a bird and a bottle

Drugs are Bad…Unless You’re Willing to go to Iraq
February 17, 2007, 2:56 pm
Filed under: criminal justice, news, politics, war

soldier cries

update (2/20/07): The NY Times picks this up in an Editorial today and totally misses the point. (hat tip: prof plum)

The hypocrisy of the Bush Administration’s policies never fails to amaze me.

The War on Drugs has now become a tool of the military industrial complex.

U.S. Military recruiters are having trouble keeping up with their quotas. which is not surprising. American political opinion has turned sharply against he war and with 3,133 soldiers dead in Iraq as of Thursday (2/15) and an estimated 23,000 – 100,000 Americans wounded , enlisting is becoming less and less appealing. Soldiers are being redeployed in Iraq and Afghanistan for months or even years after they were supposed to have come home. And with Bush pushing for a surge, more bodies are needed (pun intended).

The Associated Press reports:

Defense Department data indicates that the Army and Marine Corps are granting more waivers to allow recruits with criminal backgrounds to enter the service. The Army, for example, granted twice as many waivers for felonies and misdemeanors in 2006 as it did in 2003. Felony waivers granted by the Army rose from 411 in 2003, at the outset of the Iraq war, to 901 in 2006; misdemeanor waivers increased from about 2,700 to more than 6,000 in the same span.

Most of the waivers are granted for so-called ‘moral’ offenses, like drug violations and traffic-related crimes. About three-quarters of the waivers granted by the Marine Corps are for drug use, partly because the Marines alone require a waiver for a single conviction for marijuana use.

The only way to get more soldiers, it seems, is to make more people eligible. So the government has started allowing men and women who have drug convictions on their records to enlist. Some have misdemeanor convictions only, but many have felonies on their records. These men and women convicted of drug felonies, most of whom can’t vote in elections that determine the country’s future, can now go off to fight in an ongoing war that is undermining that future.

One lawmaker who decried this action, Rep. Marty Meehan (D.-MA), said he was concerned that allowing such recruits to enlist would “endanger the rest of the armed forces.” (This guy is a Democrat?! Just shows how far to the right the entire American political spectrum has strayed). Meehan’s concern, in addition to being hateful and based on stereotypes that have little or no grounding in facts, makes clear why men and women who have been convicted of drug offenses are easier targets for military recruiters. In its desperation to fill its ranks, the military is preying on the most vulnerable — those who, because of their convictions, have few job prospects and who, because of the 2001 Pell grant cuts to educational programs in prisons, have likely received limited education.

It’s true that many of the men and women in the military have enlisted at least in part because of the financial incentives. But now the military is scavenging on who have been ensnared in the War on Drugs by allowing them to enlist for the War on Terror. I’m not blind to the fact that people are enlisting “voluntarily.” But we should ask: Is it really a choice to enlist if no other economic opportunities exist? I say, create real choices by giving back the franchise to men and women convicted of felonies, especially once they have “served their time” and been released*; by providing real job training and education in prisons; and by ensuring that formerly incarcerated men and women are not shut out of potential jobs because of their criminal records.

It’s impossible to base this decision in any consistent morality or logic. How can we with a straight face encourage American men and women who have been stripped of their franchise to go fight for democracy?

(via TalkLeft) (image source)

* I do not support mass incarceration, but given that it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, we have got to fight for the full citizenship rights of people who have been in prison, done the time to which they were sentened, and are paroled back into their communities.


11 Comments so far
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little I have read recently gets to the heart of American hypocrisy better than your post. two points in particular strike me as utterly important: citizens stripped of the vote are now enlisted to fight; and, more precisely, victims of the War on Drugs now filling the ranks of the War on Terror.
there has been much talk of eroding civil liberties at home in the name of spreading freedom abroad. the issues you point out are a facet of this problem that deserves a lot more attention for it is much more systemic.
could i venture one more frightening parallel: the prison-industrial complex is now feeding the military-industrial complex. (just wait until they start recruiting in prisons…)
thanks for the great (but scary) post.

Comment by professorplum

[…] Calling a Spade a Spade Jump to Comments I’m always impressed by A Bird and a Bottle and especially bowled over with today’s “Drugs Are Bad Unless You Want to Be a Soldier” […]

Pingback by Calling a Spade a Spade « MilbyDaniel

[…] From a bird and a bottle, and incisive look at the War on Drugs as it relates to the War on Terror. In order to make more […]

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So, we can expect you to enlist tomorrow so that a druggie can stay home.

Comment by Ex-marine

Ex-marine, this post is not at all to suggest a lack of respect for the men and women who do enlist. I – and we all, I think – appreciate the sacrifices people make when they join the military as well as the real benefits. What I *am* saying is that people should have a real choice when they decide whether or not to enlist. It shouldn’t be enlistment as a last resort because no meaningful economic opportunity to exists at home.

Comment by bean

Excellent post. I simply had to link it.

Comment by Tanya

Thanks for the support, Tanya!

Comment by bean

I agree it’s a great post with a great point. I would, however, point out the possibility that Meehan’s point was taken out of context. I know that he is a supporter of allowing gays and lesbians to enlist and he may have been making a point that we will allow convicted criminals to enlist before we’ll let people in who are otherwise well qualified simply because of their sexual orientation. I don’t know for sure that his comment was out of context, but I think it’s possible.

As for the main point of the post — right on!

Comment by Denise


I didn’t know that about Meehan – thanks for the context. Let’s hope that he was in fact misrepresented by the quote. Either way, it’s great that he supports the rights of gays and lesbians. Let’s just hope his vision of a more just society extends to other communities too.

Comment by bean

And some else….

the most interest

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I Think this site is great.

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