Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Local Teacher Bars Military Recruiters From His Classroom

We reside here in the desert wasteland that is California's "Imperial" Valley. In a local instance that mirrors what has happened in other areas of the country, (example here) Scott Fullerton, who teaches government in an "Imperial" Valley public high school, is now barring Marine Corps recruiters from his classroom. In what passes for our local newspaper, Fullerton writes:
Last week I made a decision to change something I have always permitted in my high school classroom, something I’ve allowed for 25 years. I will not have the Marine recruiter pitch the corps to my students.

This decision was not easy to make given my 10 years of service in my beloved corps. The Marine Corps provided me with the defining moment of my life, one that gave me a lifelong direction and purpose. To paraphrase the Marine Rifleman’s Creed, without the Marine Corps I am nothing, without me the Marine Corps is useless.

It is my conviction that the corps has become politicized, an adjunct of the Republican Party, of the Bush administration. The military is by dint a conservative institution as it perhaps must be. There is, however, a huge difference between honest government and the radical policies of our current leadership.

Recent public events and personal experience have led me to this conclusion. When a Marine general claims it is “fun” to kill the enemy, regardless of how despicable his portrayal in the media, that general’s shallow comprehension as to what it is to destroy another human being is revealed. As anyone who has been put in harm’s way will tell you, no matter who or how evil the enemy is, he must be respected. This general’s claim is very much in line with the “chicken-hawk” Iraq War planners’ approach to conflict resolution.

Since when is war fun?

The 1st Marine Division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its role in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. This action, the equivalent of a healthy young buck beating up an old man in a wheelchair, was thusly set on the same hallowed plane occupied by Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir and the 1968 Tet Offensive.

When a recruiter gives my students an unrealistic impression of the Marine Corps by focusing on what a good time and seemingly easy life the corps offers with its good pay, outstanding benefits and generous programs while ignoring the flip side, I am always compelled to spend the next day balancing the picture.

And no, I don’t hammer on the combat aspects of military life so much as the more mundane features, such as the stultifying boredom, the curse of a bad platoon sergeant, field days, long separations and multiple deployments overseas, mess duty and the rest. All in a day’s work.

In defense of the recruiters, they are under unbelievable pressure to meet their quotas; to miss quota is to damage one’s career. Grabbing bodies is, after all, their job.

This is not sour grapes on my part. I’ve persuaded scads of former students and athletes to enlist. I believe today’s Marines and his soldier, sailor and airmen brothers and sisters are more highly trained than in previous generations. But the subject is values, not training. Military service has traditionally been, in part, about setting the example for the rest of us, a lofty and implausible goal considering the me-first society in which we live.

Serving in the military used to be a truly Spartan calling, a life of sacrifice, denial, penury and austerity. Those are not great recruiting tools these days.

Most disturbing to me is the assertion an officer made to my advanced government class. He said he wouldn’t have wanted to go to war with the draftees who made up the Vietnam-era Marine Corps. The implication was that draftees were low-grade people, unreliable, unintelligent and, most damning, unwilling. He qualified this by saying he’d rather be surrounded by volunteers, whose desire to fight was undeniable.

I was stunned but said nothing from my perch in the rear of the classroom. Some of the best Marines I ever served with were draftees, many of whom never left stateside. They ranged from college graduates to grade school dropouts. A few were screw-ups and some had lived outside the law but rarely did I ever hear any of them complain about being in a condition of servitude.

They were just doing their jobs like the rest of us and, in fact, there was no real difference between us.

They were men who felt an obligation and expected no more or less than anyone else.

When some “weasel” Marine runs over a civilian with his car it is reprehensible, especially when he evades responsibility. An off-duty Marine corporal plowed into a group of bystanders one night a few years back while drag racing in Mexicali, killing some and maiming others. In my day (harrumph) Marines were strictly prohibited from going to Mexicali precisely to avoid such catastrophe.

That didn’t stop some, of course, but there it is.

In closing, I submit the day-to-day situations in the corps are quite different from the fantastic digitalized TV commercials depicting a Marine and his sword slaying a monster. Until the Marine Corps comes to grips with the truth of living and dying in real time, it can recruit elsewhere.

Scott Fullerton teaches government at Southwest High School in El Centro.
As a public school teacher, Fullerton has the right to invite whatever guest speakers that he wishes into his classroom. But he also has some responsibility for the content of their presentation.

Like any other American, Fullerton also has the absolute right to publish his opinions in the local newspaper. Personally, I feel that Fullerton's "going public" with the barring of the Marine Corps recruiters was both unnecessary and counterproductive to the War Effort.

Certainly his statement that a branch of our historically non-politicized military has become nothing more than an "adjunct" of one of the national political parties was uncalled for. His labeling of the liberation of Iraq as "the equivalent of a healthy young buck beating up an old man in a wheelchair," was not only incorrect, but mean-spirited as well.

Having said that, is Fullerton's barring of Marine recruiters simply his method of choice for personally opposing the Iraq War? Is he doing this primarily to shelter his students from possible harm? Or is there some other reason behind his actions?

What are Fullerton's motives?

You make the call.
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