an on-screen format.
This is such a great story, Daniel! We become activists when we are called to act - and who knows when that time will come for each of us? It's so awesome that you went to Kinkos and made copies of your conscientious objector application and distributed it to you peers on base. You're right - it's more powerful coming from a fellow military member than from a "civilian"!
I think you have some great points that I hadn't thought of before such as the one you mention in the video clip on your website - "If it's an all volunteer military, then why can't I leave?". Addressing this issue as a human rights issue (as slavery) is a powerful approach.
Your website - http://warisimmoral.com/ - is a great resource for military members that want to learn more about becoming a conscientious objector (podcasts, videos, forms, etc). From your post, it sounds like many people in the military are unfamiliar wtih the conscientious objector process - how can we get this information to more military personnel?
Thanks for sharing this, Daniel!
As difficult as it is for me to say this... movements that advocate for peace, demilitarization, and sustainability in the contemporary context have not done as well as their competitors (the militarists, the war profiteers, and the Pentagon/Department of Defense) who have always mangaged to work out ways to hook youth into their messages. Arguably, a lot of that can be attributed to the level the competition is playing at financially. With over $4 billion dollars annually spent to recruit young people into the military, millions of dollars spent on facilitating JROTC programs in the nation's public schools, and untold dollars spent on educational text-books that glorify the US war record it seems that the movements for peace are up against a multi-tentacled monster whose reach permeates in more ways than activist movements can... especially when it comes to engaging young people. However, one thing is for certain and that is that the best way to reach youth is by assisting youth in leading their own efforts to reach their peers.
As a national trainer & presenter who is contantly sought out to help well meaning grassroots groups engage in the conversation about how to do counter-recruitment/truth-in-recruitment work in their communities I often find that it is a very rare occassion to see young people in the audience. Whilst we may whittle away at the "alphabet soup" that deals with the jargons, and terminology as well as the practical aspects of how to approach school administrators and other "strategic" efforts my one crucial overture to groups is that they need to somehow identify young people they can nurture and support to be the champions of the messages they'd want other youth to hear. Young people talk more readily and easily to other youth and a peer to peer approach is one of the best ways to help get the positive messages across to those young people who are largely unaware that they are dyed in the wool of militarism.
But how easy is this? Frankly, not very easy especially if the folk involved do not have children or are very far removed from the generation they wish to reach. We know that the US military and its various service branches use their military recruiters in a variety of ways. Career recruiters who staff offices are usually senior officers. These individuals may not spend as much time visiting high schools and other places where young people gather as the field recruiters under their commands will do. Generally those field recruiters are "young" and are not often too far removed from the generation they are recruiting. They understand the youth culture of the day, and may even on their own time participate in very similar types of recreational activities as the youth they meet up with. This allows for a certain type of "gravitas" that aging activists could rarely expect to have with youth. The military has spent a lot of money figuring out that putting young faces in front of the young people they hope to recruit is the best way to get across their sales pitch. Compounding the challenge for those who wish to share an alternative message with youth is the fact that the military is a sacred cow in many US communities and young people are taught to value a uniform as a safe authority whereas a concerned citizen trying to engage a young person in the alternatives can often be perceived as someone lacking clout and relevance ESPECIALLY if they have not ever been in the military.
So, in my opinion, the key is to not only figure out how to address the issue at the bureacratic levels (school boards, school administrators, legislators, etc) where older folk may have more traction, but to also figure out ways develop programs that will attract young people and provide them with opportunities to learn and lead. Examples of this can be found in a number of my organization's Regional Offices throughout the United States:
The long and short of it is that we have to be more creative, more innovative, and most of all more dedicated to figuring out ways to reach and engage youth. The military relies on its popular image, the video games it produces and helps to produce, mainstream media (movies, TV, radio, internet) and even its bases that are scattered around the country within arms reach of civilian populations, to promote itself. We don't have that going for us, but what we do have are thousands and perhaps millions of young people who don't buy into the militarist culture of the United States and who don't know what do about it. All we need to be able to do is provide those young people with the structure to work within or ways to create their own structures, as well as guidance and any amount of financial resources we can muster and they can often take it from there.
You brought up some excellent points, Oskar. I think it is an undeniable truth that in most communities (at least in the United States), members of the Armed Forces are put on a sort of pedestal. A woman or man in a military uniform is immediately respected as an authority figure and one who should be trusted. As a result, the army's use of recruiters is incredibly effective; even more so when the recruiter is relatively close in age to those they are trying enlist (as you mentioned). Put all this together and you have one very attractive sales pitch. Activists struggle to connect with these youth who are in danger of being enlisted and militarized because they lack this kind of influence and it is not as easy for them to relate to youth in the same way that military recruiters are able to.
I think a wonderful solution would be to involve younger veterans in youth outreach. I know that Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) has a counter-recruitment program. Veterans set up tables in high schools and pass out flyers, informational packets, and talk with young people about the military and their options after graduation. Veterans' stories of their experiences are incredibly powerful and can be used to prevent youth from enlisting without fully understanding what it means to serve in the armed forces.
Are any of you aware of other organizations that are using veterans for counter-recruitment? If so, how effective has this tactic been?
I'm not sure if Oskar will be able to respond to your questions before the dialogue closes, so I'll say that I know that the Before You Enlist video is in the process of being updated and revised. I've reviewed the working copy and it's going to be even better than the first version, plus there will finally be Spanish subtitles.
Your question about the challenges of using such a tool is a key one. There are many good documentaries out there that can be used to educate people about the realities of enlistment and war, but they often cannot be used in schools and are too long. To be an effective counter-recruitment tool, it's important to design the content based on how recruiters sell enlistment and based on the audience that is the selling target. Telling about the risks of enlistment (including PTSD, depleted uranium, sexual assault, combat injuries and death) seems like a good approach to older folks, but by itself it doesn't anticipate how a recruiter can convince a teenager that such things won't happen to him or her. An effective counter-recruitment tool must give young viewers a reason not to trust the promises and sales pitch they will hear from someone in uniform, who, in their eyes, speaks with authority and honor. It should highlight examples of fraud and the loophole for the military that is in every enlistment agreement.
Also, an effective c-r tool must take issue with the myth that "service" equals "soldiering." That's often the reason why people enlist--because they believe they will make a positive difference in the world by doing so. An effective c-r tool should point out, at least in general ways, that there are other ways to serve people, their community and the world, as well as other ways to pay for college and get career training.
Watch for the new version of BYE and use it wherever you can!
Oskar, your organization has provided great opportunities for youth groups all over the country. I’d like to share that it was through an AFSC office in Des Moines, IA that space was created for a group of youths from several high schools was able to meet to share their dissatisfaction with the Iraq War and American imperialism. Aside from a general meeting space, we were given a great deal of help in structuring the group as well as a support network of other activists in the area.
As a high school student, this group was incredibly valuable because it unified and amplified many like-minded youth from around the city that often felt like their small, anti-war voice was constantly loss amidst the apathetic jungle that characterizes the modern high school environment. In addition, we learned basic organizing skills and even had a brief introduction to nonviolent direct action, which is knowledge I’ve taken with me and utilized in college. Overall, it was an incredibly empowering experience and my thanks goes out to everyone involved in that program.
Would you be able to elaborate on youth programs like these? How are they initiated and sustained? Our group collapsed shortly after we all graduated, so I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
University of St. Thomas
I work for the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (Project YANO), which is based in heavily militarized San Diego County, Calif.
In order to effectively counter militarism in young people's lives, I agree with Oskar that it's very important to try to encourage and facilitate peer organizing and educating. To do so, there are a lot of challenges that NON-students must overcome. Project YANO has worked at it since its first year (1984). We've had cycles of success over time, and the most recent can be viewed in several sets of photos at the Education Not Arms Coalition Web site (look at links in the JROTC firing range campaign section). Project YANO helped bring this coalition together and now has a number of students from the coalition on its various boards. What made it work was a few key factors:
At other times, we are reaching out to students by having volunteers distribute leaflets in front of schools in the morning, which sometimes results in students handing them out inside. Project YANO also staffs displays at high school career fairs and sends occasional speakers into classrooms.
Project YANO has continued to be a key supporter of the Ed. Not Arms Coal. Now we are working with students in the coalition on a policy to limit military recruiting that will be presented to the San Diego City school district. It will be presented as guidelines that are necessary to give students balanced (or equal) access to information on all their post-high school options. Students did the initial research and have met with individual school board members.
"Older youth" (as one of them calls the adult allies), must constantly work to support students in leadership roles and not dominate the coalition, but this initiative has generally been successful.
What a fantastic campaign! It's really great to see success stories such as this - thanks for sharing. Your description and links are incredibly helpful. If you allow me to dig a little deeper, I'm real interested in how one would initiate this type of campaign.
How did you make initial contact with students? Or did students come to you? You mentioned that there were a few supportive teachers were important to this campaign's success. What were they able to offer this position?
Also, in the JROTC firing range campaign it seemed that the opposition was manifested in claims that attempted to either discredit or dispute claims that the campaign made. How organized was this opposition and who was it composed of? I wonder if there were other students who were as active in opposing this campaign as there were students who supported it.
University of St. Thomas
In answer to your questions:
There are articles that outline the campaign development and its results. You'll find them in the online archives of Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org). The most recent is dated April-June 2009 at http://www.comdsd.org/article_archive.htm#Victory. You can look for earlier articles by scanning the topics or using the search engine.
Project YANO initially was contacted by a high school teacher with whom we had been developing a relationship over several years. He put us in touch with a student at the school who then mobilized a few others to oppose the planned introduction of JROTC at their campus (Mission Bay H.S.). Soon after, we had a meeting to which we invited teachers from a second school and representatives of a few organizations in the Chicano and African American communities. These individuals mobilized their students and members and eventually came together as the Education Not Arms Coalition.
The teachers at the two schools were in a good position to alert students because they were advisors to chapters of MEChA, a Chicano/a student organization found mostly in the Southwestern US. MEChA advocates for social justice and seeks to increase the enrollment of Chicanos/as in college. The MEChistas instinctively understood that the militarization of their schools meant fewer opportunities for disenfranchised people, and they were especially offended by the hypocrisy of schools allowing JROTC shooting ranges while professing to have zero-tolerance policies on weapons and violence. Another source of complaint was the diminishing support for college prep programs and advance placement Spanish classes that was occuring while JROTC was being expanded. Finally, three students died in shootings in the community during the campaign, the stories of which added urgency to the issue.
Yes, there were students who wanted to maintain the JROTC shooting ranges. For the most part, they were organized by virtue of being in JROTC classes, which is really a military-structured lobbying force that effectively indoctrinates students. JROTC instructors were active in encouraging students to attend school board meetings and themselves testifed. The administrator of JROTC for the school district lobbied the school board with memos, to which we responded. Parents of JROTC cadets also testified at some board meetings.
Our numbers were larger and our campaign succeeded in part because we were seeking reforms that were short of a complete ban on JROTC. We wanted to eliminate specific features of JROTC that helped the program recruit and maintain its required minimum enrollment (the firing ranges, involuntary enrollment, and false claims about boosting college eligibility). If we had demanded termination of the program, we would have lost.
There is a marvelous record (audio and video) of the public testimony by the parties on both sides on the school district web site. You'll find links to them at http://projectyano.org/educationnotarms/JROTC_Campaign_index.htm#links. If you want to hear the very inspired response from the school board at the final hearing, scroll forward about 1/4 of the way into this video: http://old.sandi.net/board/reports/2009/0210/video2.html. When you hear their comments prior to voting, keep in mind that this is an elected school board in the middle of one of the largest military complexes in the world. It's not a bastion of leftist politics like Berkeley, yet they voted to remove all 13 JROTC firing ranges; and, separately, the superintendent issued a directive to stop involuntary enrollment in JROTC and prohibit false claims that the class would count toward meeting college entrance requirements. The students and coalition achieved all of their campaign goals!