An Army of None

ZNet | Anti War
by Jeremy Brecher; Portside; July 29, 2007

[Army of None: Strategies to Counter Military Recruitment, End War, and Build a Better World By Aimee Allison and David Solnit, Seven Stories Press, August, 2007]



Army of None is a manual for opponents of the Iraq war who want to cut off its supply of cannonfodder.  It presents how- to guides, hot tips, and successful examples of counterrecruitment strategies in schools and communities around the U.S.  It argues that such actions can be a critical part of ending the war by depriving the military of soldiers to fight it. It presents this strategy as part of a more general “people power” approach to combating war and transforming society based on the withdrawal of popular compliance with authority.


The authors argue that without enough soldiers, it is impossible to sustain a large, long-term occupation in a country like Iraq.[1]  Anyone who doubts this argument should read the recent speech by Senator Richard Lugar – the one that heralded the stampede of Republican politicians away from support of Bush’s Iraq policy.  Along with the intractable political situation in Iraq and the loss of support for the war by the American people, Lugar listed a third factor that makes current policy untenable:  “The fatigue of our military.”  Indeed, the window for employing American troops “without damaging our military strength or our ability to respond to other national security priorities,” according to Lugar, “is closing.”


Lugar confirms the Army of None’s assertion that the unwillingness of young people to join the military is creating intense pressure to end the war. According to Lugar, the war has worn down the American military:


“Iraq is taking a toll on recruitment and readiness. In April, the Defense Department announced it would lengthen tours of duty for soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan from 12 to 15 months. Many soldiers are now on their way to a third combat tour. . . .  Instead of resting and training for 3 to 12 months, brigades coming out of the field must now be ready almost immediately for redeployment.”


The military is meeting its quotas by recruiting those that they believe are not good military material:


“Statistics point to significant declines in the percentage of recruits who have high school diplomas and who score above average on the Army’s aptitude test. Meanwhile, the Army has dramatically increased the use of waivers for recruits who have committed felonies, and it has relaxed weight and age standards.”


Anti-war and anti-military attitudes among young people are central to the deepening erosion of national military might:


“Filling expanding ranks will be increasingly difficult given trends in attitudes toward military service.   This has been measured by the Joint Advertising Market Research and Studies Program, which produced a “Propensity Update” last September after extensive research. The study found that only 1 in 10 youths has a propensity to serve – the lowest percentage in the history of such surveys. 61 percent of youth respondents report that they will “definitely not serve.”  This represents a 7 percent increase in less than a year. These numbers are directly attributable to policies in Iraq.”[2]


Lugar’s warning was underlined a few days later when the Army indicated that it had missed its recruiting goals this June for the second straight month.[3]


The military’s current “manpower” crisis is a direct result of the lessons that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and their colleagues took from the Vietnam war.  They concluded (based in part on social science research) that the American people would not turn against the war as long as there was no draft and casualties remained relatively low.  They therefore initiated a war without a draft; insisted on troop levels their own generals regarded as ludicrously low for the proposed mission; hired “contract” mercenaries whose numbers in Iraq now exceed those of combat soldiers[4]; and kept sending the same small group of soldiers back over and over again with barely a break between deployments.


Army of None provides a fascinating deconstruction of military recruiting mindgames.  It describes how public relations superstar Leo Burnett- responsible for the Marlboro Man, the Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and Tony the Tiger -developed the “Army of One” TV ads to appeal to young people’s desire for individual significance.  According to Army Secretary Louis Caldera, “What we are telling them is that the strength of the Army is in individuals. . . .  You as an individual make a difference.”[5]


Counterrecruiters have had a field day parodying such absurd and blatant manipulation.  The Army’s recent attempt to re- brand itself under the slogan “There’s strong, and then there’s Army Strong,” recently met this match:


“There’s wrong and then there’s Army Wrong.  The courage to resist today. The courage to resist tomorrow.  There is nothing on this green earth that is strong than integrity.”[6]


Increasingly, military recruiters have direct access to schools.  Half a million high school students are part of Junior ROTC.  The No Child Left Behind Act provides that high schools must give military recruiters the names, addresses, and telephone listings of their students – and schools often give other information, even on extracurricular activities, as well.


But these military incursions have provided terrific organizing hooks.  For example, the No Child Left Behind Act has a caveat kids or their parents can request that contact information be withheld; counterrecruitment activists have responded with successful campaigns for schools to provide, and kids or parents to sign, “opt out” forms denying their consent.  And counterrecruiters have been able to go into the same schools the recruiters haunt on the basis of a 1986 court decision stating that the question of military service (whether voluntary or compulsory) is a controversial political (not economic or academic) issue, and if a school establishes a forum for one side to present its views on the issue, it must give opponents equal access to the forum.[7]


The counterrecruiters let kids in on a dirty little secret: Military recruiters lie.  According to the New York Times, nearly one in five Army recruiters was under investigation in 2004 for offenses varying from “threats and coercion to false promises that applicants would not be sent to Iraq.”[8]  When an ABC television investigation sent undercover students into ten recruiters’ offices, they found that more than half of the recruiters were “stretching the truth or even worse, lying.” One told an NBC student investigator, “You have a 10-times greater chance of dying out here on the roads than you do dying in Iraq.” Another told a student that his chances of going to war were “slim to none.”[9]


Of course, there’s nothing new about military recruiters lying to their prey, as a 19th century English ballad, The Press Gang, illustrates:


“As I walked out on London Street A press gang there I chanced to meet They asked me if I’d join the fleet On board of a man- o-war, boys”


“When I got there to my surprise All they had told me was shocking lies There was a row and a jolly old row On board of a man-o-war, boys”[10]


Encouraging resistance to military service has a long and rather more honorable history.  In 1915, opponents of World War I organized the Anti-Enlistment League; thousands of young men pledged, “I, being over eighteen years of age, hereby pledge myself against enlistment as a volunteer for any military or naval service in international war.”[11] Eugene Victor Debs and other socialists and anarchists went to jail under the Espionage Act, which penalized anyone who “interfered” with conscription or enlistment.[12]


Despite the broad popular support for World War II, a dedicated group of resisters including David Dellinger, Jim Peck, and Bayard Rustin opposed participation in the war; many later became well-known pioneers of the civil rights movement. Historians have confirmed the major impact of Vietnam-era draft resistance; for example, General William Westmorland’s March, 1968 request for 200,000 more troops was turned down in large part because of the massive draft resistance and consequent social and political turmoil it would provoke.[13]


Army of None’s straightforward presentation is grounded in what it describes as a “people power strategic framework.” “Power,” its authors’ write, “is not something that those in power hold but is a fragile relationship between those in power and the rest of us.”  The power of the powerful depends on the compliance of the rest of us.  We can identify the “pillars that support the war” — such as corporate war profiteers, the corporate media, and of course the troops themselves — and then work to eliminate their role as pillars.  They quote Lieutenant Ehren Watada, the first commission officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq: “To stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it.”[14]


A long time ago the American poet Carl Sandburg prophesied just what Senator Lugar fears is happening now:


“Someday they’ll give a war and nobody will come.”


[Website for Army of None: ]


* Jeremy Brecher is a historian whose books include Strike!, Globalization from Below, and, co-edited with Brendan Smith and Jill Cutler, <> In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan/Holt). He has received five regional Emmy Awards for his documentary film work. He is a co-founder of <>




[1] P. 1, quoting Rick Jankow.


[2]  Floor speech “Connecting our Iraq Strategy to our Vital Interests”


Monday, June 25, 2007


[3] David S. Cloud, “Army Misses Its June Goal for New Recruits,” New York Times, July 10, 2007.


[4] T. Christian Miller, “Private contractors outnumber U.S. troops in Iraq: New U.S. data show how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of the war-torn nation.”  Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2007.


[5] P. 56.


[6] P. 61-2.


[7] P. 72..


[8] Cited p. 3.


[9] November 2, 2006, cited p xi.


[10] From the singing of Ewan MacColl.


[11] Robert Cooney and Helen Michalowski, The Power of the People: Active Nonviolence in the United States (Culver City, California: Peace Press, 1977) p. 39.  This extraordinary collection of documents presents little-known aspects of the history of anti-militarism in the U.S.


[12] Cooney and Michalowski, p. 52.


[13] Michael S. Foley, Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003) pp. 257-60.


[14] P. 147.




2 responses to “An Army of None

  1. … and then there’s ARMY WRONG!

    see , an entirely different look at the military.

  2. funny with a message, about the courage to resist enduring wars plus saying no to propaganda military recruiters are directing towards stealing and sacrificing our children to use as hired-corporate-guns in imperialistic immoral ventures in illegally invaded sovereign countries such as Iraq & Afghanistan or anywhere else that have oil or gems or anything worth taking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s