Sunday, October 23, 2016


Last week, as I was walking to the bathroom during lunch I was approached by the U.S. Army recruiter. He was standing to the side of the table covered in Army knick-knacks that stood between me and the bathroom. I noticed him when I had first entered the lunchroom from the outdoor tables where I had been sitting. As a precautionary measure against being stopped and sales-pitched by GI Joe, I pulled up twitter on my phone and stared at it intently, avoiding eye contact with the large bald man in fatigues.

However, this did little to spare me, as it only prompted the recruiter to make a bizarre statement to get my attention. "You trying to call me?" he asked, referring to the phone in my hand. "Sir?" I replied, somewhat confused considering that my phone was in my hand down by my waist. Though once my confusion passed I realized that I had walked into his trap.

After chitchat and niceties he asked what I wanted to do with my life. This is a daunting question for any highschooler, but I resolved to show conviction in my answer. I knew that any sign of uncertainty or weakness in my answer would be pounced upon by the soldier standing before me. I explained in as confident a voice as I could force that I planned on going pre-law at UGA before attending law school elsewhere. His immediate response was "How do you plan to pay for that? Is your family well off?" He was targeting any weakness he could find in my plan, any flaw that could be exploited into convincing me to join the army.

My responses that I would go with the HOPE Scholarship as well as Zell Miller did not satisfy him. He stated that it would not cover everything and that if I joined the army they could pay for everything and that they had their own legal division. I replied that I wanted to join the army and attend the USMA when I was little but that after I got older I realized it wasn't for me. He shifted bluntly to suggesting that I could enlist as a regular soldier like him and something about sitting down with my parents and discussing things.

 I politely declined and went on my way to the bathroom, but the situation stayed in my mind for longer than I expected. I am neither anti-military nor unpatriotic, but something about that situation rubbed me the wrong way. He looked at me as a problem to be solved in that instant, a resource to be extracted, a number to fill a quota.

The following class, I was trying to unpack my feelings on the matter and why it bothered me so much. I started to see that the main problem I had was that I wasn't being talked to as a person, I was a number. I started to draw my own conclusions about the dangers of reducing people to data, dangers of authority, and how uncertainty can be exploited.

The main question that was running through my mind was "How could that conversation have turned out if I was less certain? Or if I placed more authority into what the soldier was saying?" And I don't have the answers to questions like that. I don't know how many people have been persuaded into joining the military like that off of the basis of uncertainty and how they assign authority to information given to them. And how do we address these kinds of problems? How do we fix them? Is it the nature of the military and something that education and knowledge can fix? Or should recruitment policy in the military itself be changed to be less abusive of authority? Are the policies being implemented morally questionable but necessary to national defense considering politico's findings that most army volunteers are unqualified and of those who are qualified, many don’t want to join? A recent Washington Post survey found that 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds expressed support for using ground troops against ISIL. But 85 percent said they would “probably” or “definitely” not join the military. Either way, being hunted down in lunch and heavily persuaded is a sketchy way to use authority and takes advantage of uncertain and often uninformed teenagers.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great place to start for a Real LIfe Situation. It is clear that the army recruiter's message really "stuck in your craw" so to speak. And I am glad that you are raising so many questions: I only wish you had tried to follow some of them down their respective rabbit holes, so to speak.

    A couple for me: That article about the disconnect between willingness to put one's own life on the line vs. the lives of anonymous soldiers is SUPER compelling. What a fantastic place to look at ethics of violence and public policy vs. private life.

    Throughout your story about the soldier, I kept asking a related question to your own about what if you had been different. I kept wondering how the conversation might have shifted if you had purposefully rehumanized yourself. For example, would he have shifted tone if you had responded to his question about your parents' income with, "I really don't feel like that's any of your business." I think the reason I thought about this is that it is clear from your tone that you have a particular "vision" of this recruiter, and it seems that the tension in your encounter may come from each of you carrying on a conversation with a stereotype, of sorts...