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A former Marine recruiter explains...
How they sell the military

March 4, 2005 | Pages 8 and 9

CHRIS DUGAN served in the Marines from 1995 to 1999, including a short period when he was a recruiter. Now, he considers himself a counter-recruiter.

A student at Hunter College in New York City and an antiwar activist, he is speaking out about the tactics that the military uses to recruit cannon fodder for Washington's war for oil and empire. Here, we reprint excerpts from one of Chris' recent speeches.

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ALTHOUGH I am a former Marine, I cannot talk to you about the horrors of war. I cannot spin you tales of skirmishes I fought in, or friends that I've lost, and I cannot show you any battle scars. During my time as a Marine, I was fortunate that I never had to see the face of anything so cataclysmic.

But what I can talk about is my experience. I can tell you how I perceived the Marine Corps before I joined it, while I was in it, and how I perceive it now that I am out.

I first became interested in the Marines when I was 14. The recruiter would visit my high school on a regular basis and set up a table with stickers, postcards and posters advertising the Marines. The posters would read, "The few, the proud, the Marines." This propaganda appealed to me; I thought that becoming a Marine would be a great challenge to me physically and intellectually, and would also be a way of setting myself apart from other people.

My friends and I all had the posters hanging in our rooms. We would watch Full Metal Jacket and Platoon, romanticizing war and admiring the valiance of those brave men who sacrificed all for our freedom--for America. Wow, did we miss the message.

I visited the recruiting office when I turned 16. The recruiters' demeanor and appearance impressed me, and I wanted to join right there and then. The recruiter said to me with his slight Southern drawl: "Let me tell you what I'm going to do for you. When you turn 17, I'll come on over to your school, get you out of class, and we'll discuss your future in the Corps." He handed me some more stickers and posters, had me write down the names of anyone that I thought would be "hard enough for the Corps," and out I went.

I was hooked. I had a plan, and I was going to stick to it. I wasn't going to be a loser. I wasn't going to be one of those kids that ended up trapped in a menial job just to pay the bills, and I wasn't going to let myself settle for doing something meaningless, either. I was going to do something with my life. I was going to fight for something. Something noble.

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IN MY junior year, I turned 17, and there was the recruiter, just as he promised. He got me out of class, and we arranged a day to get something to eat and talk about my future. He told me that if I wanted to, I could bring anyone else who I thought might be interested. I told some friends, but they didn't show.

The recruiter took me down to the office, bragging about his new government vehicle and how he had a nice house on the Navy base near the recruiting station. The only thing bad about it, he said, was that he had to be around those "undisciplined Navy squids."

When I got to the office, my recruiter's boss was not as accepting or encouraging. He scowled at me and said, "Boy, what makes you think the Marine Corps needs you." I said, "Well, uh..." He said, "Tell you what. You go in the other room and think about it, then come back and see me."

He had my number. He psychoanalyzed me; he knew I wanted to be part of "the few, the proud," and he knew my natural reaction would be to want to prove to him what I was made of. He knew I wasn't like other kids who were only semi-interested and needed a little more friendly coaxing.

He read me like a book, and he knew that the way to get me to join was to challenge my dedication. You see I was easy; I was gung-ho. I joined the poole program, which is a recruiter group of mainly high school students who are interested in enlisting. We would go to meetings where they teach you Marine Corps history, of past triumphs and glories, and prepare you physically for boot camp.

Two of my friends from high school enlisted with me, but the recruiters used a different approach for them, based on their personalities. One night, the recruiter picked up one of my friends who enjoyed an occasional joint and alcoholic beverage and took him to the beach, where they got wasted. My other friend scored the highest score on the ASVAB, the placement test for the armed services. For him, they promised the reserves and then officer training school.

The recruiters knew how to sell the Marine Corps. They repeatedly told us that the Corps would make us men. And the Marine Corps knowledge classes that we would sit through for hours in boot camp told us that if we made it, we would be a part of this proud tradition.

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I WENT to Paris Island for Boot Camp in 1995. I was amazed at some of the people they allowed in; they didn't look or act like they wanted to be part of "the few, the proud." I couldn't understand; what were these slackers doing here? How did they make it this far?

When many of them graduated boot camp, I began to realize that we were just bodies to fill enlistment quotas. This is when I started questioning what I had gotten myself into. I started doing some reading on my own after boot camp.

I had always been interested in Irish history, and when I began reading more about it, I started drawing parallels between U.S. foreign policy and British imperialism. I became interested in British history as well, since that nation has been a longtime ally of the U.S., and because of its close involvement with the U.S. military in past conflicts.

I read about how the English had asserted their power over Ireland by military occupation, and how they had done so in other countries by the installation of friendly governments whose heads would do the bidding of the British. I read about how in many of these cases, as the British Empire was weakening and the strength of the U.S. grew, the burden of empire or the exertion of influence was passed on to the U.S. Often, this control included a form of economic imperialism as well.

I read about how the English had proposed to their soldiers and civilians many of the same ideals that had been presented to me--such as fighting for your country, defending the "right" way of life, and bringing civilization and democracy to the "barbaric" or "undeveloped" people of the world. I read about how deceptive and Machiavellian the British had been--not only toward the people they were trying to conquer, but also toward their own citizens and soldiers.

I knew that British military involvement in Ireland, as well as in other countries, was unjust. It became apparent that what they had been selling to the public as a just cause was actually a lie. And I began to question the very institution that had inspired me to fight for something.

For a time, I sucked it up. The way I saw it, I had signed that contract. No matter what, I had to do what I was told.

But I didn't just do what I was told. I wanted to climb the ranks; I wanted to excel. I was sick of being on the bottom. I still wanted to show them what I was made of--prove myself. I was exceptional. I was also married at the time and wanted to make more money. I knew that if I really pushed myself, I could support myself and my wife, and even provide a better life for us.

Within two years, I was meritoriously promoted to corporal. My company rewarded me by allowing me to go home for two months on recruiting duty. If I helped recruit some suckers, it would help my chances of making sergeant in less than four years.

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SO I went at it. I employed all the tactics that my recruiters used on me. I went to my high school, and told everyone how great it was in the Corps and how everyone should serve their country.

I learned that the recruiters had lists of everyone from the guidance office at my high school, which indicated what they were doing after graduation. If you were going to what they perceived as a good college, you got a postcard about becoming an officer, and that was usually it. But if you were going to trade school or the local community college, you became a prime target.

During my brief recruiting stint, I visited my high school and other surrounding schools that fit the working-class mold, to hunt for potential recruits. I would usually start by asking them questions like what they had planned for their future, and then, I would tailor my sales pitch to what the potential recruit said.

Some examples of my sale pitches were: "Why stay here, man? When you're older, do you want to look back and say that you spent your prime adult years driving around town picking up high school girls, or that you gave something back by serving your country, and wouldn't you rather pick up girls from around the world." Or: "Hey, do you play sports? The Marine Corps has a great sports program, you know you could join--you're good, right? Well all you would do is play football, wrestle, basketball..." Or: "I know money is tight. The Marine Corp will pay for your schooling and provide you with a trade."

We would go to mall in the middle of the day and look for men and women working at the snack bar, or men in their 20s with their girl, mostly African Americans, and tell them how they would make good money--and, "Hey, you got kids, man? How many? The Marine Corps has great benefits."

And we always got their name and info. If they didn't have a GED and they were planning on getting one, we would tell them that we would help them study. "All we need is your info." Recruiters have quotas, and if they don't make it, that's their ass. So if strings needed to be pulled, they were. If they knew you had been using drugs, they would give you pills to flush your system out before you went down to enlist.

That quota was the most important thing. Not what you could contribute to the Marine Corps, or the supposed ideal of defending your country.

I was part of the proud tradition of the Marine Corps--the warriors for freedom. Like the freedom that we brought to Mexico at the Halls of Montezuma; the freedom we brought to the Philippines after the Spanish-American War; the freedom we brought to the Dominican Republic, China, Haiti, Panama and Kuwait.

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I BEGAN to question what it all meant. I asked myself if I hadn't fallen for something, or been duped, without realizing what was really at stake. I wondered if I had made a mistake, and I eventually came to the conclusion that the Marines were just an arm of the current hegemon exerting its power, in much the same way that the British Empire had for so long. That's the tradition I had actually become part of.

I attribute my present outlook on imperialism, capitalism and militarism to those men and women in the Irish republican socialist movement who have fought for over 800 years against British occupation. I hope that their struggle against imperialism, as well as the struggles of countless others, will serve as a lesson to those who support U.S. military operations overseas and who think the U.S. has the right to occupy another country.

The U.S. will be met by the same resistance that the British encountered in their efforts to dominate the world economy and world politics, for years to come.

The three-time Medal of Honor Marine, Major Gen. Smedley Butler stated: "I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer; a gangster for capitalism. I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation, held in abeyance, while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service."

For the two months that I was a recruiter, I was an urbane pimp for the Marine Corps and the capitalist military industrial complex.

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