[THS] Training Kids to Kill Not Popular with Public
vignes at wanadoo.fr
Sat Oct 17 18:27:37 CEST 2009
Army Experience Center's Bad Experience:
Turns out Training Kids to Kill Not Popular with Public
By David Swanson
"This is so cool! This is so cool!" a thirteen-year-old boy repeated as he squeezed
rounds from a real M-16, picking off "enemy combatants" in a video game while
perched atop a real Army Humvee. "I just came to the mall to skateboard but
everyone said this was pretty cool. I just had to try it and it's great!"
The person reporting on this youthful enthusiasm was Pat Elder, who serves on the
Steering Committee of the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth.
Elder also described young teenagers congratulating each other for "killing ragheads"
and "wiping out hajis."
All of this fun went on at the Army Experience Center (AEC), a 14,500-square-foot
"virtual educational facility" in the Franklin Mills Mall in a suburb of Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. The U.S. Army opened the center in August 2008 and planned to run it
for two years as a pilot program. If the center proved able to recruit as many new
soldiers as five ordinary recruiting stations, the Army planned to build them
nationally. The AEC cost more than $12 million to design and construct, but of course
the Army spends several billion dollars a year on recruitment.
Peace activists and concerned citizens from the surrounding area and up and down
the East Coast quickly formed a campaign dubbed "Shut Down the AEC"
(shutdowntheaec.net). Through a series of nonviolent protests and demonstrations,
some of them involving arrests, protesters raised concerns and generated a flood of
negative media attention for the Army's latest recruitment tool. As a result, the
Pentagon called on Donna Miles, a writer for the American Services Press Service, the
Pentagon's propaganda arm. Miles had already published soothing articles following
scandals at Abu Ghraib, Walter Reed, and various incidents involving civilian
casualties. As Elder points out, "Either Miles is incredibly prolific, with 229 articles
attributed to her this year, or she's a pseudonym for several under the employ of the
Miles reported on the AEC thusly: "Thirteen-year-old Sean Yaffee, for example,
doesn't see himself joining the military. But he's becoming another regular at the
center, where he can play the same computer games he has at home, but in the
company of his buddies. Yaffee said he's learned a lot about the Army at the center.
'It just tells you about the Army experience, but it doesn't pressure you,' he said. 'I'm
really just here to have a good time.'"
Sweet, but the public wasn't buying it and the protests continued. On September 12,
2009, a crowd of 250 activists marched to the AEC in opposition to the use of public
dollars to teach children-in a quasi-public-space-that killing can be fun, while also
olds to engage in the real thing. This time, police arrested six protesters and one
journalist. The journalist, Cheryl Biren, wasn't with the protesters but was picked out
of the crowd, apparently because of her professional camera.
Days prior to this long-planned and publicly announced protest, the Army
preemptively announced that it would likely close the AEC and not open any others in
shopping malls, as had been planned. The reason? Are you ready to hear this?
By their own admission, the Army doesn't need any more recruits because the bad
economy has driven up recruitment significantly.
Now, the truth is that the economy is lousy, unemployment is rising, and the military
has cut back on other recruitment expenses, the stated reason being the rise in
recruitment that comes with a lousy economy.
The whopper of a lie is that the Army could ever be satisfied with its recruitment
numbers. And the glaring omission was the protests. While the Army is cutting back
in recruitment on some areas, it's still spending billions of dollars per year, and it is
spending those billions where they'll be most effective, which means, in part, where
they will generate the least opposition and negative attention. Early reports, prior to
the protests, were that the AEC was succeeding in its recruitment goals. Following
the protests, the AEC mysteriously became ineffective.
Stories in the Associated Press and other news services reported the Army's likely
decision and transcribed the Army's explanation, noting the protests as an
afterthought lower in the reports. Media outlets that support the spread of
democracy, as opposed to the spread of militarism under the banner of democracy,
would have told this story quite differently and used it as a lesson showing that
citizens can have an impact on what their government does.
The Army won't announce our victories for us. We have to claim them. We the
people drove Alberto Gonzales out of town, made the Iraq War illegal by turning the
United Nations against it, and we may have scared George W. Bush away from
pardoning his subordinates' crimes. We the people have turned many Americans
against wars of empire, and we have made the Army Experience Center a bad
experience for the Army.
Seven people were arrested on September 12, six of whom were risking arrest:
Debra Sweet, Elaine Brower, Sarah Wellington, Joan Pleune, Beverly Rice, and
Richard Marini. The seventh was Biren, who was covering the event for OpEdNews.
She didn't have a shirt or a sign or anything associated with the activists. She made it
clear that she was a journalist. Then she and the other five women spent the night in
the Roundhouse, the central jail in Philadelphia, from which they were released into
the street at 5 a.m. the next morning, denied permission to use their cell phones until
after the doors had slammed behind them.
Biren told me: "The images that are most critical to me as a photographer and
reporter are those at the end, of protesters being arrested. Trying to prevent me
from (or punishing me for) taking them reminds me of Bush not allowing photos of
the caskets of dead bodies coming home from war. The way in which they try to
prevent us from recording this kind of news in the making is shameful. It's anti-
The reporter continued: "The action against me was violent and vengeful. A police
officer rushed me from the side suddenly"and pulled me forcefully into the line of
protesters. Later, another officer had to physically pull this officer off of me because
he was so incredibly aggressive and enraged. I'm convinced it was because I was
taking pictures of the arrests."
An arraignment for charges of criminal conspiracy and failure to disperse was
scheduled for September 23 for the six women. Restoration of our rights to freedom
of speech, assembly, and press hangs in the balance. But we can nonetheless chalk
up a victory against the mighty war machine.
David Swanson is the author of the new book, Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial
Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, by Seven Stories Press and of the
introduction to The 35 Articles of Impeachment and the Case for Prosecuting George
W. Bush by Dennis Kucinich. In addition to cofounding AfterDowningStreet.org, he is
the Washington director of Democrats.com and sits on the boards of a number of
progressive organizations in Washington, DC.
reprinted from 2009, American Humanist Association
Author's Bio: David Swanson is the author of the upcoming book "Daybreak: Undoing
the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union" by Seven Stories Press
and of the introduction to "The 35 Articles of Impeachment and the Case for
Prosecuting George W. Bush" published by Feral House and available at
Amazon.com. Swanson holds a master's degree in philosophy from the University of
Virginia. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director,
with jobs including press secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign,
media coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three
years as communications coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community
Organizations for Reform Now. Swanson is Co-Founder of AfterDowningStreet.org,
creator of ConvictBushCheney.org and Washington Director of Democrats.com, a
board member of Progressive Democrats of America, the Backbone Campaign, and
Voters for Peace, a convenor of the legislative working group of United for Peace and
Justice, and chair of the accountability and prosecution working group of United for
Peace and Justice.
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